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A courageous way for McCarthy to secure the speakership — and benefit the country

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)
Greg Nash
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks with reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 after returning from a meeting at the White House with President Biden, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to discuss legislative priorities for the rest of the year.

At least a few Americans will spend the holiday season watching Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California bow and scrape to get the support of enough of his party conference to be elected Speaker of the House in early January. Depending on how many members actually show up for the vote, McCarthy can’t afford to lose more than a half dozen of his Republican mates to gain the majority of the overall body he needs.    

Because about that same number already has declared they will not vote for McCarthy for the job (with many more expressing doubts about him) handicappers say it is not a sure thing that the Golden Stater will get the brass ring.  

The good news for McCarthy is that there is no other Republican standing to be an alternative. His advisers believe that their boss will solidify his position over the next few weeks and, on the day of the vote, will win by default, gaining the job he has long sought with just enough Republican votes to take the gavel. But to win enough Republican support, McCarthy would need to woo the far-right, extreme wing of his party, and thus be beholden to that group, not to the public interest.    

That outcome, currently the most likely, would not be good for the country. The Speaker of the House is supposed to represent all of the members of the chamber, regardless of party, to represent all of the people of the country.    

The Republicans are controlled by their partisan police every bit as much as are the Democrats: the extreme voices in politics, the media, and online who wield disproportionate influence on their parties, by terrorizing them with litmus tests and zero tolerance for diversity of views or bipartisan cooperation. Party leaders on both sides of the aisle are effectively held hostage by the fringes out of fear that they will lose supremacy if they stand up to them. 

McCarthy’s desperate search for the remaining votes he needs within his party shows the unseemly power of the partisan police.  

There is a different, better solution, both for McCarthy and for the country. Instead of doing whatever it takes to appease one extreme, McCarthy should team with reasonable Democrats in the House to get the majority vote he needs. It would take courage on both his part and on the part of the Democrats willing to support him for the slot, effectively replacing those Republicans simply too far to the right to back him.  

Under such a deal, Democrats willing to compromise would present McCarthy with a list of principled measures they would ask him to honor as Speaker in a new House. By abiding by that list—reasonable, sensible, and bipartisan—McCarthy could indeed serve as the Speaker for everyone (except perhaps for the extremes).  

Such a package could include:  

1. A requirement that all major pieces of legislation only move to the floor with an agreed-upon minimum number of Democratic votes 

2. Mandate that a few committee chair slots would be given to Democratic members.  

3. Give power to backbench members of both parties to bring bills to the floor for a vote of the whole House.  

4. Get agreement that bills on a few signature issues, such as immigration, there will be a bipartisan working group to reach consensus. 

5. A deal to jointly address raising the debt ceiling, funding for Ukraine, and other “must-pass” matters immediately in the new Congress to cover all of 2023. 

Such concessions would surely freak out the far-right members of the House Republican conference — the very type of members who are currently withholding their votes for McCarthy — as well as extreme members of the Team Red media. But that is the point. Those folks only want a Republican Speaker they can control, intimidate and manipulate.  

By making a grand bargain with a group of Democrats, Kevin McCarthy can win the job he wants, declare his independence from the extremists in his party, surprise and delight the tens of millions of Americans that want Washington to get more done in a bipartisan manner, and, truly, become the kind of Speaker of the House the nation deserves. 

Margaret White is executive director of No Labels.

Tags bipartisanship compromise Kevin McCarthy Speakership vote

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