In Kevin McCarthy’s 8-hour tirade, a rambling attempt to show he can lead spiteful Republicans

“It’s okay, I have all night,” he said to the moans of the room shortly after his remarks. around 8:30 p.m. on November 18 when the House was about to vote on the bill. McCarthy then continued talking and pointing his finger in the air until 5:10 a.m. the next morning, his forehead glistening in the glare of the lights, his watery-eyed coworkers behind him resisting the urge to fall asleep.

For McCarthy, the marathon speech – a record for the House – was a defining moment, a crucial chance to show that he can lead a Republican House caucus that, over time, has become more radical, combative and adept. obstructionism and manipulation of the media. It also looked a lot like a hearing for the Speaker of the House, if Republicans won the majority of seats in next year’s election.

The party’s most resentful members, those of the House Freedom Caucus, derailed his first run for president in 2015 because they saw him as an establishment moderate. But, as he cursed and continued to curse into the night earlier this month, McCarthy seemed determined to send a message to his colleagues – this he could change too.

“It was a pivotal moment for him to show leadership,” said longtime Republican strategist Douglas Heye. “In a party that values ​​combat so much … that [speech] should bode well for him in a future presidential election.

Earlier this year, McCarthy tried balancing his calls in a House Republican caucus divided over Donald Trump and the violence he inspired on Capitol Hill on January 6.

Not anymore.

The mid-2022 landscape looks bright for Republicans energized by the party’s upset victory in Virginia’s race for governor. And McCarthy appears to have decided to put aside his concerns about protecting the establishment wing of the party, as he is squarely focused on nurturing a base still attached to Trump and the politics of outrage. uncompromising that he helped push into the mainstream.

The passage comes as McCarthy has come under fire from Trump allies who criticize him for failing to prevent 13 House Republicans from voting for the Democrats’ $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on November 5, guaranteeing its adoption. And the day before McCarthy delivered his sleepless night, former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows suggested the former president would make a better Speaker of the House if Republicans won a majority. (This notion is highly unlikely, but not impossible, as there is no constitutional requirement that the speaker be a member of Congress.)

Another former Trump administration official, Peter Navarro, recently criticized McCarthy for removing all Republican members of the House Special Committee on January 6, except Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, Trump critics who were nominated to the panel by Democrats. Navarro said Trump was exposed as the commission investigated the events that led to the deadly mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“Kevin McCarthy made arguably the dumbest checkers move in a game of chess I’ve ever seen,” Navarro told Yahoo News.

Trump and McCarthy have a complicated relationship. Trump sometimes called him “my Kevin,” and McCarthy grew closer to him while he was president. But things haven’t always been smooth between them, especially when McCarthy publicly criticized Trump in the aftermath of the Jan.6 attack and reportedly proposed a resolution to censor Trump. Although McCarthy fell over, Trump lambasted him for criticizing one of her allies, Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, for spouting conspiracy theories comparing mask warrants to the Holocaust.

McCarthy responded by veering more to the right. He refused to take action against Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican, who this month posted an anime-style video showing him killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Democrats then voted on Nov. 17 to censor Gosar, which McCarthy and all but three Republicans opposed.

The next day, with many Republicans still bubbling over with censorship from an outspoken Trump ally, McCarthy used a special House privilege known as the “magic minute” to back up his right-wing credentials. Congressional procedure allows minority and majority House leaders to speak for as long as they want – and it has.

Standing in his dark suit and red and white geometric tie, McCarthy used the cadence of a stubborn salesperson to return to the same themes over and over. He blamed Democrats for high gas prices and inflation, a chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan, and increased federal funding for Internal Revenue Service audits, which he misleadingly suggested they ” would target “families earning $ 75,000 or less.

He falsely claimed that Democrats “banned oil and gas” and refused to fund Israel’s missile defense system known as the Iron Dome. He greatly exaggerated the content of a Department of Justice memo released in response to threats of violence against school board members nationwide over mask warrants, describing it as a Biden directive to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to “target parents as national terrorists”. And McCarthy mistakenly said Biden’s decision not to reissue a Keystone pipeline license caused “over a million people” to lose their jobs, when the actual figure was around 11,000 temporary positions. .

