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Opinion: Kevin McCarthy’s ugly road to victory sends a message

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Frederick Huntington Gillett was the model of a New England gentleman. Educated at Amherst College and Harvard Law School, he glided through 16 terms in the US House. Gillett was so calm and laid back that a reporter joked that the Massachusetts congressman would refuse coffee in the morning “for fear it would keep him awake all day.”

His inoffensiveness may even have been an asset in winning the support of his Republican colleagues for House Speaker in 1919 and 1921. But in 1923, a small group of progressive Republicans blocked Gillett, denying him victory until the ninth ballot, which came after party leaders agreed to rule changes giving rank-and-file members more influence.

That century-old moment of dysfunction haunted the House last week as dissident Republicans made Kevin McCarthy scramble for votes through 15 ballots. The son of a firefighter from Bakersfield, California, saw his personality and track record dissected by opponents, only some of whom seemed motivated by a desire for the rule changes McCarthy was forced to make. His excruciating path to eventual victory – culminating in the sight of one Republican lawmaker being restrained after he lunged at another – presages a stormy future for the bitterly divided House majority.

McCarthy deserves a big share of the blame for the spectacle of a legislative majority spending days trying to organize itself, wrote Jill Filipovic. “McCarthy, who in the early days after the January 6 attack said (President Donald) Trump bore responsibility for it but didn’t support his impeachment, and who helped usher conservative extremists into office and then protect them once there, is experiencing the all-too-predictable outcome of handing power to the unhinged,” wrote Filipovic, before Republicans finally elected McCarthy.

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Clay Jones/CNN

“Even if McCarthy manages to squeak out the leadership, a powerful and vocal contingent of his party has publicly humiliated him and expressed their lack of confidence in his control,” she observed.

“That does not bode well for the Republican Party’s ability to govern…”

After this bruising episode, the House Republicans face even bigger tests: Will they hold America’s credit rating hostage by refusing to raise the debt ceiling? What kind of oversight will they exercise over the Biden administration? Will they block aid to Ukraine? And will McCarthy be able to effectively lead?

Former Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican, wrote, “While congratulations are in order to Speaker McCarthy, the role has been considerably weakened due to the reported concessions he made during this unseemly political shakedown. … It begs the question: Is surrendering your way to victory really winning? And when will this appeasement ever end, considering it only makes this extremist faction more powerful?”

In the Wall Street Journal, former Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from Texas, observed, “It’s hard not to see the predicament of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as a tragedy. A man who was heralded 15 years ago as a new brand of conservative leader, who set records for fundraising, and who helped get candidates elected all over the country now has had to suffer through successive failures to become speaker of the House.”

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Nick Anderson/Tribune Content Agency

Earlier in the week, even an appeal from former President Donald Trump on Truth Social (DO “NOT TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT … Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB—JUST WATCH!”) failed to move opponents into McCarthy’s column.

Though they did not heed Trump’s instructions, the rebels relied on his playbook, wrote Julian Zelizer: “A significant part of Trump’s influence was his nihilistic attitude of political combat. He helped to spur a younger, more extreme cohort to step up and demand power. It seems these burn-down-the-house conservatives will do almost anything in pursuit of victory and believe – like Trump – that chaos, instability, and hyper-divisiveness have great political value. And now some of these Trump loyalists might be close to concluding that they no longer need him – or at the very least, they no longer need to follow his every move.”

The speakership drama extended through the second anniversary of January 6, 2021, when rioters stormed the Capitol to try to block the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president. In a striking moment that day, police drew their guns at the door of the House chamber to protect its members, who were later evacuated.

On Friday, Biden honored a number of heroes from that day, including Michael Fanone, a former Washington, DC, police officer injured in the riot. “If Republicans can finally agree on a speaker, the same GOP leaders who spread former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election … will take the reins of power in the House,” Fanone wrote for CNN Opinion.

“This week marks two years since the most violent day of my law enforcement career, the same violent uprising that House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and many others in his party continue to downplay,” Fanone noted. “The violent insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol two years ago, almost taking my life, ignored my pleas that I have kids.”

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Mike Luckovich/Creators Syndicate

For more on politics:

Scott Jennings: Mitch McConnell is making Senate history

Thomas Balcerski: Kevin McCarthy is getting a humiliating history lesson

Frida Ghitis: Their brilliance was a mirage. How 2022 exposed the world’s tyrants

Dean Obeidallah: What Kevin McCarthy’s silence about George Santos reveals

Paul E. Peterson: How to stop Trump from becoming the GOP nominee again

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Bill Bramhall/Tribune Content Agency

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Walt Handelsman/Tribune Content Agency

Americans held their breath when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed moments after tackling a rival player on Monday Night Football. Hamlin was resuscitated on the field, and by the end of the week he was able to speak and move his arms and legs.

