Listener of the House

“We know our job will not be easy,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., moments after rank-and-file GOPers tapped him as the party’s nominee for House Speaker.

“Not be easy” because, in that particular conclave, McCarthy marshaled 188 votes, 30 shy of the 218 required to become Speaker when the full House meets in January to launch the 118th Congress.

“I’m not going anywhere,” declared a defiant Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after securing his party’s nod to return to his post next year as the body’s top Republican.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington.
((AP Photo/Alex Brandon))

Republicans may wield control of the House. The Senate may well wind up 50-50 again – but under Democratic control.

But so far, Republicans aren’t spending most of their time fighting with Congressional Democrats and President Biden. They’re brawling with each other. It won’t “be easy” for McCarthy because some of his fellow Republicans are intransigent.

“We’re going to elect a Republican Speaker,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “And if that’s tumultuous, so be it.”

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“We’ve got 39 days to talk,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., who’s not on board with McCarthy as Speaker just yet. “We want the Members of Congress to have decision-making in the body. Not just leadership.”

Norman said he was waiting for “concrete proposals” from McCarthy before awarding the California Republican his vote of confidence.

US Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) speaks during a “Save America” rally ahead of the US midterm elections, at the Miami-Dade County Fairgrounds in Miami, Florida, on November 6, 2022.
(Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is one of a handful of House Republicans who may never support McCarthy for Speaker. McCarthy’s candidacy for Speaker can only withstand a handful of losses considering the GOP’s narrow majority.

“Kevin McCarthy couldn’t get 218 votes. He couldn’t get 200 votes. He couldn’t get 190 votes today,” chortled Gaetz after the leadership vote. “So to believe that Kevin McCarthy is going to be Speaker, you have to believe he’s going to get votes in the next six weeks that he couldn’t get in the last (seven) years.”

That’s a reference to McCarthy’s abrupt decision to withdraw from the Speaker’s race in 2015 after the resignation of former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. McCarthy couldn’t cross the magical 218 vote thresholds in the House of Representatives and bowed out of contention for the Speaker’s job.

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Over in the Senate, a small band of conservatives implored McConnell to delay leadership elections until the early December runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

“Personally, I think it is insane, it would be nuts for us to have leadership elections now and simply re-elect the same leadership,” complained Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., on Fox Business.

McConnell welcomed freshman GOP senators-elect to his office Tuesday morning. There was chatter at the time that Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., may announce a challenge to McConnell.

“Do you support Leader McConnell to return as Leader?” asked yours truly of the freshmen during a photo op.

“You don’t have to answer that,” McConnell instructed the senators-elect.

All complied.

“Time to go!” hollered McConnell aide David Popp, ordering reporters and photographers out of McConnell’s office.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks with reporters following a closed-door caucus lunch, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 19, 2022.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A few hours later, Scott – who led this fall’s re-election efforts for Senate Republicans – announced he would run against McConnell. Some Republican senators gave Scott the what-for during a tense, three hours, closed door Capitol Hill conclave. Some Republicans blamed Scott for the losses. There’s also scrutiny of Scott’s management practices of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (NRSC).

The meeting delayed the Senate GOP’s weekly press conference with the press corps in the Senate’s Ohio Clock Corridor. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., gleefully filled the void.

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“I don’t think you’re waiting for me,” said Schumer to a phalanx of reporters. “The person you’re waiting for might take a while.”

Schumer practically bubbled with schadenfreude upon learning of the dissonance in the Senate Republican Conference.

“To follow the ministrations of Rick Scott, the guy who said ‘cut Medicare,’ the guy who said ‘tax the middle class,’ – would be suicidal for the Republicans,” said Schumer.

McConnell was emphatic that he would prevail over Scott – or anyone else.

“The outcome is pretty clear,” declared McConnell. “I have the votes. I will be elected.”

Republicans couldn’t muster 25 of the 49 votes the party will have in the Senate next year to delay the leadership elections. And McConnell didn’t even break a sweat, cruising to a 38-10 victory.

But that didn’t stop the grousing afterwards.

“We complain about a bunch of stuff. We’re supposed to be the fiscal conservatives. We’ve gone along with all the spending bills. We’re $31 trillion in debt,” said Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.

In a separate appearance on Fox Business, Braun asked why Republicans are “accommodating” Democrats.

“When is the last time we have drug ten Democrats along with a Republican initiate?” queried Braun. “Never.”

“We’re going to (need to) do more if we want to win. My view is that if you like the status quo, just keep doing what we’ve been doing,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

Braun conceded that the intense meetings of the past few days have been “healthy” for the party. But Braun said those who opposed McConnell wanted more input.

McConnell verbally rolled his eyes at those suggestions.

“We meet three times a week. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” said McConnell.

Rep. Clay Higgins, (R-La.) speaks during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing with victims’ family members and survivors of the Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas massacres on June 8, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
(Jason Andrew-Pool/Getty Images)

Back in the House, McCarthy skeptics were laying out a set of proposed new rules. Freedom Caucus members and some conservatives hope McCarthy will implement their policies. Only after that would they consider tapping McCarthy for Speaker.

“This is just the status quo,” complained Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., at a forum on House rules. “‘This is the way it’s done. Son, sit down and shut up. Just the way things roll here.’ It’s wrong. Wrong. Wrong.”

“The principal critique that almost every Member of Congress has about this place is that you get to a point where ultimately you feel like your vote doesn’t matter. Your votes (are) controlled by the leadership. What is your one vote going to do?” asked Gaetz.

“We’ve got to listen to everybody of our conference,” said McCarthy. “I respect each and every one.”

Kevin McCarthy may aspire to become Speaker of the House.

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But in this toxified political environment, McCarthy may be better being Listener of the House. His lawmakers murmur and complain.

We’ll be all ears.