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Kevin McCarthy is haunting Mike Johnson


Kevin McCarthy paid a price for cutting deals to win his speakership. Mike Johnson is now too.
House Speaker Mike Johnson can blame his problems on his predecessor, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Anyone may have struggled to wrangle this slim Republican majority. But it’s the concessions that McCarthy made to achieve his long-held ambition that made it near impossible for Johnson, or likely anyone else, to be an effective speaker.
In January 2023, McCarthy and his allies were forced to cut a deal with the 20 holdouts that ground business in the chamber to a halt by refusing to accept the California Republican as their leader. To break the stalemate, McCarthy offered a series of concessions.
Two of the biggest carrots have since become powerful sticks for conservatives to swing against him and now Johnson. The House Freedom Caucus cares so much about protecting the power these agreements gave them that they have tapped a crack team, known as the Floor Action Response Team (FART), to monitor any potential changes.
The most noticeable was making it possible for any single lawmaker to file a motion to vacate, the formal process by which the House can rid itself of a speaker. McCarthy reportedly once viewed such a low threshold as a redline, but still agreed to the rules change. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, later made history by taking advantage of the rule to force McCarthy’s ouster. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, has started the process to oust Johnson.
But congressional experts at the time were as worried about another part of McCarthy’s deal.

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