The turmoil that erupted over the election of Kevin McCarthy as president last month illustrated the potential for profound dysfunction in the new Republican majority in the House. And the spectacle created by Republican lawmakers at the State of the Union address showed the unruly behavior of some GOP members is becoming a new normal.
Many lawmakers who were leading a chorus of boos and grievances were familiar faces on the far right, including some who are poised to wield real power in the 118th Congress. The defining dynamic for House Republicans, who have a four-vote majority, may be the push and pull between the far right and the rest of the Republican conference.
Here’s a closer look at the contentious House Republican caucus:
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Of the 222 Republicans in the House, more than 50 lawmakers either explicitly denied the 2020 election results, were backed by the House Freedom Fund during the midterm, or both. The fund is the campaign arm of the House Freedom Caucus, a hardline faction founded in 2015 that has often (but not always) aligned itself with former President Donald Trump, sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and opposed the legislation to protect same-sex marriage rights.
Among them are the 20 Republicans who have repeatedly voted against McCarthy as speaker, considering him insufficiently conservative and too comfortable with the Washington establishment.
More than 50 representatives have co-sponsored articles of impeachment against Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, so far in this session. Hardline Republicans intent on attacking the Biden administration see Mayorkas as the face of border failures.
Some far-right lawmakers and those who have embraced conspiracy theories have won seats on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, the House’s main investigative body. They will be able to shape investigations into the Biden administration and other issues.
Across the ideological spectrum, there are 119 of the 139 Representatives who opposed certification of the 2020 Electoral College results, including all but one member of the House GOP leadership team.
Primarily leaning toward the other end of the spectrum are the 18 Republicans representing the districts Joe Biden won in 2020. Many of these lawmakers, including 11 newcomers, have indicated a greater willingness to work on bipartisan legislation than their peers. .
And there are also 20 lawmakers who thwarted Trump and the rest of the party in 2021 by voting to impeach him or form an independent commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.
Departures and new arrivals
The caucus has swung rightward in other ways as well, due to the departure of conservatives who opposed the party. Nearly three-quarters of Republican House members who didn’t run for re-election or who lost the primary in 2022 voted to impeach Trump or form the Jan. 6 committee. Nearly all of that group also voted to certify the 2020 Electoral College results, in defiance of Trump and the overwhelming majority of Republicans in the House.
Due to redistricting, it’s not possible to have a one-to-one match for every seat, but some newcomers who align more closely with the far right have been elected to seats previously held by Democrats or Republicans who voted for impeach Trump or to create the January 6 commission.
One of five newcomers who objected to McCarthy’s spokesperson offer, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, took a seat previously held by a Democrat, Charlie Crist, who ran against (and lost) Ron DeSantis for the governor of Florida. Luna explicitly stated that the 2020 election was stolen and she joined the House Freedom Caucus.
Representative Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, who also denied the 2020 election results, defeated Representative Liz Cheney in the primary. Hageman was appointed by McCarthy to the federal government’s House Select Subcommittee on Arming, which will focus on finding evidence that the government has silenced and punished conservatives.
Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee, the member who yelled, “It’s your fault!” When Biden called for an end to the fentanyl crisis during his State of the Union address, he replaced Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat who retired after retooling Democrats’ diluted power in the Nashville-area district. Ogles also opposed McCarthy’s speaker bid and explicitly stated that the 2020 election was stolen.
In all, more than a third of the 41 Republican newcomers explicitly denied the 2020 election results, whether they were backed by the House Freedom Fund or both.
About a half-dozen political pundits who spoke to the New York Times said many members of the Republican caucus have learned it helps to be antagonistic and refuse to compromise, a harbinger of more chaos to come.
“Comparison attracts attention and, you know, the attention economy has always been important for politicians,” said Richard H. Pildes, a professor at New York University School of Law. “But traditionally you had to go through a series of gatekeepers or brokerage institutions to get that kind of attention. The average member of the House hasn’t been able to generate that kind of attention for himself in a way that, of course, he can do very easily now.
In addition to attention, being confrontational also appears to have financial incentives.
The Internet has enabled a flood of money from small donors, which, Pildes said, has enabled politicians to bring in large sums without having to rely on large donors or party funds. Indeed, a Times investigation last year found that opposing the 2020 Electoral College results was politically beneficial.
“We have come to recognize the role of more extremism and more outrage, provoking more attention, provoking more media coverage, provoking more contributions from small donors,” Pildes said. “And I think that’s part of the story here.”
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