House ready to move into next potentially bruising battle over rules package

Bruised and battered after a week of daily public humiliation, Kevin McCarthy has won the prize of being in charge of the House of Representatives. Just how powerless he’s going to be as Speaker will, in part, be determined Monday evening, when the House reconvenes to vote on the rules package that will govern the 118th session—the package that was the subject of so many of the concessions McCarthy gave to the radical Freedom Caucus to be allowed to hold the gavel.

The stuff that everyone knows about that he gave away has caused some consternation among the 200 of the House GOP, and the secret stuff he gave away—all those rumored promises of committee seats and gavels—could combine to make passing this package dicey for McCarthy. As with the speaker’s vote, he has a margin of no more than four votes—it’s not clear yet how many members will be in town and voting Monday.

That uncertainty is going to be a daily headache for McCarthy with his tiny majority and his already proven difficulty in counting votes, by the way. Just one of many. The biggest one could end up being his caving in on the motion to vacate the chair. That’s the rule that allows for members to call immediate votes on ousting the Speaker.

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After something like half a dozen defeats on the floor last week, McCarthy gave in on his one red line in negotiations, and agreed that the number of people necessary to bring that no-confidence vote would be one. Any single member, including Democrats, can now demand a vote on whether he should remain Speaker any time. Every day, if they want. The maniacs may or may not be planning on implementing that tool. The point is that they may not have to because the threat of deploying it would be enough to keep McCarthy under their control.

That means that the other stuff demanded and given in the rules package—all the stuff about balanced budgets and spending limits and not agreeing to a debt ceiling hike—guarantees two years of dangerous chaos and a certain government shutdown when the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Joe Biden refuse the draconian cuts the House GOP will demand.

McCarthy and team promised that they would hold discretionary spending at fiscal year 2022 levels, which could mean as much as a 10% cut in defense spending and additional cuts everywhere else. That’s got the defense hawks in the conference concerned. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) a top GOP appropriator, is one of them. “Certainly I think for those of us who believe in a strong defense, I think there’s some concerns there,” he said last week, adding, “there’s still a lot of details that I think are being worked out.”

Rep. Tom Emmer, the new GOP whip, went on Fox News to placate the defense hawks. Don’t worry, he said, because they are going to go after everything else first.

“It’s the domestic spending that we’re gonna go after” — Tom Emmer pic.twitter.com/I7U1latjou

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 9, 2023

It’s not just those cuts and those promised showdowns that have some members bothered, though. It’s all the stuff that they haven’t heard about. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday that she’s fine with “open, fair and fiscally conservative,” but wants to know what else was given away. “We don’t know what they got, or didn’t get. We haven’t seen it. We don’t have any idea what promises were made or what gentleman’s handshakes were made.”

Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), who loves to tout himself as a moderate, wrote an op-ed bitching about how the “small minority of my own party [tried] to impose their will on a majority.” News flash, Don. They didn’t just try, they succeeded. Because you went along with it. And by all indications in that op-ed, he’s going to continue to go along with it.

It’s possible by the time they start voting Monday that enough of those secret side deals McCarthy made with the maniacs will come to light that there will be a rebellion among enough of the rest of them to defeat this rules package. But probably not, given that their spines have all the strength of damp tissue paper.

Join us for live coverage starting at 5:00 eastern this afternoon, and we’ll see what happens.