During his 15-round duel with the most right-wing factions of his conference to become speaker, Kevin McCarthy received a life raft from former president Donald Trump. Images of Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, the conspiracy-mongering right-wing congresswoman, holding up a phone with the former president on the other end trying to whip votes for Mr McCarthy proliferated across the internet.
Of course, earlier this summer, we at the Inside Washington newsletter reported on how Ms Greene named her price for voting to make Mr McCarthy speaker and to lift the debt limit: an impeachment vote for President Joe Biden.
On Monday, friend of the newsletter Melanie Zanona at CNN reported that Mr McCarthy is strategising how to go forward with an impeachment inquiry into the incumbent president while trying to sidestep an actual House vote to conduct one, given that many members of the House Republican conference are not sold on an inquiry.
As always, Mr McCarthy is trying to please multiple masters. While the primary job of the speaker is to lead Congress, he’s also the highest ranking Republican in Congress and therefore, has to also focus on protecting and expanding his majority.
But with only a 10-seat majority and only four votes more than the requisite 218 to pass anything through Congress, he has to please both the frontline Republicans and also keep the hard-right members of his conference to whom he had to make a series of promises to become speaker.
One of the big promises, of course, was allowing for a single member to file a motion to vacate the chair. And given that only four Republicans would need to defect from the Republican conference as a whole to successfully depose him if every Democrat votes against Mr McCarthy, that could lead to his demise. As a result, he has to find ways to please every faction of the Republicans.
Allowing Republicans to begin an inquiry without a vote on it does seem like Mr McCarthy trying to please both factions. But then on Sunday, Mr Trump threw a grenade into that strategy when he said “Biden is a Stone Cold Crook-You don’t need a long INQUIRY to prove it, it’s already proven,” demanding that Republicans “Either IMPEACH the BUM, or fade into OBLIVION.”
But avoiding an inquiry vote is not the panacea that Mr McCarthy would like to think it is. Voters would likely see it as Republicans skipping steps just to please the most right-wing faction of their party. On top of that, they would still have to have a formal impeachment vote, which would put frontline Republicans in tough races in a bind and potentially cost them their seats.
Mr Trump even gave away the game when he ended his post on Truth Social saying “THEY DID IT TO US,” showing that this is purely about seeking revenge for his two impeachments and equating the GOP with him when Democrats did not impeach the GOP as a whole but rather simply the former president.
And contary to Mr Trump, voters have a history of punishing Republicans when they feel an impeachment is rushed. In 1998, after Republicans impeached Bill Clinton but failed to convict him for lying under oath about an affair with Monica Lewinsky, Republicans lost seats in the House.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, neither party had a net gain, which was a black eye for then-National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Mitch McConnell, which may explain why the now-Senate Minority Leader hates the idea of impeaching Mr Biden (especially when he needs to flip only two Senate seats come 2024 to win back the majority).
But, if Republicans vote against impeaching Mr Biden, they risk losing their primaries to even more right-wing Republicans not unlike how the party’s voters punished GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach Mr Trump last year. A vote for whether to impeach Mr Biden will become the new litmus test that Mr Trump and other right-wing figures will use to determine whether an incumbent deserves to win a GOP primary.
All of this puts Mr McCarthy into a bind. He has to protect his members and ensure they do not take too many tough votes that could risk the GOP’s majority. But the man Mr Trump supposedly calls “My Kevin” also owes an immense debt to the former president and if doesn’t pay his bill, Mr Trump could take Mr McCarthy’s speaker’s gavel as collateral.