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McCarthy's tenure as House speaker was marked by dysfunction

The California Republican could barely shepherd must-pass legislation through the House or govern his own conference.

By Emily Singer - October 04, 2023
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Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., makes his way to the House floor in the U.S. Capitol before a procedural vote on a motion to vacate against him on Tuesday, October 3, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., makes his way to the House floor in the U.S. Capitol before a procedural vote on a motion to vacate against him on Tuesday, October 3, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Kevin McCarthy’s nearly nine-month tenure as speaker of the House was marked by chaos, dysfunction, and little productivity, as the California Republican struggled to wrangle his party’s fractious and unruly majority.

McCarthy, who was ousted from the speakership on Oct. 3 after a challenge by a group of hard-line right-wing Republican lawmakers, could barely get his majority to pass critical legislation needed to keep the government’s lights on, let alone deliver on the promises his party ran on in the 2022 midterms.

After their House majority was sworn in January, Republicans promised to pass 11 bills that focused on the promises the party made.

“These commonsense measures will address challenges facing hard-working families on issues ranging from energy, inflation, border security, life, taxpayer protection, and more,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said, describing the bills as “ready-to-go” pieces of legislation. “They should garner wide support and provide an indication of our bold agenda to come.”

Yet Republicans could only pass six of those 11 bills.

The five others, which included a border bill that would have cracked down on asylum-seekers, a bill that would have forced prosecutors to issue reports on cases they declined to prosecute, and a bill that would permanently ban the federal funding of abortions, were never even brought up for a vote.

And of the bills Republicans successfully passed that were among those they promised to pass within the first two weeks of the new session, not one became law. Those included two anti-abortion measures, one of which was the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would criminalize doctors who “fail to provide the required degree of care” in the rare scenario when a fetus survives an abortion.

Meanwhile, McCarthy wound up having to rely on Democrats to pass funding bills and a debt ceiling increase to avoid shutdowns and defaults that, had they not passed, would have sent the economy into freefall. And he acquiesced to demands from hard-liners in his conference to launch an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden that Republicans have said is ill-advised and has thus far looked like “failure theater.”

With McCarthy gone, Republicans must now start the process of figuring out who among them can lead the House. No heir apparent exists, and reports indicate that the process itself could be marked by more infighting.

Meanwhile, until a new speaker is chosen, the House is in a state of paralysis. Acting Speaker Patrick McHenry (R-NC) cannot bring legislation to the floor, and any actions that require signoff by the speaker cannot take place, the AP reported.

Even Republicans are admitting that their party has caused chaos.

“Everything stops,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) told Politico. “It’s detrimental to everything.”

“It hurts our own party going into November next year,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) told Politico. “It’s a disgrace.”

McHenry sent members of the House back to their districts for the next week, as Republicans jockey to figure out who their next speaker will be. That could delay efforts to pass appropriations bills before the federal government runs out of funding on Nov. 17.

Democrats, for their part, are quick to point out how the GOP’s infighting is hurting the country.

“The whole speakership of Kevin McCarthy has been bad for America because he continues to choose extremism, to attack Social Security, to put abortion riders into every bill that comes before us, to not focus on lowering costs,” House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) said Wednesday on CNN. “His whole speakership was defined by unprincipled catering to the most extreme factions of the House.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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