House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy – who by all accounts only has his current job title because he knew which Skittles flavors Donald Trump liked best – isn’t exactly known for his political savvy. But yesterday he made a move that wasn’t entirely dumb. He named notorious lunatic Jim Jordan to the January 6th committee, knowing Nancy Pelosi would have to reject Jordan, and hoping Pelosi would then feel compelled to let the rest of the picks slide.
It wasn’t a bad strategy. But when you’re facing off against Pelosi, “not bad” isn’t good enough. Sure enough, Pelosi figured out that what McCarthy was really trying to do was get House Republican Jim Banks onto the committee. Banks is an extremist and a conspiracy theorist who voted against certifying the election results. But unlike Jordan, who only knows how to yell around and embarrass his own side, Banks knows how to fake sounding reasonable as needed. And so Pelosi rejected Jordan and Banks both today.
Pelosi made a point of approving McCarthy’s other three picks, who were all unimportant filler. One of them also voted against certifying the election, but he’s a featherweight who wasn’t going to be able to do much for his own side. If Pelosi had also rejected him, then McCarthy could have argued to the public that Pelosi rejected the majority of his five picks. But by only rejecting the two important insurrectionists, Jordan and Banks, Pelosi kept McCarthy from even being able to make that argument.
This means that McCarthy (and presumably Donald Trump, with whom he met a few days ago) got none of what they were hoping for. They didn’t get their heavy hitter Banks onto the committee. They didn’t come away being able to argue that the committee is invalid because the majority of their picks were vetoes. Left defeated and with no good options, McCarthy decided to throw a tantrum today, withdrawing all five of his picks.
This isn’t going to go well for McCarthy no matter how it plays out from here. He’ll be left having to explain to the media and the public why he withdrew three of his own picks after Pelosi signed off on them. And those three picks will be left in the awkward position of having to either serve on the committee against McCarthy’s wishes, or scandalize themselves by boycotting a committee that they were just added to.
Pelosi has a few options from here. Earlier this month she added high profile House Republican Liz Cheney – no friend of McCarthy or the Democrats – to the committee. So she can just go with what she has, arguing that it’s bipartisan in nature, and letting Cheney explain to the public that she’s not going to let the Democrats make it a one-sided affair.
Pelosi can also add Adam Kinzinger, who is also not aligned with McCarthy or the Democrats, to the committee; this would give her two Republicans. Or she can pick five low profile House Republicans for the committee, and put them in the awkward position of having to say “yes” or “no.”
We’ll see what Pelosi does next. But either way she’s managed to keep McCarthy and Trump from getting who they really wanted on the committee, and she’s left them having to explain why there aren’t more Republicans on the committee. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how she wants to complete her victory over McCarthy, so the committee can get down to the serious business of investigating Donald Trump’s incitement of a domestic terrorist insurrection.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report