Kevin McCarthy Embraced Partisanship—at His Own Peril

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy walks to the House chamber before a vote on Capitol Hill on Saturday, September 30, 2023. (Photo by Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As Republican after Republican stood on the House floor to defend then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy against a far-right effort to oust him on Tuesday, Democrats who were listening didn’t hear many arguments for why they should intervene. 

Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, briefly mentioned the health of the institution, and North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry started to snidely address Democrats before his time expired. But most of the speeches in McCarthy’s favor were aimed squarely at the small contingent of his Republican critics, attempts to convince inconvincible people to be team players. It was absurd, considering everyone agreed Democrats controlled McCarthy’s fate. And in the hours leading up to the vote, the California Republican publicly declared he wouldn’t consider any agreement with Democrats to save his speakership.

Yet after losing the gavel, McCarthy blamed Democrats for not taking the responsible course. “I think today was a political decision,” he said of their refusal to stop Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz’s motion to vacate. “My fear is the institution fell today.”

McCarthy’s comments about the good of the institution were laughable to Democrats, who had grown more and more resentful of him, particularly after his response to the ransacking of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. 

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