hansen1_Kent Nishimura  Los Angeles Times via Getty Images_kevinmccarthy Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

What Price McCarthy?

The Republican extremists who blocked their own party's choice for Speaker of the US House of Representatives have gotten their way, and the new fetters placed on the leadership will raise the prospect of prolonged government shutdowns and a historic default on the national debt. They also will jeopardize the party’s future.

CHICAGO – For the past four days, Americans and others around the world have had their eyes glued to the spectacle of the US House of Representatives trying – and failing, 14 times – to elect a new Speaker. Now, by making even more concessions, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California has finally grasped the gavel. McCarthy has won, but at an alarming cost for the country and his own party.

Some features of the conflict in the Republican Party that we saw on display this week are nothing new. Every party has its ideological factions. Others, though, represent a fundamental change. Unlike the dissidents who challenged the congressional leadership in the past, this week’s holdouts belong to the party’s most extreme wing. By forcing concessions, they have made their personal ideological convictions the program of the Republican Party.

At stake in the last two months of Republican horse-trading was the authority of the Speaker of the House, the only congressional leadership officer specified in the Constitution. To the degree allowed by House rules, the Speaker sets the chamber’s agenda and mobilizes the majority party to act. The score of Republicans who brought the business of the House to a standstill sought to reduce the Speaker’s power substantially. They forced McCarthy to accede to a rule change that would once again allow a single member to call a no-confidence vote on his leadership. And now, by holding out longer, they have gotten McCarthy to give up even more.

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