Coy Wire, who played for the Bills and the Atlanta Falcons before becoming a journalist, wrote, “I’m reminded of the brutal nature of the sport I love, feeling the physical pains from my nine seasons in the NFL. I have a titanium plate and four screws in my neck. I had multiple concussions, including one in Buffalo where I had no recollection of what happened until I watched the game during film sessions the next day. I remember vividly how scary injuries can be.”

“That’s why, as the horrific scene unfolded on Monday night … and as tears came pouring down players’ faces as they prayed … mental wounds were reopened as haunting memories came flooding back in.

A few hours before Hamlin’s collapse, Paul Rieckhoff, a former high school and college football player, was watching his two young sons in a game of playground football. “I was talking to another dad who, like me, played college football and has an 8-year-old son (one year older than my oldest). We chatted about his son’s first experience playing full tackle football in pads this fall. I can’t see letting my son hit that early. Or maybe ever. I just can’t.

“But at the same time, I know football totally changed (and probably saved) my life in a way like nothing else has – except maybe the military.”

Jeff Pearlman told the story of Chuck Hughes, the Detroit Lions wide receiver who suffered a fatal heart attack at Tiger Stadium in 1971 and became the only NFL player to die on the field during a game. Less than 10 minutes after Hughes’ body was taken off the field, the game was back on, Pearlman noted. But times have changed. “Fifty-two years after the Hughes tragedy, the Bills-Bengals game was rightly suspended after Hamlin’s collapse…”

Still, “is a game that results in so much pain and suffering a reasonable pursuit in an enlightened society? Should we talk more about the 2017 Boston University study that found Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in 99% of brains obtained from NFL players, as well as 91% of college football players? Can we question the wisdom of grown men slamming into grown men? Can we debate whether youth tackle leagues are life-affirming, or insane?

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Drew Sheneman/Tribune Content Agency

At the start of 2023, Ukraine’s forces struck a vocational school housing Russian troops in the occupied city of Makiivka in the Donetsk region. The Ukrainian military claimed there were hundreds of casualties; Russian officials put the number at 89. Regardless of the disparity, David A. Andelman noted, it was “Russia’s highest single-incident death toll since the war began more than 10 months ago.”

“If the Russian account is accurate, it was the cell phones that the novice troops were using in violation of regulations that allowed Ukrainian forces to target them most accurately,” Andelman wrote. “The errors by the Russian military are now becoming so blatant, and as the Makiivka attack shows, so deadly to Russian forces, that some of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s most ardent apologists have now begun turning on the military establishment.”

For more:

Lara Setrakian: With Russia’s fading power in Ukraine, a second catastrophe looms

“Avatar: The Way of Water” may be on its way to earning as much as $2 billion at the box office, but Jeff Yang was wary of going to see director James Cameron’s sequel until his 14-year-old son persuaded him. “Though I’d recalled feeling like the 2009 original was more of a weirdly off-putting immersive experience than an actual motion picture,” Yang wrote, “Cameron’s masterful narrative instincts and intricate worldbuilding overwhelmed my reflexive cynicism…for the first half hour of ‘Way of Water”s epic three-hour running length, anyway.”

“Audiences and critics now and in the future will laud Cameron’s creativity and attention to detail, and they should – but they likely won’t know how much of the franchise’s incredible worldbuilding is simply an act of elaborate collage, snapping together elements pulled from scores of our world’s oldest civilizations, while ascribing them to fantastical cat people rather than resourceful human beings,” Yang wrote.

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David Axelrod: A hopeful night 15 years ago showed what America can be

Kara Alaimo: It’s time to change the meaning of sick leave

Mark Zandi: The worst is over for the stock market

Aaron David Miller: Israel’s provocative start to 2023

Sophia Nelson: Self-care is not a luxury. It’s a matter of survival



60 Minutes

Prince Harry chose to title his new book, publishing Tuesday, “Spare,” after the adage that people in the line of succession need to have “an heir and a spare.”

The book’s revelations are already being called “jaw-dropping,” but there’s a basic contradiction in the continuing saga of Harry, Meghan and the royal family, wrote Peggy Drexler.

Harry and Meghan quit the family “amid complaints that they preferred a private life as ‘regular people,’ no longer wanting the media attention that came with being royals, including being tabloid fodder. In an excerpt from an upcoming interview, Harry told ITV: ‘I want a family. Not an institution.’”

“And yet here they are, fully and willingly creating that fodder themselves.”

“And fodder it is. Among the gossipy allegations Harry lobs at his brother in ‘Spare’ are details of a physical altercation between the two during which William knocked Harry to the floor and left him scratched and bruised, and claims that William and his wife, Kate Middleton, were the ones responsible for encouraging Harry’s controversial Nazi costume in 2005…”

“Competition between children is common, and sibling rivalry between brothers even more so, especially when there are just two of them,” noted Drexler, a psychologist. “Certainly, most aren’t born into families with set hierarchies that serve to remind them of their exact place. But brotherly discord has existed throughout time, inspiring countless works of art in all spheres (most of them tragedies). Harry is not special—his is one of the commonest dramas of human nature.”

“He’s also not a victim, nor blameless.”

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