Kevin McCarthy will face a tough first week in his new job as Speaker of the US House of Representatives, with some members of his own party questioning a deal he struck with rightwing rebels to gain their support.
McCarthy, a Republican, was elected Speaker in dramatic fashion in the early hours of Saturday morning, after several days of wheeling and dealing to win the backing of a small but powerful group of conservative holdouts.
Some in the party have questioned whether McCarthy severely weakened his own hand by trading away too much power in pursuit of the job, after agreeing to a package of changes to House procedures demanded by the rebels.
There were concerns at the weekend that the sweeping rules package, which sets parameters for the new session of Congress, could itself be held up by a small number of objectors when it is put to a vote on Monday.
Nancy Mace, a moderate Republican congresswoman from South Carolina, told CBS News on Sunday that she was “on the fence” about whether to vote for the package. Mace said she wanted to know more about any backdoor deals that McCarthy had struck with rightwing Republicans to secure their support in the Speaker vote.
“I like the rules package . . . I support it. But what I don’t support is a small number of people trying to get a deal done, or deals done, for themselves, in private, in secret . . . I don’t support that,” Mace said. “I am on the fence right now about the rules package vote . . . for that reason.”
Tony Gonzales, a Republican congressman from Texas, has also threatened to vote against the bill. He told CBS on Sunday that he took issue with hawkish budget proposals that could result in big cuts to the US defence budget — something he called a “horrible idea”.
“When you have aggressive Russia [in] Ukraine, you’ve got a growing threat of China in the Pacific . . . how am I going to look at our allies in the eye and say, I need you to increase your defence budget, but yet America is going to decrease ours?” he said.
The changes include a provision that would allow any one member of Congress to trigger a vote of no confidence in the Speaker, and a requirement for bills to be published at least 72 hours before a vote. The package also includes rules intended to constrain federal spending, and guarantees for votes to be held on specific pieces of proposed legislation that would clamp down on immigration and abortion access.
But McCarthy allies projected confidence that they would secure enough votes to pass the rules package by a simple majority. Jim Jordan, a Republican congressman from Ohio poised to become chair of the House judiciary committee, told Fox News on Sunday: “We’ll see tomorrow. But . . . I think we’ll get the 218 votes needed to pass the rules package.”
McCarthy on Saturday demurred when a reporter on Capitol Hill asked him whether he had the votes to pass the rules package, saying only: “It’s my day off, OK? Give me a break.”
McCarthy will lead the lower chamber of Congress with Republicans in control by an exceedingly narrow margin after eking out a victory in November’s midterm elections. The margins mean a handful of Republican rebels can stand in the way of any single piece of legislation.
The White House said that US president Joe Biden called McCarthy on Saturday afternoon to congratulate him on his election as Speaker. In a statement, Biden said he was ready to work with Republicans on legislation but warned he would oppose efforts to cut federal funding for Social Security, Medicare and the military.
Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader, said the Republican infighting foreshadowed more dysfunction in the years to come.
“Our general concern is that the dysfunction that was historic that we saw this week is not at an end. It’s just the beginning,” Jeffries told NBC News.