WASHINGTON (AP) — In an almost forgotten slice of marble property on Capitol Hill, the Kevin McCarthy era is taking shape in Congress.
It was here that the new Speaker of the House was chatting with Donald Trump Jr. on the former president’s son podcast last week, their laughter pouring into the halls from behind closed doors. And it was at this modest outpost, with its grand views of the National Mall and easy proximity to the action on the floor, that the California Republican leader had met with his lieutenants negotiating deals in the grueling race to become speaker.
Far from the glare of the official speaker’s office, McCarthy is conducting some of the most exhilarating but also difficult leadership business. Yet McCarthy is also facing the limits of his narrow grip on power as promises of a new management style in the House collide with the harsh realities of government.
Last week, an immigration bill that should have been easy work for a Republican Party intent on sealing the US border with Mexico was shelved for swift action, deferred to committees for changes.
A Republican proposal for a 23% national sales tax that would have taken the place of income taxes rose and quickly fell out of favor, turning into a punchline for President Joe Biden’s attacks on extreme elements in the GOP.
McCarthy fired two prominent Democrats, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California, from the House Intelligence Committee, but his pledge to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from the House Foreign Affairs Committee has met resistance from a couple of Republicans .
“Be careful,” McCarthy told the Associated Press as he walked through the aisles, signaling he had the votes in hand to remove the Somali-born Omar.
Three weeks into the new Republican majority, the perils of McCarthy’s leadership style are clearly taking hold: In the interest of opening up the legislative process, with more seats at the table for far-right lawmakers, the GOP agenda will be subject to prolonged debates and delays – and the possibility that nothing will be done.
McCarthy appeared optimistic as he exited the Trump podcast, brushing aside scratches on the immigration bill and others as part of the process with his grassroots governance.
“I don’t consider him at risk,” McCarthy said.
“Let’s say you approved the bill upfront here, but it’s just not perfect,” she said. “I want to do it right.”
So far, Republicans have been able to get about 10 pieces of legislation through the House, including one abortion-related measure that was a party priority. A few other bills and resolutions had broad bipartisan support, largely symbolic actions, including one to praise Iranian human rights protesters.
But many of the major proposals that Republicans have lined up for quick approval as part of their rule package have stalled over differences between the far-right Freedom Caucus and the pragmatic conservatives. While McCarthy celebrated his birthday with a visit from Elon Musk to the Capitol, lawmakers were having a two-day debate over a regular oil and gas leasing bill.
“At some point, they have to give up on the bar, make up their minds and walk away,” said Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the seasoned Democratic leader and former gang leader.
As part of the House opening process, lawmakers Thursday plunged into a freewheeling debate over an oil and gas leasing bill that would limit the president’s ability to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as it did Biden during rising fuel prices, without first developing an Energy Department Plan to Increase Resource Production on Federal Lands.
One of the first amendments came from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Georgia Republican who used her precious debate minutes to also mention that she was the first in Congress to introduce legislation calling for Biden’s impeachment.
“The Casa del Popolo has been destroyed for too long,” he said, praising the new system.
But Republicans in the House acknowledge some rumblings from their constituents at home about the slow start to their new majority. The speaker’s sustained rush consumed the first week of the new Congress as McCarthy endured 15 votes before finally grabbing the gavel.
Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, said he heard from a caller in his office demanding to know why House Republicans had not yet launched an investigation into Biden’s son Hunter.
“Everyone gets so emotional,” Nehls said.
“Let’s breathe a bit. Take a step back,” she said. “Let’s develop the situation and see what comes out of these committees.”
But the challenges ahead for the Republican majority in the House are as much philosophical as they are organizational.
The immigration bill proposed by Texas Rep. Chip Roy should have been a simpler lift, centered around the political wheelhouse of GOP priorities cracking down on migrants at the border.
Pushed by the Freedom Caucus member, the legislation would require the Homeland Security zegretary to deny migrants, including those seeking asylum, conditional entry into the United States without valid documents, instead holding them in detention.
The immigration bill had received the green light in the House rules package for action, but was met with resistance from the pragmatic wing of conservative Republicans in the Main Street caucus.
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., former chairman of that group, which describes itself as conservatives who want to govern, said he and others were wiretapped by colleagues to inform McCarthy’s team that some had concerns with the bill on immigration and with the proposed law for a national sales tax.
“These things have to go through the committee,” Bacon told reporters at the Capitol.
Still, McCarthy’s efforts to open up the legislative process have attracted interest from both Democrats and Republicans, as lawmakers have offered dozens of amendments to the oil and gas drilling bill in an early test of the new system.
“We’re about to do something we haven’t done in a long time,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., who presided over the house last Thursday, announcing the start of snap voting. “Two minutes to vote!”
Applause erupted from lawmakers.
Twenty-four amendment votes later, they wrapped up by dinnertime.
Lawmakers returned Friday, several dozen more amendments for a quick two-minute vote, before Republicans pushed passage of the oil and gas bill almost strictly to party line with only one Democrat standing united.
But the bill has almost no chance of becoming law.
It is unlikely to be considered in the Senate. And Biden threatened a veto.