In a startling development, GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has dropped his bid for speaker of the House. “I have always put this Conference and Country ahead of myself,” McCarthy tweeted. “We need to unite behind one leader and get to work.”
McCarthy always faced a tough climb to the 218 Republican votes he needed to secure the speaker’s gavel. As Rep. Charlie Dent put it to me recently about the factional divisions inside the House, “On any issue of great consequence around here, we on the Republican side don’t have 218 votes for a bathroom break!”
McCarthy made matters worse by shooting himself in the foot. He admitted – in a classic Washington “gaffe” of truth-telling – that the House GOP’s Benghazi committee was a partisan witch hunt that had succeeded in its objective of driving down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. His defense of misspeaking did not inspire confidence in his bid for speaker.
McCarthy’s fate was sealed fate Wednesday when the nearly 40-member House Freedom Caucus locked arms against their majority leader, endorsing Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida as speaker instead. Without those 40 votes, the math just didn’t work for McCarthy. He could suffer no more than 29 dissenters in his own conference and still emerge as speaker.
In short: The same gang of House radicals who made Speaker John Boehner choose between shutting down the government and quitting his post just exercised veto power over his replacement. They have opened a window for chaos as the House lists about for a replacement who can unify the warring factions of the party. Rep. Peter King reportedly likened GOP rule of the House to a “banana republic.”
Just who are these these back-bench Tea Party revolutionaries, and how have they inserted themselves at the center of our national political debate? Read all about them in this story from the latest issue of Rolling Stone.