Speaker Kevin McCarthy no doubt wants to punish Rep. Matt Gaetz and the rest of the “Tenacious 20” who nearly thwarted his bid to win the gavel, but instead of banishing the conservative rebels to the least-desirable committees or shutting them out of the Republican conference, he’ll have to treat the rebel crew with extreme deference.
Thanks to the GOP‘s minuscule majority, Mr. McCarthy will need the votes of the 20 conservatives who tried to topple him to pass just about anything on the Republican agenda.
“Today’s opponent is tomorrow’s ally,” said Rep. David Schweikert, Arizona Republican. “Long-term grudges don’t get you anywhere when you actually need to round up votes.”
The speaker won the gavel early on Saturday, after 15 rounds of votes cast over more than four days and following negotiations with 20 conservative holdouts who forced Mr. McCarthy to agree to a long list of demands in exchange for their support.
The concessions convinced many of the GOP holdouts to finally support Mr. McCarthy, while others helped him win by casting their vote as “present” on the final ballot.
The group, who angered their 202 fellow Republican House members by hobbling their new majority for days, are hardly being pushed aside now that the speaker’s fight is over. Some are being rewarded.
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One holdout, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, for example, announced he’s been appointed by GOP leaders to the powerful Steering Committee that advises the leadership on policy and helps appoint members to committees. Several other Republicans who were part of the anti-McCarthy effort are expected to win seats on the Appropriations Committee, which allocates federal spending, and the Rules Committee, another important panel that establishes the terms of legislative debate and green lights amendments.
The committee assignments are part of the deal Mr. McCarthy negotiated with the conservatives who want more inclusion and influence in the conference and the legislative agenda.
Many of the rebels said the infighting over the speaker’s gavel will make it easier, not harder, for the GOP to govern in the 118th Congress. Republicans have a mere five-seat advantage over Democrats if all lawmakers are present and voting.
“I get what it looked like outside the scenes, but it was a lot of great conversations and part of it was to look at potential points of conflict throughout the term and see where we can get to an agreement at the forefront end of these sort of things,” Rep. Michael Cloud, a Texas Republican who voted against Mr. McCarthy on the first 13 ballots, said. “I think we’re starting our conference stronger for it, and the relationships are stronger for it,”
Lawmakers who were not among the GOP holdouts said Mr. McCarthy gave just enough to appease the rebel faction, but the process has frustrated many in the rest of the conference who may not agree with the group’s hardline conservative agenda.
The lawmakers said that meting out punishment wasn’t the answer.
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“There’s clearly anger,” said Rep. Don Bacon, Nebraska Republican. “But also we’ve got to govern. We’ve got to put America first. We’re a lot bigger than the 20.”
Some in the rebel group, including Mr. Gaetz and Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, hoped to oust Mr. McCarthy from the leadership. Despite the concessions, they refused to vote for him despite intense arm-twisting and a near-scuffle on the House floor early Saturday morning as the fight stretched into a historic 15th ballot.
Mr. Gaetz went even further in his attack on Mr. McCarthy — publicly accusing him of “squatting” in the speaker’s office before he officially won the gavel and even claiming that he reported Mr. McCarthy to the Capitol architect.
Mr. Gaetz, along with Ms. Boebert, were at the center of a heated discussion on the House floor ahead of the final ballot for speaker, as increasingly frustrated Republicans moved in to try to convince the two to give in and help Mr. McCarthy win the gavel.
An angry Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, chair of the Armed Services Committee, was restrained by another GOP lawmaker after he aggressively moved toward Mr. Gaetz.
The image fed the narrative of GOP chaos that the Republican Party hoped to avoid as it took over the House majority after four years of Democratic control of the chamber.
Mr. Gaetz and Ms. Boebert, meanwhile, never voted for Mr. McCarthy. Instead, they voted present.
So far, they face no punishment as the conference hands out committee assignments.
On Sunday, the day after Mr. McCarthy prevailed in the speaker’s fight, Mr. Gaetz was also declaring victory.
He told Fox News the near-coup was a success and that Mr. McCarthy “agreed to democratize power to the membership.”
Rather than facing retribution for his attack on the speaker, Mr. Gaetz is expected to hold on to his committee seat under Mr. Rogers on the Armed Services panel.
And after earning the enmity of much of the GOP conference a week ago, Mr. Gaetz said, without a hint of irony, there should be no repercussions for Mr. Rogers.
“I don’t think there should be any punishment or reprisal just because he had an animated moment,” Mr. Gaetz said. “He has my forgiveness.”