After 15 rounds of voting over four days, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy is House speaker—but at what cost?
In order to win over the 20 or so hard-right Republicans who opposed his bid—most of whom are members of the House Freedom Caucus—McCarthy agreed to several concessions that will limit his power as speaker. Among them is a new rules package that would empower the far-right faction of the Republican Party, and the House is voting on it Monday. Passage of the package, which establishes the rules that Congress will govern by for the next two years, is usually a routine procedural matter that doesn’t get much attention. But this time, it includes provisions that might dramatically change how the House works—like lowering the threshold of lawmakers needed to oust the speaker and increasing the amount of time lawmakers get to review a bill before it’s brought to the floor.
Here are all of the concessions McCarthy made that we know about so far, and how they might change the way Congress works:
It’ll be easier to boot the speaker
A single rank-and-file lawmaker from either party will now be able to force a vote on ousting the House speaker. Up to now, at least half of House Republicans needed to support the motion to trigger a vote. There are still some guardrails—when a member introduces such a resolution, the House still has the power to delay it for a short period of time or choose to refer it to a committee. If the motion to vacate does eventually make it to a floor vote, it needs only a simple majority to pass.
Far-right Republicans may get highly coveted committee assignments
The far-right Republicans holding out against McCarthy’s speakership pushed for more seats on powerful committees, which McCarthy agreed to in exchange for their support. The House Steering Committee, made up of 30 Republicans and Democrats, makes most committee assignments. When Republicans are in the majority, the House speaker holds the most power on this committee, with four votes to nominate chairs for certain committees. While official assignments aren’t all settled yet, rumors have been circulating about a handful of significant committee posts.
Big House rules changes are coming
McCarthy has also agreed to a set of House rules for the new GOP majority that would include more seats for Republican members on the powerful House Rules Committee—which governs how bills are presented to the floor. The committee decides when and if a bill can be debated and whether amendments can be allowed. It holds “the authority to do virtually anything during the course of consideration of a measure, including deeming it passed.”
Another significant change within the new rules package: How much time is required between bills being made public and when they are brought to the floor. The anti-McCarthy holdouts pushed him to allow lawmakers 72 hours to review bills before they are put on the floor—a reaction to recent Democratic-led spending packages that required quick passage and left little time for lawmakers to review before voting. (McCarthy’s support for Democrat-led spending packages was among his detractors’ motivations for opposing him as speaker.)
The debt ceiling can’t be raised—without some compromises
McCarthy has promised not to allow Congress to pass a budget resolution that includes a debt limit increase without some major cuts. That could mean we’ll see an attempt to reduce spending on Social Security and Medicare. It’s an approach that former President Barack Obama is all too familiar with.
McCarthy has also agreed to create a plan that balances the federal budget within 10 years that does not include raising taxes. He also pledged to allow spending bills to be considered under “open rules,” meaning any lawmaker can put to a vote an unlimited number of challenges and potentially gut certain pieces of legislation completely.
A new subcommittee is coming
McCarthy also agreed to establish a new subcommittee to investigate the alleged “weaponization of the FBI,” falling under the House Judiciary Committee. It would give lawmakers the power to subpoena the White House, and to access to any information shared with the House Intelligence Committee—a panel that has historically received the highest level of classified intelligence and briefings of any committee in Congress. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan is expected to be chairman, and McCarthy would be able to name 13 members to the panel.
The proposal for this subcommittee is a direct response by hard-right Republicans to the Justice Department continuing to arrest and prosecute hundreds of rioters that breached the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021—plus the probes into Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election and the boxes of classified documents he grabbed on his way out of the White House.
More freedom in Republican primaries
The conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth agreed to endorse McCarthy for House speaker under the condition that he agrees to the rules package his Republicans opponents are pushing for—the one that would allow rank-and-file members to have amendments brought to the floor. As part of the deal, the Congressional Leadership Fund agreed not to spend any money in open-seat primaries in safe GOP districts. It’s a win for the far right because they’ll have free rein to back any candidate with less interference by the GOP establishment, but still risks moderate Republican candidates’ chances in the 2024 election cycle—since a “safe” seat can suddenly become competitive if the GOP nominee is too extreme. (Just take the red wave of 2022 that wasn’t.)