Fracture and Paralysis

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Everyone was rightly shocked at how rapidly events unfolded yesterday. We’re now getting the first signs that the degree of fracture and the centrifugal forces unleashed by McCarthy’s ouster may be more chaotic and protracted in their impact than most first imagined.

Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman said this afternoon that no one in the GOP caucus thinks a new Speaker will actually be elected by next Wednesday, when the election has at least tentatively been scheduled. A look at the news suggests why. At least one House Republican has announced that he will not support any candidate who doesn’t require that the 1 vote motion to vacate rule be changed. Many more are demanding a change without yet making it a categorical demand, though seems like just a matter of time. Marjorie Greene says she will not support any Speaker who supports more Ukraine aid. Meanwhile it’s almost impossible to imagine that Matt Gaetz and his crew would give up this power over any future Speaker. Why would they? The current crisis can’t be ended without their votes.

We expect different factions to stake out their positions before a big decision like the choice of a new Speaker. But on issues like the motion to vacate rule the positions seem more existential, less likely to easily change. New York’s Mike Lawler, one of those ‘moderates’ from a Biden district, wants to expel Gaetz from the Republican conference, which requires a two-thirds caucus vote. It’s pretty hard to imagine that will work. But even if it did they’d still need Gaetz and his pals to approve a rules change. Any rules change requires 218 votes. Any new Speaker requires 218 votes. They can expel him from the caucus or officially designate him a huge doodyhead. But none of that changes the math.

Bottom line: Everyone is throwing out conditions, often mutually incompatible. But the GOP caucus doesn’t have the margins for any conditions. This is why I thought originally that deposing McCarthy was only part of the story. They had to find someone new who could get 218 votes. The McCarthy story ended a lot more quickly than I thought. But that other part of the equation remains.

The full picture emerges when you stop looking the internal squabbling and ahead to the calendar over the remainder of 2023. The shutdown clock runs down in just over a month. It looks like there may be an extended period of time before there’s even a new Speaker. That means even less time to work on avoiding a shutdown just before Thanksgiving. We can also be pretty certain a new Speaker won’t dare strike a painless deal to avoid a shutdown as McCarthy did. Put this all together and it sounds like an extended period of chaos with major crisis points already marked on the calendar: the new shutdown deadline in mid-November, a vote on impeaching the President at some point in the not too distant future.

Meanwhile Ukraine funding seems like the first and most obvious casualty. Certainly nothing can happen until a new Speaker is chosen. Once one is in place Ukraine funding will be close to radioactive for that new Speaker’s future. This is despite the fact that large bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate support more Ukraine funding. This might prompt some to think that Democrats made a mistake in letting McCarthy’s Speakership collapse. But that misses the larger context. If McCarthy had survived the challenge to his rule Ukraine funding would be just as dead as it is now.

Every news report you see today has it that nothing unites the Republican caucus more than a hatred of Matt Gaetz. It’s true people are upset. But it’s even more true that they allowed him the ignominiously depose the Speaker virtually all of them wanted. And they’ll let him keep the same power over the next guy. That matters way more than feelings.

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