As Republicans prepare to take control of the U.S. House on Tuesday, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, is emerging as a central figure in the right-wing fight against business as usual within his own party.
Roy, first elected in 2018, has a history of rebuffing the status quo, saying the rules of Congress stifle democratic representation and leave power in the hands of a few party leaders. In recent weeks, however, Roy has been especially vocal about his distaste for establishment party politics, rallying his ideological peers to push for more power for rank-and-file members and perhaps foreshadowing what the next two years could look like for the lawmaker who has never served before while Republicans have been in power in the lower chamber.
Shortly after the new Congress convenes for the first time Tuesday, the House will vote on who will be the next speaker, with Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California long expected to be the next in line. But a handful of right-flank members are threatening to tank McCarthy’s bid over frustration with his leadership as minority leader in the last four years. The ultraconservative and influential House Freedom Caucus, which Roy is a part of, is also pushing for several rule changes that its members say would keep leadership more accountable to the rest of the caucus.
Roy has been vocal in his dissatisfaction with Republican leadership both in the House and Senate. He also played a key role in the internal challenge to the Republican conference’s nomination of McCarthy for speaker in November.
“In the early days of the House of Representatives, individual members had the power to make a motion. If it’s seconded, you can debate it, you can have parliamentary engagement,” Roy told reporters. “And today it’s a handful of self-selected power brokers who make all the calls.”
But he hasn’t ruled out the possibility that he could still vote for McCarthy as speaker.
If McCarthy’s bid falls apart, there would be no replacement candidate with nearly as much support, meaning a prolonged selection process that would immobilize the entire Congress. Rules for the House’s day-to-day business would get delayed, and staffers could go without their paychecks. Committee assignments remain in flux, including a handful of chairmanships that Texans are gunning for. Such a delay would be historic in nature as the House has been able to easily elect its speaker on the first vote every Congress for the past 100 years.
The fallout would deal a substantial blow to public confidence in the already polarized House. But Roy and his allies say the confidence is already lost. A major driving force in their discontent in leadership is the party’s underwhelming performance in last year’s midterm elections, despite near-universal predictions of a knockout year. Roy said the lackluster electoral performance was a clarion call from voters fed up with a Congress unable to put into place sweeping conservative priorities on immigration, energy and competitiveness with China.
“You’re calling for unity? How about we unify around something meaningful? Like actually having a House of Representatives and a bunch of Republicans in a conference that are united to actually stand up for the people and do what we said we would do when we came here?” he said.
During a November internal party meeting, Roy nominated fellow right-wing member Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, to be speaker, with Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Victoria, seconding the nomination. The majority of the caucus still voted for McCarthy in the meeting. But Tuesday’s vote will include the entire chamber, with Democrats certain to vote against him. If he can’t draw more of his own party members to support him, he’ll be short of the 218-vote majority needed to win the gavel.
McCarthy has scrambled in the weeks since to secure the support of the remaining holdouts, meeting with Roy and other Freedom Caucus members to go over their complaints with how Congress is run. McCarthy offered rule changes over the weekend meant to address several of the conservative demands, including lowering the threshold of members needed to force a no-confidence vote of the speaker to just five members. Roy and the rest of the Freedom Caucus had been pushing to allow just one member to force a vote that could oust the speaker.
“The debate is just some simple one: Should a member of the body be able to make a motion and then have the body execute on the motion?” Roy said last month. “That’s the question.”
It was one of the biggest concessions McCarthy could give and one he was particularly slow to budge on. Lowering the threshold further would mean two years of immense leverage among his opponents within a party that already has massive philosophical divisions on major policy priorities, including government funding and continued assistance for Ukraine.
Several Texas Republicans, including ardent conservatives, say McCarthy is the only member with the support and political capital to guide the party through the next two years, when Republicans will have a minuscule three-seat majority.
“Leader McCarthy has led us to the majority and is the only one who can unify the party to hold the Biden administration accountable for its failures at home and abroad,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, tweeted ahead of the GOP leadership election.
