NYT Bashes White, Rural 'Clutch of Unyielding Hard-Line Conservatives' in Congress That Can't Govern Itself

October 10th, 2015 10:55 PM

The surprise withdrawal of Rep. Kevin McCarthy from the race for Speaker of the House gave the New York Times an excuse to issue a series of front-page stories larded up with hostile "hard-line" and "hard-right" labels mocking the apparent chaos surrounding congressional Republicans, being held "hostage" by the party's conservative wing.

In Friday's front-page story, "McCarthy Withdraws From Speaker's House, Putting House in Chaos" reporters Jennifer Steinhauer and David Herszenhorn piled on the hostile labels.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California abruptly withdrew on Thursday from the race to succeed Speaker John A. Boehner, blindsiding his House Republican colleagues and throwing their already tumultuous chamber into deeper chaos with no clear leader in sight just weeks before a series of high-stakes fiscal battles.

As lawmakers ate barbecue and sipped sodas during what was expected to be a pro forma vote to select Mr. McCarthy as their nominee, he did an about-face, saying that he had concluded he could not unite the increasingly fractious Republican majority.


Mr. McCarthy’s decision leaves the House rudderless just weeks before the Treasury Department faces a debt default that could roil markets, and two months before a deadline for a budget deal to avoid another government shutdown. But it also represents another victory for the clutch of unyielding hard-line conservatives who toppled the ambitions of yet another member of the party leadership.


Mr. Boehner, who said last month that he would leave at the end of October after more than four years of relentless needling from his right flank, issued a less definitive statement on Thursday, saying he would stay in the job until a replacement was chosen “in the coming weeks.”

Mr. McCarthy’s turnaround appeared to stem from his growing realization over the last 24 hours that while many of his colleagues supported him, he risked a humiliating defeat on the floor.

A group of about 40 hard-right House conservatives announced on Wednesday night that they would support Mr. Webster, making it clear that Mr. McCarthy would have had to accede to their demands as he struggled to assemble 218 votes over the next three weeks. (While only Republicans choose their nominee, a majority of the whole House, including Democrats, elects the speaker.)

Friday's front page also featured a hostile news analysis by the paper's veteran congressional correspondent (and Democratic partisan) Carl Hulse, "Divided Against Itself."

Republicans expanded their numbers in the House and won the Senate in 2014 by asking voters to give them control of Congress and let them prove they could govern the country. Right now, they appear unable to govern themselves.

Representative Kevin McCarthy’s abrupt withdrawal Thursday from a speaker’s race he had been favored to win threw the House into tumult and left open the question of who would lead the chamber as Congress faces a series of deadlines to fund the government and keep the nation’s credit intact. It also threatened the party’s credibility with a presidential election just a year away.

The chaos was the latest illustration that hard-right, Tea Party-influenced conservatives who have broken from the Republican establishment have made good on their promise to upend the traditional order in Washington. Other Republicans, blindsided, were assessing their options Thursday, even as Speaker John A. Boehner sought to calm nerves by saying that he would stay on the job until a replacement was found.


Mr. King joined a chorus of colleagues who said House Republicans needed to find a speaker fast, but without conceding too much to the party’s conservative faction, which Mr. King accused of essentially holding the House hostage to its demands for a more confrontational approach.

Hulse portrayed Sen. Harry Reid as the voice of reason.

Democrats seized on the disarray as proof positive of Republican dysfunction. And they warned that the repercussions could extend beyond the political into the economic. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said the “utter chaos” would interfere with raising the federal debt ceiling, putting the nation’s financial standing at risk. Democrats urged Mr. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to bring a debt-limit increase to the House and Senate floors amid the turmoil and pass it with Democratic votes if necessary.

Senate Republicans -- many of them former House members, no doubt happy to have left -- kept their heads down but watched the spectacle across the Rotunda with great interest. The unrest in the House could spill over on them if the public sours on the circus.

Hulse finally found the other side in paragraph 16 out of 17, before concluding with the overheated suggestion that the arcane (to many voters) contest for House Speaker may kick off nationwide economic harm and political doom for the GOP:

House conservatives and their allies in the anti-establishment movement would argue that they are doing exactly what voters back home are demanding: shaking up Washington, staying true to conservative principles and challenging the cozy and entrenched special interests they believe have run things for too long in the nation’s capital. To them, this is not disarray or turmoil; this is victory.

To others in both parties, the spectacle of a House majority split into warring factions, unable to agree on a leader who wants and can do the very difficult job of being House speaker, is neither good politics nor good governance. And if it drags on and causes economic harm, some voters may want to say good riddance.

Saturday's front page on Republicans pleading for Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate, to throw his hat into the ring, was even more label-heavy: "Desperate G.O.P. Appeals To Ryan On Speaker's Job." The text box: "Wary of resistance from hard-line conservatives." Reporters David Herszenhorn and Carl Hulse kept repeating the paper's new favorite phrase.

But even as Mr. Ryan was said to be reconsidering, his close associates cautioned that he had no intention of fighting for the job and would most likely accept it only by acclamation -- including the support of the hard-line conservatives who pressed to oust Mr. Boehner and helped drive the majority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, out of the speaker’s race on Thursday.


While many hard-liners spoke admiringly of Mr. Ryan, they were also adamant that they would not simply jump to support handing him the speaker’s gavel. Many of them viewed Mr. Boehner’s resignation and Mr. McCarthy’s departure from the race as victories, and they have pledged to continue pressing for major changes in House rules to empower the rank-and-file members and weaken the leadership, including the speaker.


Demands for procedural changes notwithstanding, Republicans are now confronting a serious leadership crisis, and Mr. Ryan has sufficient respect that the hard-liners may feel intense pressure to get behind him.


In the conference meeting on Friday morning, Mr. Boehner, who had been hounded by the far-right flank of his party for nearly his entire time as speaker, reassured rank-and-file lawmakers that he would remain until a new speaker was chosen.

That suggested he could stay as speaker and in Congress beyond his previously announced retirement date at the end of October, though Mr. Boehner said he believed a new speaker could be chosen before then, and he was among those trying to convince Mr. Ryan to run.

The hard-right lawmakers who pushed for Mr. Boehner’s ouster have made a long list of demands for changes to how the House operates, including major adjustments to the composition of a committee that decides other committee chairmanships and alterations to the way legislation and amendments can be brought to the floor.

And a nytimes.com interactive from October 6 with a loaded headline, "The Power of the Hard-Line Republicans in the Race for House Speaker," was promoted by Times reporter Eric Lipton on Twitter like this: "The Freedom Caucus, effectively in control of Congress: white men (mostly) from rural America"