If you watched it take 15 votes and a lot of concessions for Kevin McCarthy to become Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, you would be forgiven for thinking that his election was built on a house of cards rather than, say, a throne of skulls. What you may not expect, however, is that McCarthy’s second-in-command would be receiving the most fire from McCarthy’s allies.
But, that appears to be the case, if the morning gossip from the Hill is to be believed. Punchbowl’s morning newsletter is a fascinating, if not somewhat troubling, insight into the razor-thin Republican majority’s leadership.
McCarthy’s allies blame Scalise for the drama over the last few days. They claim Scalise’s handling — or mishandling — of a gun-rights resolution by Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) sparked the conservative uprising.
Here’s the story: For the last few months, Scalise and the leadership have been working on getting the votes for Clyde’s proposal barring ATF’s ability to regulate pistol braces. This was a tough vote for the leadership, as some GOP moderates had no interest in supporting it.
That problem was exacerbated during the debt-limit debate, when Clyde and other conservatives voted against the rule for the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Democratic votes were needed to pass the procedural motion. Some moderate Republicans vowed to vote against any bill offered by conservatives who tried to take down that rule.
But wait. There’s more.
Here’s Scalise talking about what happened:
“There was a lot of anger being expressed. And frankly, you know … a lot of the anger they expressed was that they felt they were misled by the speaker during the negotiations in January on the speaker vote. Whatever commitments were made, they felt like he misled them, and broke promises. And they expressed that.
“I don’t know what those promises were. [I] understand some of them went and talked to [McCarthy] and when they left they still publicly were expressing anger with him over what they perceived as broken promises, and that’s got to get resolved.”
This is noteworthy on several levels. Scalise is disavowing any role in causing or fixing the current problem.
And the Louisiana Republican is putting this all on the record. That’s a sign of how deep the discord extends between top House Republicans.
None of this bodes particularly well for either man, but more for McCarthy than Scalise. McCarthy is the guy people settled for. Scalise is what could have been. That is something McCarthy knows all too well, as Scalise’s name has come up previously as an alternative to him. If McCarthy sees Scalise as a threat to his Speakership, he’s far more likely to distance himself from him and eventually try to find a replacement.
This, by the way, makes the involvement of another Louisiana Congressman, Garrett Graves, fascinating here. Graves was tapped by McCarthy to negotiate the debt ceiling deal and has received a lot of coverage for it. Scalise was pushed aside while someone from his own state was tapped to do the job. There’s something peculiar about that.
You should also know that Graves nearly opted to run for governor of Louisiana but has instead endorsed another candidate – Stephen Waguespack. A group supporting Waguespack launched an idiotic attack on the current frontrunner, the Trump-endorsed Jeff Landry, claiming that Landry (as Attorney General) is the reason crime is so high in the state. Scalise came out blasting that attack ad. Graves endorsed the guy that PAC endorses.
Other Louisiana Congressmen are endorsing Landry. Graves is going against them. Graves is also ingratiating himself with McCarthy.
There is drama afoot. But if it’s as serious as Punchbowl is making it seem, the question becomes “Who will be the last man standing?”