Roy and Cloud are the only Texas Republicans who actively moved to challenge McCarthy’s speakership in the November party meeting. The meeting vote was behind closed doors, but The Daily Caller reported that Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Richmond, also didn’t vote for McCarthy, nor has the Californian tried to win him over.
McCarthy and Roy saw some agreement in their virulent opposition to the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill that passed last December to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. The package was a laundry list of everything Roy hates about Washington — the over 4,000-page legislation spanned hundreds of priorities largely negotiated behind closed doors and included continued funding to assist Ukraine — an issue dividing House Republicans, with Roy and other conservatives opposing.
House Republicans presented a relatively united front against the measure. Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger, the top House Republican appropriations negotiator, dipped out of talks over objections to the amount of non-defense spending.
The deal ended up being an agreement between Democrats and Senate Republicans, with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, heralding it as helping Texas by increasing defense spending by 10%, boosting Border Patrol, offering funding for agriculture drought relief and investing in grants to tackle school violence. Cornyn was the only Texas Republican in Congress to vote for the package.
But Roy’s objections went further. He and 30 other Republicans in or incoming to the House vowed to stonewall any priorities put forward by Senate Republicans who voted for the omnibus package, writing in a letter to the upper chamber that “for at least nine months, this omnibus will deny the incoming House GOP majority any leverage to enact crucial policy changes needed to secure our border through the power of the purse.”
Roy and the rest of the Freedom Caucus are demanding that new Republican leadership do away with bulk legislative packages like the omnibus all together. The bills, which can stretch thousands of pages, are rife with priorities that legislators could not possibly sift through, they argue, and that never see daylight through debate on the House floor. McCarthy’s rules proposal includes a measure that would require members to keep bills to a single subject, but it does not have any robust enforcement.
“As such, we reiterate that if any omnibus passes in the remaining days of this Congress, we will oppose and whip opposition to any legislative priority of those senators who vote for its passage — including the Republican leader,” they wrote. “We will oppose any rule, any consent request, suspension voice vote, or roll call vote of any such Senate bill, and will otherwise do everything in our power to thwart even the smallest legislative and policy efforts of those senators.”
Reps. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, and Ronny Jackson, R-Amarillo, also signed the letter, as did outgoing Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, and Mayra Flores, R-Los Indios. Rep.-elect Keith Self, R-Plano, also signed on.
McCarthy signaled his support for the effort, tweeting last month that “when I’m Speaker, their bills will be dead on arrival in the House if this nearly $2T monstrosity is allowed to move forward over our objections and the will of the American people.”
But for all of McCarthy’s concessions to the right flank, he has still not been able to convert enough members to have a comfortable majority in time for Tuesday’s vote. After he revealed his rules proposals, nine House Republicans including Roy released a statement on New Year’s Day that the proposals didn’t go far enough to assuage their concerns, though they made progress.
“At this stage, it cannot be a surprise that expressions of vague hopes reflected in far too many of the crucial points still under debate are insufficient,” the members said. “This is especially true with respect to Mr. McCarthy’s candidacy for speaker because the times call for radical departure from the status quo — not a continuation of past, and ongoing, Republican failures.”
Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania, said in a statement Tuesday morning that McCarthy rebuffed the group’s request for promised votes on a border security plan created by Texas Republican members, balancing the budget, a phase-out of funding for the IRS and term limits for Congress.
Other rules McCarthy put forward include the end of proxy voting and set the stage for new investigations into the Biden administration and the Jan. 6 committee, but McCarthy had been indicating his intention to do so for months.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, who led the House Rules Committee in the last Congress, lamented McCarthy’s proposal as targeting civil servants and regressing on accommodations made to make the chamber run more practically during a pandemic.
“Republican leaders have once again caved to the most extreme members of their own caucus: allowing the far-right to hold the incoming Speaker hostage,” McGovern said in a statement. “The American people elected a divided government because they want us to put people over politics and operate in a bipartisan way — not empower extremists who have no interest in working together to get things done.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/01/03/chip-roy-us-house-speaker-kevin-mccarthy/.
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