House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's announcement that he'll kick three far-left Democrats off committees if he's elected speaker of the House is a key step in the California Republican's drive to gain enough votes to hold the most powerful gavel in the nation's Capitol.
With four seats still to be decided from the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans will have at least 219, thus ensuring their control of the House of Representatives when the 118th Congress convenes on Jan. 3, 2023.
But to become House speaker requires a minimum of 218 votes that day, and they can come from members of either political party. In the increasingly fractious Republican conference, McCarthy may not be a shoo-in to succeed the current speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Top aides to McCarthy, speaking on condition of anonymity to enable them to speak candidly, told The Epoch Times that they remain optimistic that he'll prevail on Jan. 3 because their boss is making steady progress in lining up needed supporters.
In addition to excluding three Democrats from committees, the aides said McCarthy plans to reopen the U.S. Capitol Complex to the public and to abolish the proxy voting system installed by Pelosi at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020.
The system allows members to vote by giving their proxy to a colleague who is present on the House floor, and to attend committee hearings remotely rather than having to be in the hearing room.
The three Democrats in McCarthy's sights include House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.); Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence, Judiciary, and Homeland Security panels; and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Schiff, according to McCarthy and many others, lied to the American public about having proof of collaboration between former President Donald Trump and Russia during the 2016 campaign. Schiff never publicly revealed the evidence.
Meanwhile, the bigger issues facing McCarthy in his drive to win the speakership are highlighted by efforts among Democrats and Republicans to use the process of establishing House rules for the new Congress to weaken the power of party leaders—including that of the speaker.
The centerpiece of the proposed reforms was one to restore the old "vacate the chair" House rule that enabled one member to offer a privileged motion to replace the speaker.
That proposal was rejected by the Republican conference, as were HFC proposals to allow committee members, rather than the speaker, to choose panel chairmen and ranking members and to allow amendments from the floor to all legislation under consideration.
More HFC proposed rules changes will be considered by the Republican conference when it reconvenes the week after Thanksgiving. Brian Darling, a Washington-based political strategist and congressional staff veteran, told The Epoch Times that opposing the rules reforms may yet cost McCarthy votes for speaker.
"Rules changes that empower the rank-and-file membership are necessary to reform the House and allow more participation by all members," Darling said. "It is not a good sign that the leadership rejected rules reforms proposed by the Freedom Caucus, because it shows that leadership is not willing to listen to a powerful caucus in the House. This may come back to bite them in the speaker’s election in a few weeks."
Daniel Schuman, editor of First Branch Forecast, a weekly legislative analysis from a liberal Democratic perspective, enthusiastically told subscribers on Nov. 21 that informal efforts similar to those of the HFC are underway among House Democrats.
"The HFC is trying to establish a new baseline, a lesson in using procedural power that Dems could learn from."
The rules debates in the respective party conferences are encouraging, Schuman said, because they may signal "the beginning of a shift in the partisan tectonics under the institution" that would result in a more open and representative House.
Even if McCarthy falls short of 218 Republican votes, there are whispers in House corridors about an alternative route to the gavel. The House Problem Solvers Caucus is a bipartisan group headed by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.).
The caucus includes 28 Democrats and an equal number of Republicans, with all touting themselves as centrists. If McCarthy peeled off a handful of Democratic votes from the caucus, it could produce a coalition speaker.
While McCarthy has strenuously denied talking to any Democrats about supporting him for the speakership, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), co-chairman of another centrist group, the Main Street Caucus, has acknowledged talking with some Democrats about the speakership.
No speaker in the modern era has been elected with votes from members of both political parties. Any Democrat who supports McCarthy would likely face severe consequences. Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) was stripped of his seniority and lost his committee assignments when he supported Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) for speaker in 2001.
Another possibility for McCarthy, if he falls short of 218 votes, would be to persuade some of his opponents to not show up when the roll is called or to simply vote present. Doing so would mean McCarthy could win with fewer than 218 votes, as Pelosi did in 2016 after three members voted present.