Comment: McCarthy delivers parting elbow to GOP’s House majority

Two months after saying he’d stay in office, McCarthy bows out, complicating things for his party.

By Jim Geraghty / The Washington Post

Oct. 6, 2023: Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, freshly ousted as House speaker, tells reporters outside his former office: “No, I’m not resigning. I’m staying, so don’t worry. We’re going to keep the majority. I’m going to help the people I got here, and we’re going to expand it.”

Dec. 6, 2023: McCarthy writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways.”

No doubt it stinks to be a former speaker, forced to work alongside colleagues who voted to remove you from your dream job. And McCarthy must be irritated, watching current Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., make more or less the same decisions McCarthy made, with much less grumbling and rebellion from the likes of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and the House Freedom Caucus.

It must be maddening for McCarthy to hear former president Donald Trump explain that he chose to not rescue McCarthy’s speakership because McCarthy wasn’t willing to introduce legislation to “expunge” Trump’s two impeachments.

Maybe that frustration became too much for McCarthy to handle; in mid-November, Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., accused McCarthy of deliberately elbowing him in the back in a crowded hallway. (McCarthy denied it.)

But come on, man. Two months after pledging to everyone that you’re not going resign and that you’re going to stay in the House, you pull the lever on the ejector seat? Whatever happened to “help[ing] the people I got here”? Whatever happened to expanding the majority?

The House currently consists of 221 Republicans, 213 Democrats and one vacancy, with Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., expelled Dec. 1. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul scheduled the special election in New York to replace Santos for Feb. 13. That’s a fairly competitive district, scoring a D+2 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Special elections traditionally see low turnout, so it’s anybody’s guess whether the Republicans keep that seat.

In California, once the governor announces a congressional seat is vacant, the special election must be held at least 126 days, but not more than 140 days, after the declaration of vacancy. Presuming that Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, declares the vacancy in early January, the special election to replace McCarthy would be roughly held sometime between May 6 and May 20. McCarthy’s 20th District is about as Republican as it gets in California — an R+16 in the Cook index — so by the end of May, the GOP should have regained its seat there.

But as you can see, that gives Speaker Johnson just a 220-213 majority between early January until at least mid-February. McCarthy’s sticking around for another year is just too much to ask, apparently.

The guy who pledged to expand the GOP majority is making it smaller. Hard to believe anyone ever doubted McCarthy’s leadership, huh?

Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review. Follow him on X @jimgeraghty.

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