The Memo: Chip Roy seizes his moment

The chaotic failure of House Republicans to elect a Speaker — so far — has had a silver lining for at least one member. 

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a leading opponent of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), has seized the national stage.

In doing so, he has elicited jeers as well as cheers. Roy is among the most hard-line of conservatives, with a host of deeply controversial positions.

Yet McCarthy allies see Roy as more inclined toward sincere, good-faith negotiations than other dissenters.

And the broader public has been introduced to an unusual voice, via his speeches from the House floor and his frequent media interviews.

On Wednesday, for example, Roy sparked a rare, broad ovation in the chamber when he nominated Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) to take the gavel. Roy noted, “For the first time in history, there have been two Black Americans placed into nomination for Speaker of the House.”

Within moments, Roy returned to a favorite hobbyhorse — his opposition to U.S. aid packages to Ukraine.

That turn was enough for Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) to argue on Twitter that the Texas conservative was aiding “the Putin-Trump axis of autocrats and kleptocrats” who were, Raskin contended, bringing “chaos to the floor of the people’s House.”

Peculiar political juxtapositions are Roy’s stock-in trade, however.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election, he pushed for evidence of election fraud from then-President Trump’s allies, seeking “ammo” to make that case in texts to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows. 

Later, having determined that no such ammunition was forthcoming — and outraged by the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — Roy called on the House floor for the rioters to be jailed. 

Unlike many on the farthest right flank of the GOP, he also voted to uphold the results of the election. 

“That vote may well sign my political death warrant, but so be it,” he said. “I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and I will not bend its words into contortions for personal political expediency.”

At other times during his congressional tenure, Roy has accused Anthony Fauci of “crimes against humanity” — yet found a sliver of common ground, with caveats, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). He believes the left-wing New Yorker shares his view that Washington is fundamentally “broken,” even as they disagree radically on the solutions.

This week, while trying to capsize McCarthy’s long quest to be Speaker, Roy has insisted that he bears his Californian colleague “no personal animus.”

In terms of the big picture, Roy tends to put his opposition to the status quo in Washington in terms that even figures from the left might half-endorse. 

While nominating Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for the Speakership this week, Roy segued into a lament about how, when it comes to spending, “the Defense World and the non-Defense World come together … and the American people are the big losers.”

Even Republicans who don’t agree with Roy or who have become alienated from the modern party say that the Texas congressman is a very different beast from other foes of McCarthy like Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) or Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.)

“They are not in the same galaxy,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist and Trump critic. “He is a conservative … but he is not going to join the clown show.”

Brendan Steinhauser, a GOP strategist in Roy’s native Texas — and someone who favors a much more centrist course for the party — declares himself “hopelessly biased for Chip,” whom he has known for years.

“We don’t agree on everything,” Steinhauser noted. “But I think he is a true believer and fighting the good fight. I think he is principled even when it causes choppy water for him.”

The vote to uphold the 2020 election is not the only example. Roy single-handedly held up a 2019 bill that would have released massive grant funding to his home state after Hurricane Harvey because the money was not offset — and because he objected to the procedures being used to pass the legislation.

Not everyone finds such stances admirable — or even defensible.

The Republican whom Roy beat in his House primary when first getting elected in 2018, Matt McCall, once told Texas Monthly, “He always burns everybody because he thinks that he’s Thomas Jefferson and he’s going to keep the whole world straight.”

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Texas, cautioned against taking too generous a view of Roy’s political idiosyncrasies.

“I think of Chip Roy as erratic,” Jillson said. “On occasion, he will be part of the solution and you’ll find him making compelling points. But the other Chip Roy is more often throwing gasoline on the fire.”

Still, more supportive voices contend that there is a common thread to Roy’s politics.

“He has believed for some time — at least as long as he has been a member of the House — that the institution is broken and that the average member is limited to do anything about it because far too much power is held by leaders,” said Matt Mackowiak, the chair of the Travis County Republican Party in Texas.

For now, Roy’s admirers are glad to see him center stage, even as the week’s events have careened into disorder.

“This is a moment for Chip to shine,” said Steinhauser. “He didn’t design it that way. He stepped into the moment, stepped up to the challenge. And I think people see that.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Tags Byron Donalds Chip Roy Chip Roy Chip Roy Donald Trump House House Speakership vote Jamie Raskin Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy russia speaker vote Texas ukraine

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