If you were wondering how something could be both utterly shocking and entirely unsurprising at the same time, I give you the U.S. House of Chaos, formerly known as the U.S. House of Representatives, where pandemonium reigns and, for all I know, dogs and cats live together.
As you have probably heard, Kevin McCarthy lost his speaker-for-now position in a vote that was at once historic — no speaker had ever been removed by his party from the House floor — and also plainly inevitable.
It was inevitable, in fact, from that January day when it took 15 tumultuous rounds to elect McCarthy as speaker.
As everyone should have known, McCarthy had no chance of handling the GOP’s far-right Lord of the Flies caucus — h/t David Axelrod — because no one can. John Boehner couldn’t. Paul Ryan couldn’t. But at least they had the good sense to go out on their own terms.
McCarthy, who had spent his entire time as speaker vainly trying to appease the unappeasables, went out in utter humiliation. And how’s this for a punchline — many Republicans were trying to convince him to do it all over again. But McCarthy turned down the offer. It seems that even he has a limit on humiliation.
He lost the job when he was forced to rely on Democrats to keep the government open. That was a step too far — a move that looked, I guess, a little too much like compromise — for the likes of Matt Gaetz. And so McCarthy, who had done everything possible to keep his phony-baloney job, finally lost it.
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But it’s crazier than that. It’s crazy enough that someone like Gaetz, hated by Republicans and Democrats alike, could lead a mutiny that would topple McCarthy or, for that matter, anyone else. Who in his right mind would follow Gaetz anywhere?
You’d think no one would. Even Lauren Boebert, a Gaetz ally and consistent McCarthy antagonist, had the sense to vote to keep McCarthy in office. And yet, Gaetz got eight Republican votes in all and would have had nine except that one ally was out of town.
I was shocked by Boebert. I’m guessing that since the Beetlejuice Incident, Boebert has decided to keep a slightly lower profile, which may be impossible now that the Hollywood writers’ strike has ended and the late-night comics, who missed Boebert so desperately, are back in action.
Here was Jimmy Fallon on his return: “I am so excited to be here. I am so excited,” Fallon said in a clip posted to X (formerly Twitter). “Seriously. I’m more excited than a guy seeing ‘Beetlejuice’ with Lauren Boebert.”
And so it goes. But because she’s still Boebert, when it came time to vote on the call to remove McCarthy, she said, “No for now.” When asked what her no-for-now comment meant, she told CNN’s Manu Raju that it was “perfectly clear.” Of course it is.
But the shocks don’t end there. Ken Buck, who has been busily campaigning for the role as the one sane member of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, voted with Gaetz and the crazies to remove McCarthy. It’s not like McCarthy deserved saving. Just ask the Democrats, who voted en masse to remove him.
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Still, Buck was fresh from saying that he would never vote for Trump if he were a convicted felon, that it was wrong for the GOP crazies to defend the January 6 rioters, that the Biden impeachment inquiry relied on “fictitious facts” and “imaginary” history. He was suddenly the conscience of the right wing and — it appeared — perhaps auditioning for a job on CNN.
And yet Buck, who voted for McCarthy for speaker in January, voted to kick him out at a time when the country is again on the precipice — 43 days away at the time of the vote — of a possible government shutdown. And now there is no one on the Republican side with whom to negotiate, although Jim Jordan — yes, really — was saying he might be available.
It’s almost funny that McCarthy lost his job for working with Democrats. For the eight Republicans — who had a four-vote margin of error — to have a chance to oust McCarthy, they needed virtually every Democrat with them. So Gaetz needs Democrats to oust McCarthy, who got the boot for working with Democrats to keep the government open. Maybe it’s me, but that sounds like a cross between irony and stupidity.
There was no way, despite some talk, that Democrats would rescue McCarthy. This is the same McCarthy who, days after holding Trump responsible for January 6, flew down to Mar-a-Lago to kiss his, uh, ring and has been a Trump lackey — or as Trump calls him, “My Kevin” — ever since.
This is the same McCarthy who launched an impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden in one of his lamest appeasement efforts to date. As McCarthy knows full well, there is no actual evidence against the senior Biden, and, last I heard, you don’t impeach presidents for the high crimes and misdemeanors of their sons (or daughters).
On the opening day of the inquiry, Republicans showed they had no actual evidence that would lead to a Biden impeachment. No smoking gun. Or as Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, put it, not even a water pistol.
McCarthy did, in maybe his final act, risk offending the crazies to work with Democrats. But let’s not give him too much credit. In putting together the bill, he still threw his tormentors a very large and unnecessary bone — by throwing Ukraine directly under a bus. To appease Trump. And to appease the growing GOP anti-Ukraine movement. And to show himself to be a weak speaker until the very end.
The bill went to the Senate at the last moment, meaning there was no time to argue Ukraine’s case before the government would shut down. Even so, Michael Bennet, not your most radical politician, personally held up the Senate vote for several hours in a vain effort to put the Ukraine package back in the bill.
You think the House crazies were satisfied by that? You know better. McCarthy had to know better. Or maybe not.
In order to be elected speaker, McCarthy had given the House crazies the ability to call for a motion to vacate — meaning to kick McCarthy to the curb — at any time, and with only a single member needed to call for a vote.
In other words, McCarthy gave Gaetz the gun with which to shoot him. And if you thought Democrats would take a bullet for the speaker, maybe you missed McCarthy’s appearance on “Face the Nation” Sunday. Guess whom he blamed for the near-shutdown. That’s right. He said Democrats were the ones trying to shut down the government. And, yes, Democrats apparently played that clip in their caucus as they were deciding how to vote.
It was one final misplay by McCarthy in a long series of misplays. It cost him any chance of keeping his job.
And now, no one has any idea what comes next, except maybe this: If you think the chaos is over, check back in 42 days.
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