“If I sound angry, I am,” McCarthy said at the start of his speech. Throughout the night he was screaming so much that his voice would sometimes hoarse. He harassed Democrats who interrupted him or rejected his comments. When told to address the Speaker as required by the rules of the House, he cried out in outrage.

“Sir. Mr. President, I can’t believe how much control the one-party regime wants,” he said, waving his hands. “They now want to dictate to a member of the room where I can. to concern ? “

His sweeping remarks focused on his upbringing in a Democratic home, his friendship with tech billionaire Elon Musk, and “a little secret” about baby carrots (“They’re just big carrots. They chop ’em up and they make you pay more and buy them. ”) At one point, he spent four minutes mulling over an 1851 painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River. Often he denounced the money provided in the bill. social spending to help undocumented migrants, which he called an insult and opposed to other recipients of federal funds.

“This evening showed that no matter the hour, the day or the circumstances, the Republicans of the House will always fight for you, will fight for your family and will fight for our country”, he insisted in closing the speech just before dawn on November 11. 19.

For some, McCarthy’s lengthy speech was a throwback to what then-minority leader John Boehner gave in 2010, when he opposed the Affordable Care Act with cries of “Hell no you can’t! This address was seen as Boehner’s attempt to overcome the arch-conservative wave of the Tea Party Movement, which formed to oppose former President Barack Obama. Its members – such as Meadows – ultimately pushed Boehner into retirement in 2015 and prevented McCarthy from succeeding him as a speaker.

Historians have traced the roots of McCarthy’s performance to the Republican whose tactics helped inspire the Tea Party: former Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich, who abandoned congressional standards and developed the aggressive and unrestricted tactics now deployed on both sides of the political aisle. Prior to becoming Speaker of the House in January 1995, Gingrich used televised youth speeches C-SPAN to speak without filters to Americans, control political messages and obstruct the legislative process.

These strategies continue to be effective, especially for Republicans, said Julian Zelizer, professor of political history at Princeton University.

“They have a massive media ecosystem – from social media to Fox [News] – that didn’t really exist in the 1980s and much of the 1990s, ”Zelizer said. It is’ easy to pass bits and pieces of what [McCarthy] did for a long time and reach audiences predisposed to believe it was meaningful.

McCarthy’s speech was primarily a stall tactic and did not change the outcome of the vote, despite breaking the record for the longest speech, previously held by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at eight a.m. and seven minutes. Its content will probably not be remembered so much as its duration and content.

That kind of tone – emotionally charged, angry – is good for attracting donations and media attention, said sociology professor Sarah Sobieraj. at Tufts University which studies American political culture and extreme incivility. “Being provocative this way works,” she said.

It should also send a message to Democrats, who have continued to relegate their own more outspoken members to the sidelines. as they struggle with intra-party dynamics, fail to blend in behind a clear narrative for infrastructure and social spending, said Reece Peck, assistant professor at the College of Staten Island at the City University of New York.

“The to wake up The call to Democrats is this: you need to retool yourself and invest more in your communications strategies, ”Peck said, adding that McCarthy’s rant came at a time when many Democratic voters seem dispirited, as the move conservative right is energized.

For McCarthy, the rhetoric sometimes turned to a kind of manifesto, the pinnacle of a transformation he accelerated in 2018, when he sought to redefine himself as an immigration extremist and a populist in the Trump mold. It was a big step forward for a politician who came to Congress in 2007 and is part of a trio of young people Republicans who sought to move the party forward by emphasizing a strong political agenda.

But McCarthy was never seen as fully committed to any particular Conservative ideology, and above all – like Gingrich – was devoted to the belief that you can’t dictate the agenda in Congress if you don’t hold the power. majority.

McCarthy is still considered the favorite of speakers if Republicans take control of the House, now so close to his ultimate goal that “he can almost taste it,” said Mark Martinez, chairman of the California Department of Political Science State University in Bakersfield. But to get there, he “embraces the most extreme elements of his party” to the detriment of his constituency, added Martinez.

At the same time, McCarthy is still facing the same challenge with Trump supporters as he did with Tea Party members a decade ago, said Dan Schnur, a professor at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California, who participated in Senator John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.

“He has to convince them that they can trust him,” he said. “To that end, losing a valiant fight is almost as good as winning. “

Contact Jazmine Ulloa at [email protected] or on Twitter: @jazmineulloa.

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