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Time to Pay Up, Speaker of the Faust

When, exactly, will we have a complete list of all the various ways in which Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has sold his soul in order to become Speaker of the House? Who knows? But there's one big one that's been in the spotlight in the past week and where McCarthy is going to have to make a decision fairly soon.

Recall that, several weeks back, McCarthy had the temerity to suggest that Donald Trump, because of his baggage, might not be the Republicans' best candidate in 2024. The former president blew a gasket, and summoned the Speaker to Mar-a-Lago for a weekend of groveling. Initially, Trump demanded that McCarthy come out immediately and formally endorse his 2024 presidential campaign. The Speaker did not wish to do that, as he believed (probably correctly) that Republican members in swingy districts would face constant questions: (1) Do you also support Trump's reelection? and (2) If not, why are you in disagreement with Speaker McCarthy? The swing-district Republicans do not want to answer those questions, or any questions anywhere in that ZIP Code, until they absolutely have to.

So, in order to placate the Dear Leader, and to extricate certain pendulous body parts from Trump's closed fist, McCarthy offered an alternative: He would hold a vote on the floor of the House on "expunging" Trump's two impeachments from the Congressional Record. The Donald, who knows a thing or two about spin, very much liked this idea. He would theoretically be able to go to his rallies and say: "I was never actually impeached; it was such an obvious injustice that Congress had to go back and undo it to make up for the unfair harm it caused me and my beautiful supporters."

That, then, is what Trump was thinking. What McCarthy was thinking, on the other hand, we just don't know. There is, of course, no such thing as expunging the Congressional Record, and you can't de-impeach somebody. But more importantly, did McCarthy fail first-grade math? If swing-district Republicans don't want to be asked uncomfortable questions about their presidential choices, they sure as hell don't want to be asked why they voted to "expunge" Trump's impeachments, particularly the one for his actions on 1/6. There was no way the swing districters were going to play along with this. And, as a reminder, there are 18 Republicans elected from districts won by Joe Biden (not to mention another dozen or so from districts barely won by Donald Trump), while McCarthy's got a 10-person majority, which means he can only afford to have five GOP "nay" votes. Even the staff mathematician (who, admittedly, passed first-grade math, albeit with a C-), was able to confirm that both 18 and 30 are way more than 5. In case there were any doubt on that point, the centrist Republicans in the House (keeping in mind that "centrist" is a relative term here) have already made very clear they will not vote for any sort of effort to rewrite the historical record.

And so, McCarthy has created a real mess for himself. He can hold the vote and watch it fail, which would serve to remind Americans that not only was Trump twice impeached, but also that many Republicans thought it was appropriate for Congress to do so. Or, the Speaker can backpedal on his promise. Either way, Trump will be furious, and will lash out. That means that, either way, the GOP will become more divided (Trumpers angry with "RINOs," or else non-Trumpers angry with Trumpers). The former president might also instruct one or more of the Freedom Caucusers to exercise their right to try to depose McCarthy.

It's too bad for the Speaker that he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) don't get along, because McConnell seems to be much better at handling Trump, and maybe could share some pointers. In any case, McCarthy apparently promised that the expungement measure would be brought up "by August," so sometime soon we will see if he finds a way out of the corner into which he has painted himself. (Z)

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