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EDITORIAL: GOP infighting threatens the party’s agenda

Leadership challenges aren’t uncommon in the House. Neither is internal dissension. Nancy Pelosi was forced to fend off criticism from vocal progressives unhappy with her style and willingness to empower more moderate Democrats. And now, having narrowly taken a majority in the lower chamber, Republicans are engaged in a very public internecine battle about who should lead them.

In November, House Republicans voted 188-31 to select Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California as their candidate for speaker. But the new Congress will convene Tuesday, and it remains uncertain whether he can round up a majority to take the helm when the roll call is taken. If just five Republicans bolt, the tally could go to a second ballot for the first time since 1923. If that happens, there’s no telling the result.

A handful of conservatives in the House have stated their intention to oppose Rep. McCarthy. Some have personal political battles with him. Others criticize Rep. McCarthy for not being principled enough on various issues — for being more process than policy. Fair enough. But they should ask themselves: What is the endgame? A splintered Republican majority in the House will be less likely to unite to slow President Joe Biden’s destructive agenda. It will create difficult challenges for GOP members eager to showcase an alternative for voters.

Rep. McCarthy has his baggage. He went overboard carrying water for former President Donald Trump, going so far as to deny he made critical comments about the White House’s role in the Jan. 6 riots even though his statements were recorded. Yet he has been a prolific fundraiser, helping many GOP House members facing tough re-election battles. Rep. McCarthy also has leadership experience, which is vital in the House with its arcane rules and procedures.

Of greater importance, no competent challenger has come forward in an effort to take the gavel. The primary result of this infighting will be a weakened speaker one way or the other. That’s unproductive for Republicans in the long run.

“The Republican Party right now is in the greatest danger of meltdown than it’s been since 1964,” former GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich said this week. He went on to lambaste those seeking to disrupt the process. “These guys can’t count straight. They can’t play tic-tac-toe. They can’t accept victory. To undermine (McCarthy) is to undermine conservatism, undermine the Republican Party and, frankly, undermine the country.”

Rep. McCarthy has made a number of concessions in recent days to persuade the reluctant. Whether it’s enough will be determined Tuesday. Ultimately, however, House GOP members who oppose Rep. McCarthy must consider whether their rebellion, absent a viable alternative for speaker, is conducive to helping Republicans position themselves to win over voters in 2024.

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