Here’s what Kevin McCarthy wants you to think about his 8+ hour floor speech in opposition to President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” social safety net plan: He believes that the legislation is so harmful to American society that he was compelled to hold the House floor for much of Thursday night and Friday morning in order to express his profound displeasure with Democrats pushing the bill.
But, that’s not what’s really going on here.
Start here: This was all for show. McCarthy knows full well that as the minority party in the House, he and his Republican colleagues have precious little they can do to stop the Democratic majority from passing this $1.75 trillion spending bill and sending it to the Senate.
What McCarthy was really trying to prove is that he is Trump-y enough for Trump conservatives who, of late, have begun to sound the alarm that McCarthy is not doing enough to fight the Biden agenda.
It’s absolutely no coincidence that McCarthy’s speech came just hours after former Trump White House chief off staff (and House member) Mark Meadows lambasted his leadership.
“They’re not skating to where the puck is,” Meadows said of McCarthy and his leadership team in an interview on Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz’s podcast. “And so I would give them a grade of a ‘D’.” Separately, in a conversation with former Trump White House political adviser Steve Bannon, Meadows suggested that, if Republicans take over the House majority in 2022, they should put the former president in as Speaker. “I’d love to see the gavel go from Nancy Pelosi to Donald Trump,” Meadows said. “You talk about melting down. People would go crazy!”
And, as Politico noted Thursday, Meadows hasn’t been the only pro-Trump voice who has spoken out against McCarthy this week.
Peter Navarro, a close Trump ally, said that McCarthy’s decision not to put any of his people on the January 6 select committee was “arguably the dumbest checkers move in a chess game I’ve ever seen.” And Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said that McCarthy was “weak” for his refusal to punish the 13 Republicans who supported the Biden infrastructure plan.
McCarthy needed a high profile way of proving to the growing chorus of critics that he was plenty Trump-y. And what better way to do that than to hold the House floor for eight hours with a speech in which every single bit of red meat was thrown to Trump-aligned conservatives? McCarthy, quite clearly, was hoping to catch Trump’s attention – and win his favor – with that performance and, in so doing, quiet his critics.
McCarthy is likely still stinging from what happened to him in 2015 in the wake of then House Speaker John Boehner’s surprise resignation. McCarthy was widely seen as the next Speaker but resistance from among the most conservative elements of the House Republican conference led McCarthy to withdraw in favor of then-Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
That history makes McCarthy uniquely aware of the danger to his goal of becoming Speaker from any resistance within the Trump wing of the party. And knocking his critics back was his real aim with this House filibuster. It remains to be seen if McCarthy succeeded in that effort.