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Press: Honey, I shrunk the Speakership!  

So he finally got the job. After suffering the nationally televised humiliation of 14 defeats from his own Republican colleagues, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives early Saturday morning. But the big question is: Having given away so much to get the job, is it still worth it? 

Certainly, as whittled away by McCarthy, the job of Speaker is not what it was under Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). It used to be a position of strength and leadership. No longer. What’s left of the Speakership after a desperate McCarthy gave most of its power away is little more than a hollow, ceremonial office. He’s got the sign over his office, but little else.  

How ironic. Donald Trump derided establishment Republicans as RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only. Now his extreme supporters have succeeded in making McCarthy a SINO — Speaker In Name Only.  

McCarthy’s major concession, and biggest mistake, was accepting the demand of hardliners that at any time, on any issue, any one member of the House, Republican or Democrat, can call for his removal. Think about it. That means that every vote on any question, no matter how insignificant — what rules to adopt or what time to adjourn — can be elevated to a vote of confidence in the Speaker by the most junior member of the House.  

Under the old rules, if you didn’t like the Speaker, you had to wait two years to replace the Speaker. Under McCarthy’s new rules, you only have to wait until the next vote on anything. What was McCarthy thinking? That’s an invitation to pure chaos. While that concession may have satisfied the extreme discontents, it will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for McCarthy to accomplish the basic missions of the House, keeping the government running.  

If it hasn’t already happened before then, McCarthy will face his first test with the need to raise the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling and prevent a U.S. government default. Freedom Caucus members have already said they’d rather shut down the government than raise the debt ceiling (even though they raised it twice under Donald Trump). And McCarthy himself has said he favors using the debt limit to force big cuts in spending, even on the military.  

McCarthy’s other major concession was agreeing to formation of three new investigative subcommittees. This is on top of the already announced House Oversight Committee’s investigation of Hunter Biden. As demanded by House conservatives, the new panels will look into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on Dr. Anthony Fauci; the “Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party;” and what Republicans are calling the “Weaponization of the Federal Government.”  

There’s a serious question whether politicized investigations are what the American people want of the 118th Congress. Remember Benghazi? But the third new subcommittee, led by firebrand Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), on “weaponization” of the government could prove most challenging for McCarthy, forcing him to defend attacks by law-and-order Republicans on the FBI and the Department of Justice for prosecuting those who inspired or attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.  

One thing is for sure : Across the nation, history teachers will now have an easier time explaining the meaning of a “Pyrrhic victory”— a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the winner that it’s tantamount to defeat. Students will no longer have to look back to Pyrrhus’s hollow win over the Romans in 280 BC. They can just look back to McCarthy’s ill-fated win over House rebels last week.  

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is the author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”

Tags debt ceiling Donald Trump Kevin McCarthy motion to vacate chair Nancy Pelosi rules package Speakership vote

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