Recalcitrant members of the roughly forty-member House Freedom Caucus threatened a floor fight to reject Kevin McCarthy’s bid to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House, and on Thursday Rep. McCarthy surrendered without a fight. The House Freedom Caucus had signaled their intent to throw their support behind Florida Congressman Daniel Webster. Webster is a hard-line conservative who also challenged John Boehner for the Speaker’s position in January, but only managed to garner 12 votes in his quixotic quest to seize the gavel.
House conservatives were grumbling that they didn’t want McCarthy to be a carbon copy of Boehner, and most of them insisted that McCarthy had done nothing to assuage their concerns. Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp for example, was unpersuaded by McCarthy’s attempts to mollify him. Huelskamp, who is the nominal leader of the House Freedom Caucus had this to say about McCarthy:
You can’t just say, ‘I’m not John Boehner. Well, you really are. How are you different? I wanted specifics. There were very little.
McCarthy’s pitch was, I’m not John Boehner, I’m going to run things differently, I’m my own man. And I think that is a case that he does have to make. One of the things I hear all the time from my constituents back in Texas is, we don’t want John Boehner 2.0.
McCarthy would have needed fewer than 30 Republican defections on the House floor. When it became clear that 30 or more Republicans were prepared to jump ship, and McCarthy would fall short of the 218 votes needed to secure a majority, McCarthy threw in the towel. Current House Speaker John Boehner will remain Speaker of the House until Republicans can get their act together and settle on a replacement.
Republican conservatives are an increasingly intractable bunch, and they will demand a heap of concessions from whomever wishes to replace Boehner, before lending him or her their support. Given the Republican House’s inability to reach consensus on even simple matters, the outlook for finding a new Speaker is fraught with uncertainty.