Underestimated Speaker McCarthy Emerges from Debt Deal Empowered but Still Threatened by Far Right

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy is a political survivor. 

The Republican leader negotiated the overwhelming passage of the budget and debt ceiling deal with President Joe Biden and proved the naysayers wrong. He pushed a reluctant White House to the negotiating table and delivered votes from the House Republican majority to seal the deal. 

“You still ask the same questions each week: Do you think you can pass the bill this week? Do you think you will still be speaker next week?” McCarthy chided reporters following Wednesday’s vote late at night. 

“Keep underestimating us,” said McCarthy, “and we’ll keep proving to the American public that we’ve never given up.”

After entering the speaker’s office, viewed as one of the weakest speakers in modern memory, McCarthy strengthened his grip during the debt ceiling battle. 

While ultra-conservatives are still calling for McCarthy’s ouster, complaining the debt ceiling deal didn’t go far enough to cut spending, they lack the numbers to execute the plan. Frustrated by the agreement, they flexed their power this week and threatened to remove him from office.

“There’s going to be a reckoning,” said GOP Representative Chip Roy of Texas. “It’s war,” warned North Carolina Republican Representative Dan Bishop.

After the roll call vote Wednesday, when Democrats delivered more votes than Republicans to pass the debt ceiling package, GOP Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado predicted the vote to remove the senator would be underway in just a matter of weeks.

“Stay tuned,” he said. 

Republicans cheered the $1.5 trillion in spending cuts buoyed by the package on its way to becoming a law. They achieved the victory by holding their slim majority together, bringing Democrats along to support the compromise, and taking the fight directly to the White House. 

The GOP vowed to keep pressing for more.

“Kevin McCarthy’s stock is trading higher now than it has in any point of his congressional career,” said GOP Representative Dusty Johnson of South Dakota. “I would be quite surprised by any motion to vacate. 

Within weeks of taking the speaker’s position, McCarthy requested a meeting with the president at the White House amid the impending debt ceiling disaster. The White House ignored him. 

For almost 100 days, the president refused to meet over the debt limit. The White House said Biden wasn’t willing to risk a U.S. default by haggling over budgets. Democrats demanded that the new GOP majority “show us their plan,” — knowing it would be near impossible for Speaker McCarthy to pass anything from the razor-thin House Republican majority. 

However, McCarthy did just that. He convinced Republicans in the House to pass their own spending cuts and debt ceiling plan. 

The feat was an achievement for the House GOP and a significant confidence-builder for the new majority. It was also an opening offer to the White House. 

President Biden agreed to meet with negotiators after House passed spending cuts, debt ceiling plan

A week after the vote, the president brought Speaker McCarthy and other congressional leaders to the White House. They all agreed to launch negotiations as they approached the June deadline to lift the nation’s borrowing limit, which now stands at $31 trillion, or risk economic upheaval and a cascading federal default.  

When McCarthy finally announced that he and President Biden had reached a deal Sunday evening, Memorial Day weekend, the exhausting process was taking its toll. The speaker’s voice was raspy, and he kept his remarks short.

“Underestimated? For damn sure. Kevin McCarthy has always been underestimated,” said one of the deal’s negotiators, GOP Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina. The votes, he said, “prove out why that is the wrong proposition here in Washington.”