House GOP leaders and key negotiators won’t commit to publicly releasing details about the side deals Kevin McCarthy cut in order to secure the speakership, undercutting the Republican pledge to run their chamber openly and transparently and as some rank-and-file members call for more information about the promises that were made.
While some of the concessions were spelled out in the House rules package, which passed with support of all but one Republican on Monday night, other promises – such as adding more members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus to committees and putting conditions on raising the national debt ceiling – were made through a handshake deal, leaving some lawmakers in the dark about the full extent of what McCarthy agreed to.
“Operating in a vacuum doesn’t feel good,” one GOP member told CNN. “We’ve been loyal and it’s a slap in the face.”
Rep. Nancy Mace, who represents a swing district from South Carolina, said, “It is essential” that members and the public hear from the GOP leadership about what those promises were, expressing frustration about learning about some of the promises through the press.
“We know that there were certain members of that faction that were trying to get committee chairmanships or special committee assignments. We won’t know how that shakes out until (the House GOP Steering Committee) does its thing,” Mace told reporters, referring to the panel that sets committee assignments and will make those decisions in the coming days. “There’s still some questions that I think many of us have about what side deals may or may not have been made, what promises are made, what handshakes are made.”
Further adding to the frustration and confusion, there was another document flying around K Street listing out all the alleged McCarthy concessions even as House GOP Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota asserted that the document is not completely accurate.
On Monday night, McCarthy didn’t say whether he planned to release more details of the deals when asked by CNN. On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana would not explicitly promise to divulge the information. And Texas Rep. Chip Roy – who spent hours negotiating the agreement with McCarthy – and helped bring along the votes to get him the speakership, told CNN that much of what has been revealed has been publicly reported, contending that “there is no official list.”
“Everything in life is about – how do you come to terms and agree?” Roy said. “You look somebody in the eye and you shake their hands and you move forward, and that’s precisely what happened.”
At a closed door meeting on Tuesday, GOP leaders walked members through a slide presentation, detailing some of their budget and spending priorities. According to a screenshot of the presentation, which was obtained by CNN, the spending agreement includes vague promises, such as “reforms” to the budget process and mandatory spending programs, which could potentially include Social Security and Medicare.
Also, the other concessions include capping federal spending at fiscal 2022 levels, something defense hawks fear could slash Pentagon programs. Also, there’s a promise to reject “any negotiatons with the Senate” on government funding bills if they don’t meet the terms of the forthcoming House GOP budget resolution and don’t cut domestic spending. Those demands will almost certainly be a non-starter in the Democatic-led Senate, raising the prospects of a government shutdown in the fall or stop-gap measures to keep agencies funded.
In one of the biggest concessions with major economic ramifications, the slide presentation said House Republicans “will not agree” to a raising the nation’s borrowing limit “without budget agreement or commensurate fiscal reforms.” That demand already has drawn sharp pushback from Senate Democrats and could prompt a huge fight with the White House with the prospect of a first-ever default looming sometime this year.
In the Tuesday meeting, McCarthy walked members through the concessions that were included in the rules package, such as restoring the ability of any single member to call for a vote ousting the sitting speaker – a demand from the hard right and something that could threaten his speakership. But there are other deals, such as committee assignments for the holdouts and giving the hard right members more sway over the legislative process, that have yet to be publicly released. McCarthy has also agreed to hold votes on some of the Freedom Caucus’ legislative priorities, such as a border security bill, imposing term limits on members and a balanced budget amendment, according to lawmakers.
Asked by CNN if the American people deserve to know the side-deals that were cut to secure the speakership for McCarthy, especially given the GOP’s claims of supporting transparent government, Scalise was non-committal.
“The speaker talked about that today, and some of the things involved making sure that our committees are represented by a full swath of our membership,” Scalise said at a news conference. “It wasn’t any person was committed a committee.”
The Louisiana Republican added that committee assignments have yet to be doled out, which are part of the agreement. “The committees have to produce bills that come out of committee that represent the full swath of our conference,” Scalise said. “And so that’s something the steering committee is going to take up, and those decisions haven’t been finalized yet.”
But he still wouldn’t commit to releasing the information about McCarthy’s side deals after the committee assignments are set, which will happen over the next few weeks. Once the committees are populated, then the chairs get to pick their subcommittee chairs.
McCarthy sought to quell some of the concerns of members, telling them during a closed-door conference meeting on Tuesday that there is no secret “three-page addendum” to the rules package, even as some lawmakers have said they have seen such a document, according to sources in the room.
Roy insisted to reporters that all is on the up-and-up, pointing to a December proposal he and others released about their demands for more say in the legislative process. He was less clear on which of those proposals McCarthy has signed off on.
“There’s no back room deals … there’s no three-page addendum … there’s no official list,” Roy said. “Do you ever write down notes? Do you ever sit down and talk through like, say, ‘Hey, what are we going to do to agree on spending?’”
As McCarthy was laboring to get the votes last week and faced demands from 20 GOP holdouts, the negotiations happened behind closed doors and were spread out among multiple rooms, leaving some to wonder if it was done so by design as many have said they have not seen the full extent of the promises made.
Roy defended their closed-door negotiations and said everything McCarthy agreed to has come out publicly, and he ticked off some of those items – including promises to vote on bills to impose congressional term limits, secure the border and balance the budget.
“Of course you have to go sit down behind closed doors and not debate this stuff in front of the cameras,” Roy said. “There’s nothing, to the best of my knowledge, nothing that has been part of all that that isn’t very public – including, by the way, a commitment by the speaker to work with us about how the committees are represented.”
Rep. Don Bacon, a moderate who represents a Biden-won district in Nebraska, said he has only been briefed verbally by one of the negotiators about the additional concessions, but said he feels comfortable with what he has heard.
“They were at least verbally briefed to me,” Bacon said. “I feel comfortable with the rules that were presented.”
Yet the rules package adopted by the House on Monday doesn’t include some of the other deals.
Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, another one of the McCarthy holdouts, defended the handling of the situation, arguing that some of the deals McCarthy cut weren’t included in the House rules package because they don’t pertain to the rules, which specifically operates how the House governs.
He told CNN, “There’s no secret deal,” but acknowledged he does not know the full extent of promises the speaker made in order to secure the gavel.
“All of this stuff is a moving target and there’s nothing,” he said. “There’s nothing clandestine about it.”