Republicans looked like they were headed for a no-win fight in the House in their battle for speaker.
Instead, Kevin McCarthy came out on top, achieving a long-held ambition after daunting political endurance, and his opponents got almost every guarantee and rule change they sought.
Of course, some of these changes will come at the expense of McCarthy’s power, and the current honeymoon mood among House Republicans will not last after days of gridlock.
But both McCarthy and his internal opponents look better in light of the resolution, notably among the latter is Rep. Chip Roy, Republican of Texas and former chief of staff to Ted Cruz. His profile and influence grew during the standoff, and he will play a key role in future disputes.
For many, myself included, the seriousness of the Republican revolt against McCarthy was masked by the failure of many dissidents to articulate an end game or find an alternative candidate for speaker. Inevitably, the standout cast of Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert, who enjoy the pyrotechnics for their sake, was also discredited.
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However, Roy was one to watch. He is not a nihilist, but an institutionalist with a well-thought-out vision of how the House should work. He wants to take management down a notch and allow for more decentralized decision-making and greater deliberation to empower the rank-and-file.
Bottom line, this priority is tied to his vision of what it means to represent the electorate.
“If you take away from me as a member the opportunity to propose an amendment and speak up and debate it,” Roy tells me, “then I no longer truly represent them. That means all I’m reduced to is ‘yes’ or ‘no “voting on some bill drafted by other people’s representatives.
As a passionate and sincere fiscal hawk, he also hates the shortcuts and distortions of the process that have led to rushed, mandatory “omnibus” spending bills.
As the drama unfolded on the House floor, Roy and his House Freedom Caucus allies had been lobbying for the same important priorities for months. Indeed, one way of looking at the speaker’s battle is that it was the most intense phase of the ongoing negotiations. Efforts to get GOP leadership to agree to the changes began last summer, and advocates have made no secret of what they’re after.
A July 2022 memo from the House Freedom Caucus finally outlined the goal of the passable items, and a Dec. 8 letter from Roy and some other representatives to their House colleagues predicted the final deal almost exactly, allowing one member to propose freeing the speaker chairman for a special committee to investigate “armed government”.
Despite calls, meetings and wrangling, it could not be agreed upon or nailed down with the required specificity as the first speaker vote on January 3rd approached. McCarthy’s team thought it could grind down opponents, while the dissenters knew they had to stand their ground.
“We basically had to prove for a day that we weren’t going anywhere,” says Roy. “We did.” After a pile of failed votes, both sides sat down and worked out a deal that was extremely favorable to the dissenters. The fight to decentralize the rules, at least in this case, proved itself what a relatively small, determined group of members can achieve.
Roy is optimistic that the conference is on the same page about what he hopes are future spending fights. They will test Republican unity — especially when it comes to the debt ceiling — in high-pressure, high-stakes circumstances.
If the drama over the past week is any indication, Chip Roy is in the middle of it all.