McCarthy faces first test as Speaker with vote on rules package

The House is set to vote tonight on the rules that will govern the chamber for the next two years, marking the first big test for Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) ability to keep his conference together.

The vote comes just days after he won the Speakership following 15 rounds of voting that spanned four days. He was ultimately able to lock down the gavel after offering several rules concessions to appease conservative Republicans and move them from holdouts to supporters.

The rules package is now scheduled to come before the entire House chamber on Monday — the first vote on legislation in the 118th Congress.

It will also be the first time Republicans work to pass a resolution in the narrowly split chamber, where they can only afford to lose four votes amid Democratic opposition.

Why is the rules package taking center stage?

Hard-line conservatives who forced McCarthy into a historic four-day, 15-ballot fight over the Speakership had demanded concessions on the House rules, makeup of key committees and Republican priorities.

McCarthy fulfilled several requests in a version of the rules package first released on New Year’s Day, which included items like requiring 72 hours from release of final bill text before a floor vote and streamlining a vote to create a select subcommittee on “Weaponization of the Federal Government” under the House Judiciary Committee.

But that was not good enough for hard-liners and the result was McCarthy and other Republicans hammering out portions of the rules package — a document many outside the Capitol were getting their first introduction to — in front of a national audience.

One sticking point was the threshold for the motion to vacate the chair, which would force a vote on ousting the House Speaker. McCarthy last weekend had lowered that threshold to five members, down from the approval of half the GOP conference.

After multiple failed ballots and late-night negotiations, McCarthy agreed to lower the threshold to make the move to just one member.

Are all Republicans on board?

The drawn-out rules package fight — and side negotiations between McCarthy allies and detractors like Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.) — frustrated moderate Republicans and others close to McCarthy who did not like being out of the loop, and who were concerned about some of the deals made.

At least one Republican is now threatening to vote against the rules package, putting the fate of the bill in jeopardy because of the GOP’s narrow majority in the chamber. Republicans can only afford to lose four votes assuming all Democrats oppose the terms.

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) announced on Twitter Friday night that he would not support the package. Pressed on his stance Sunday, he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he is concerned about the new rules cutting defense spending.

The deal struck between McCarthy allies and detractors would cap fiscal 2024 spending at levels from fiscal 2022, prompting some to worry that the cuts could affect defense spending. Roy’s office, however, said “cuts to defense spending were NEVER DISCUSSED” in negotiations.

“This has a proposed billions-of-dollar cut to defense, which I think is a horrible idea, when you have aggressive Russia in Ukraine, you’ve got a growing threat of China in the Pacific,” Gonzales told CBS. “I’m going to visit Taiwan here in a couple of weeks. How am I going to look at our allies in the eye and say, I need you to increase your defense budget, but yet America is going to decrease ours?”

He also said he initially was concerned that the rules package would come to the floor in the early hours of Saturday, but the vote was ultimately punted on Monday. Gonzales noted that he is not encouraging his colleagues to join him in opposition.

But his stance, nonetheless, has not been well-received within conservative circles. FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group, warned on Monday that Gonzales could face political backlash for his opposition to the Rules package.

“If Tony’s a ‘NO’ on the House Rules Package he should not be welcomed into the 119th Congress,” the organization wrote on Twitter.

In a subsequent tweet, FreedomWorks for America wrote “Couldn’t agree more,” adding “#TX23 deserves a Member of Congress who will put their constituents above the DC Swamp. We look forward to the 2024 election season, @TonyGonzales4TX.”

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) was also considering voting against the rules package, she told “Face the Nation” on Sunday, but ultimately decided to support the package, a source close to her office told The Hill.

The congresswoman told “Face the Nation” that she was concerned about the backroom deals struck and “gentleman’s handshakes” made during last week’s Speaker race.

What’s in the rules package?

The most controversial and hard-fought change, and the only one that happened after the New Year’s Day release of the package, is lowering the threshold for the motion to vacate the chair to just one member.

The rules package also brings back the Holman rule, which allows members to propose amendments to appropriations bills that cut the salaries of specific federal workers or funding for specific programs down to $1, effectively defunding them. Some Republicans have suggested using the rule to defund certain investigations and officials in the FBI and Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security or officials who were involved in COVID-19 policies.

In a new move, Republicans will direct the Congressional Budget Office to analyze the inflationary impact of legislation in addition to the budgetary impact — an issue that Republicans repeatedly hammered amid the inflation rate hitting a four-decade high in 2022.

The “pay-as-you-go” rule that requires legislation that would increase mandatory spending to be offset with spending cues or revenue increases, will be replaced with a “cut-as-you-go” variation first instituted by Republicans in 2011 that requires increases to be offset with equal or greater mandatory spending decreases. Both parties frequently waived the rule to pass legislation in the past.

Many McCarthy concessions not in the rules package

In addition to measures in the rules package, McCarthy and his top negotiators agreed to several other measures in order to win over the group of 20 hard-line Republicans to support him for Speaker.

McCarthy agreed to place two to three hard-line conservative members on the House Rules Committee, which controls the structure of debate and legislation coming to the House floor, and whether any standard rules are waived, according to a person familiar with the agreement.

There will be floor votes on a term limits bill and legislation encompassing a border security plan crafted by Texas Republicans.

McCarthy also pledged to bring up 12 regular appropriations bills individually, rather than as an omnibus as in 2022, and made commitments on an open amendment process, hard-line Republicans said.

Separately, the Congressional Leadership Fund PAC that is aligned with McCarthy agreed to not spend in open safe-seat GOP primaries, addressing a request from the hard-liners for leadership to stay out of GOP primaries.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.