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McCarthy’s most important GOP side deal comes into sharper focus

Did House Speaker Kevin McCarthy effectively hand legislative veto power to members who wanted to derail his leadership bid? It sure looks like it.


Americans may never fully know the details of the deals House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached with his own members in order to secure the gavel, but it seems likely that the importance of one agreement in particular is going to linger throughout this Congress.

Politico reported yesterday on the California Republican giving a group of GOP detractors a “powerful perch.”

The California Republican announced his picks for the Rules Committee on Monday evening, and the nine GOP members on the panel will include Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), two Republicans who initially voted against McCarthy during his 15-ballot speaker fight before ultimately supporting him. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), known for being a libertarian-leaning gadfly and thorn in leadership’s side, is also getting a seat.

I can appreciate why those who don’t follow Capitol Hill closely may see a reference to the Rules Committee and yawn. Both “rules” and “committee” seem inherently dull.

But as Politico’s report added, this seemingly unimportant move will give a few far-right members “the ability to influence nearly everything that will come to the House floor.”

When McCarthy was scrambling a few weeks ago, desperately making concessions to his intraparty foes, he quietly committed to giving three seats on the Rules Committee to his radical Republican opponents. They sought this specific giveaway for a reason.

As we’ve discussed, some might be under the impression that after a bill clears a relevant committee, it heads to the floor for a vote. That’s not quite right: Measures first have to go to the Rules Committee, which has the power to alter bills while setting the terms of the floor debate. If the Rules Committee balks at legislation, it’s awfully tough for the bill to get an up-or-down vote in the full House.

With this in mind, the new speaker rewarded Roy and Norman — two far-right members who helped lead the GOP’s “Never Kevin” contingent — as well as Massie, a Kentucky Republican who, as Politico summarized this morning, has a reputation for being “a real pain in leadership’s ass.”

Indeed, Massie — a prominent member of Republicans’ so-called “Putin Caucus“ — has no qualms about being the only GOP member to vote against many bills that enjoy Republican leaders’ backing. Even Donald Trump has derided Massie as a “third-rate grandstander.”

In a normal political party, this guy is the last member one would expect to see on the Rules Committee. And yet, here we are.

At this point, some readers are probably wondering what the big deal is about just three members, but let’s not lose sight of the arithmetic: The House Rules Committee will have nine Republicans and four Democrats. If Roy, Norman, and Massie balk at assorted bills that GOP leaders like, and they join with Democrats in opposition, those bills will struggle mightily to reach the House floor for a vote.

The speaker is already facing daunting challenges about routine legislating; rewarding this far-right trio with slots on the Rules Committee will make McCarthy’s attempts at legislating even more difficult.

Or put another way, the House speaker, in order to get the gavel, effectively handed legislative veto power to members who wanted to derail his leadership bid.