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GOP makes history when 8 hard-liners succeed in ousting House Speaker McCarthy

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Kevin McCarthy went through 15 rounds of votes to become speaker of the House. It took just one to remove him.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: I leave the speakership with a sense of pride, accomplishment and, yes, optimism.

MARTÍNEZ: Eight Republican hard-liners joined Democrats in pushing McCarthy out, and McCarthy says he won't try to push himself back in. Liam Donovan is a Republican strategist who's here with us now. Liam, if such a small group of Republicans was able to topple the speaker, what does it say about the GOP's ability to lead?

LIAM DONOVAN: Well, I think this is overdetermined in some ways. This has been on a collision course since January. The fact that it did take the 15 rounds that you mentioned, we always knew that there was going to be this empowered rump that had a nihilistic streak, and if joined by all Democrats, this was always going to be the case. So I think the fact that Kevin McCarthy did the right thing in multiple instances forced - this is unfortunate, and it changes the incentives going forward, but it does, you know, force sort of a reckoning within the Republican Party. I do think the way this shook out probably galvanizes the party to some degree. I think there is a level of unity for all but the eight members that sort of prompted this mutiny. We'll have to see what they do in resettling themselves around a new speaker. But it is something that I think is all too predictable and yet so abrupt that people are still catching their breath.

MARTÍNEZ: So GOP voters shouldn't question the ability to lead for the party right now.

DONOVAN: Well, I think in this case, it's a question - how do you get around this determined rump who in the current setup of a House majority, if you can't martial majority at any given time, you're going to have challenges leading? And so it becomes a question of when speakers step up and put must-pass legislation on the floor, is that going to risk their job every time? And I think looking forward, it does seem to be the case that if you make a deal, then there are going to be a handful of people that look to take you down. So I think there has to be some understanding between the minority and the majority that we're not going to punish people for doing the right thing.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, in case people don't know, you don't have to be a House member to be House speaker. That's why some Republicans might want to see Donald Trump become the next speaker. Who's on your list, Liam?

DONOVAN: Well, I think you have to look at leadership to begin with, and I think we've already begun to see the machinations begin with particularly leader Steve Scalise. I think there were some questions regarding his health status, but the fact that he's going for it, making the calls, suggests that he'd be sort of the leader in the clubhouse. Other members of leadership have begun to endorse him. He's making the rounds. But there's always going to be other names. And I think you're hearing people like Jim Jordan, who's the chair of the Judiciary Committee. I think somebody who is considered kind of a conservative stalwart and maybe somebody who's been on the lips of people in previous speaker fights - he seems to be potentially interested, which is a little bit of a surprise to me. There could be some dark horses, but I think people are going to watch what the big names do before they really make any aggressive moves right now.

MARTÍNEZ: I mean, every single seat in the House is up for grabs. I mean, how is the GOP going to play with voters in elections this next year? I mean, the infighting - how is that going to play?

DONOVAN: Yeah, well, like I said, I think the fact that there was a lockstep move by Democrats to go after McCarthy in an interesting way I think does allow them to have a rallying cry. It gives them the sense that McCarthy was sort of martyred for doing his job. I think Democrats have certainly a different view of things. But I do think that will help to unify the remaining members. And again, it's still that handful of members that have just completely contorted incentives, are looking for attention or looking to raise money in their own right, less interested in supporting the team. But at the end of the day, I think keeping things on the rails and keeping the attention on Joe Biden's administration is going to be the key for keeping the House and potentially growing it to a point where you're not constantly under threat of a handful of members.

MARTÍNEZ: Liam Donovan is a Republican strategist. Liam, thanks.

DONOVAN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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