Two-hundred and eighteen votes is the magic number to elect a new Speaker of the House, and since opening day of the 118th U.S. Congress on January 3, it’d be the understatement of 2023 to say the Republican Congressional delegation is a house divided.
For three days, 90 percent of the Republican Party and 88 percent of Texas representatives voted to back California Congressman Kevin McCarthy. What began as 20 far-right Republicans fighting in the Capitol and preventing their own party from moving forward with the consensus pick has shrunk. Among the 20, three were from Texas—Representatives Keith Self, Michael Cloud, and Chip Roy. Since then, those three Texans have surrendered in an ending far less bloody than the Alamo. Whether it was political theater or gamesmanship, we’ll find out more as assignments are made and further details of deals cut are uncovered. But for now, who are they?
Keith Self hasn’t even been sworn in yet, but the Trump-endorsed congressman-elect from McKinney has opted for a path of betrayal. The Christian nationalist Army vet and former Collin County Judge represents a firmly conservative congressional district northeast of Dallas. McCarthy even campaigned for him. In September, Self described McCarthy as “gracious” and said he had “not heard a single peep” about a challenger.
And last but certainly not least of the Texans is Chip Roy out of Austin. Bald-headed with a bushy goatee and a penchant for causing a ruckus, Roy has a long history of political stunts and emerged as the lead negotiator of the dissident hold-outs. Roy said on the floor, “Change comes by either adopting rules and procedures that will make us actually do our job or it comes from leadership. … I want the tools or I want the leadership to stop the swamp from running over the average American every single day.”
Call them what you like: rebels, “Never-Kevins,” or legislative terrorists. These happy few held Congress hostage in favor of cutting deals. They diverged not only from their own party but from the right-wing populist faction of the House Freedom Caucus, in which three other Texas Republicans—Representatives Ronny Jackson, Randy Weber, and Troy Nehls— followed partywide orders to back McCarthy from the onset.
“I’m going to sit here until we figure out how to stop spending money we don’t have,” Roy said on January 3 before the third round of voting. Well, it seems, at least for now, they’ve figured it out.
The maneuvering of Roy and the other legislative insurrectionists wasn’t without aggravating their fellow Texan comrades. “I don’t think that the American people care about any of these so-called missions happening this week,” Representative Dan Crenshaw of Houston said in a press conference. “Rules changes, who gets more power, who gets on what committee. I can’t think of one American that gives a damn about any of that.”
“Nobody likes this. Democracy’s messy,” said Representative Michael McCaul of Austin, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee (whose official position is being held up by this very process), in an interview with CNN. “But I also worry about what our foreign nation adversaries are thinking when they see this spectacle on the floor and pointing to the fact that maybe democracy is not the best form of government. I happen to think it is. But it’s not a confidence builder.”
On January 4, Congressman Pete Sessions of Waco, former Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, talked of building towards unity in a CNN interview and tweeted, “It is better if we tackle my party’s divide now. Let’s not disregard 19 of our fellow Republicans. They are important to our party and our country to solve big issues like the border. Let’s measure 3 times and cut once. I am not growing weary, but there is an endpoint.”
After days of voting, the resistance has softened, with McCarthy nearing closer towards that endpoint.
All the while, Democrats are laughing all the way to the political bank—or, like Representative Joaquin Castro, are busier dealing with literal babies. “The Republican Party is almost non-functional right now,” Castro told Politico. In every vote, all 212 Democratic representatives have supported the bid of party leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York. “The Democratic message remains the same: We are united and not going anywhere,” Representative Sheila Jackson Lee tweeted. Even Representative Henry Cuellar, the most conservative Democrat in Congress who has often crossed party lines, told Texas Public Radio, “If they want a majority they should be able to govern, and that means electing their own speaker.”
With that solidarity has come an opportunity for relationship-building, too: Former Austin City Council member and new Washington statesman Greg Casar talked with Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez about flipping Texas blue in an 11-minute Instagram video, signaling a growing coalition of “the Squad” alongside other young progressives-elect Maxwell Frost of Florida, Delia Ramirez of Illinois, and Becca Balint of Vermont.
Even as the situation improves, after McCarthy’s thirteenth defeat, he did make history. This spectacle has become the fifth-longest election for Speaker of the House in American history: In 1856, five years prior to the onset of the Civil War, it took 133 rounds of voting for the House to elect an anti-slavery speaker.
While the fever might have broken, how this all ends is still unclear. One thing’s for certain though: The future of the Republican Party is being molded by a handful who’ve mutinied, and Texans are at the helm of that ship.