One of the interesting footnotes to the toppling of Speaker Kevin McCarthy is the role of chance and pique. There is some evidence that the rebels who succeeded in defenestrating McCarthy expected the Democrats to provide some votes to save his speakership, further adding to the Far Right’s case against McCarthy.
As Heather Cox Richardson writes in her influential blog, “Gaetz challenged McCarthy’s leadership, apparently with the expectation that the Democrats would step in to save McCarthy’s job, although it is traditionally the majority party that determines its leader. According to Paul Kane of the Washington Post, McCarthy did reach out to Democrats for votes to support his speakership. But Democrats pointed to McCarthy’s constant caving to the MAGA Republicans—as recently as Sunday, McCarthy blamed the threat of a shutdown on the Democrats—and were clear the problem was the Republicans’ alone.”
Some of the problem-solver moderate Democrats contemplated voting “present” to help McCarthy retain his speakership, fearing a worse Speaker as an outcome. But leader Hakeem Jeffries rallied the entire caucus by reminding them of McCarthy’s many perfidies.
The reliably clumsy McCarthy had slit his throat by going on the attack to Democrats, blaming them for holding up the vote on shutting down the government and presumably catering to his right flank in those Sunday TV show remarks. That damning clip was gleefully aired at the Democrats’ caucus, giving the Democrats the pique needed to deny McCarthy any Democratic votes. That unanimous vote by Democrats ties them to the resulting chaos, likely a worse Speaker, and to the partisanship-over-all mood of Congress.
All the Democrats in the House ended up toeing this line, casting unanimous votes to topple the Speaker. Even Derek Kilmer (D-Tacoma), ordinarily a voice for problem-solving bipartisanship, was quoted in the New York Times as saying “Speaker McCarthy has repeatedly chosen to weaken the institution by bending to extremists rather than collaborating across the aisle. He has inherited the chaos he has sown.”
One wonders if Rep. Kilmer was aware of the ironic kick of that remark.