While Speaker McCarthy has had some early intraparty wins, his whipping effort for votes reflects his dilemma as he leads a razor-thin GOP majority.
Last year, then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California vowed to oust three Democratic lawmakers from key panels — Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California on the Intelligence Committee and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota on the Foreign Affairs Committee — if the GOP regained a majority in the midterm elections.
After Democrats in 2021 removed Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona from their committees for endorsing political violence on social media and for sharing a violent anime video, respectively, conservatives were livid at the move.
And less than a month after McCarthy ascended to the speakership in January, he made good on his promise, removing Schiff and Swalwell from the Intelligence panel. But taking Omar off the Foreign Affairs panel took a good deal more effort on his part.
After a handful of Republicans expressed reservations about booting Omar from the committee, the party's whip operation went into effect, with McCarthy successfully flipping members like Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, and Victoria Spartz of Indiana. Omar was subsequently ousted from the panel in a party-line 218-211 vote over past comments that she had made that were critical of Israel.
The Omar vote was seen as a huge victory for the party, especially coming off McCarthy's protracted 15 rounds of balloting to secure the House speakership. Given that Republicans only control the chamber by a slim 222-212 margin, the California Republican used a lot of political capital to make good on a promise to appease conservatives, as he had few votes to spare.
In a such a narrowly-divided House, McCarthy's arm-twisting tactics got him over the finish line regarding Omar, but will that be enough moving forward?
Not 'Tit for Tat'
Congresswoman Omar repeatedly warned against equating criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism, but she also apologized for an online comment that she made in 2019 which led House Democratic leaders to issue a statement decrying the then-freshman lawmaker's "prejudicial accusations about Israel's supporters."
Democratic leaders didn't take any futher action against Omar in the intervening years, with the lawmaker early on stating that antisemitism was "real" and that she was "grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes."
But Republicans were ginned up to make a statement after citing what they called the "new standard" employed by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi against Greene and Gosar, where the majority was able to insert themselves committee membership held by the minority party.
"If it was tit-for-tat we would've picked people, took them off all committees and said nothing about it," McCarthy told reporters earlier this month.
While Republican leaders were pleased with the outcome, the behind-the-scenes work to push through a successful vote against Omar took up a lot of political oxygen.
And McCarthy only secured the last-minute support from the GOP holdouts after promising to establish a system for removing members from committees.
A potential model for the GOP
On Thursday, Republican leaders voted to block two bills passed by the Council of the District of Columbia, wading into the legislative affairs of the Democratic-dominated city, which incensed and worried local leaders.
Most conservatives have made their distaste for DC statehood efforts well known, despite previous support from some prominent Republicans in decades past.
The votes on Thursday centered on two pieces of legislation — one that would allow noncitizens to vote in municipal elections beginning in 2024 and another which overhauled the city's criminal code.
Republicans have remarked that the DC council's actions would threaten voter integrity and public safety in the District.
But while Democrats overwhelmingly back statehood and have largely backed the city's elected government, there were multiple defections on these two resolutions. On the resolution going after the noncitizens voting bill, the vote was 260-162, with 42 Democrats joining a united bloc of 218 Republicans; the criminal code resolution vote was 250-173, with 31 Democrats voting alongside 219 Republicans.
Republicans will undoubtedly push more conservative bills as the 118th Congress proceeds, but McCarthy's best bet for success in such a narrowly-controlled Congress is to peel off Democrats on some of the bigger votes.
While the House resolutions will likely hit a brick wall in the Senate, McCarthy knows that while ultraconservative bills could pass with the slimmest of margins, they would be purely symbolic.
Many GOP members would welcome such actions ahead of the 2024 presidential election, in an attempt to create a foil in President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats. But for McCarthy, continually arm-twisting to pass bills that won't go anywhere may not inspire confidence among Independents that will decide legions of House races next year.
So for McCarthy, it is important to inspire some level of confidence among the electorate. But with the early discord within the Freedom Caucus before he even took hold of the speaker's gavel, it won't be an easy road.