How will the hard-right Republicans in Congress wield their newfound power?
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Now that Kevin McCarthy has assumed his new role as speaker of the House, a position he won after making concessions to the far right of his party, what can we expect? Jim Jordan, a Trump ally who played a role in trying to overturn the election, is now chair of the Judiciary Committee, as well as chair of a new subcommittee to investigate the weaponization of government. That subcommittee is likely to investigate the Biden administration and members of Congress who have been investigating the attempt to overthrow the election and the attack on the Capitol. The January 6 committee subpoenaed Jordan. Jordan refused to comply. Now he's the one with the subpoena power.
Republican-led committees will be investigating President Biden and his son Hunter, including Hunter's business practices and the classified documents found in President Biden's home and office. Republicans may block efforts to raise the debt ceiling, which would lead to America defaulting on its debt and throw our economy and parts of the global economy into chaos. And there's George Santos, who lied his way into Congress, fabricating his biography and resume. Who knows how that will play out? Here to talk about these issues and more is Catie Edmondson, who covers Congress for The New York Times. We recorded our interview yesterday morning.
Catie Edmondson, welcome to FRESH AIR. What do Republicans most want to do with their new power?
CATIE EDMONDSON: Thanks for having me, Terry. I think it really depends on which Republicans you speak to, and that is going to be the dynamic that really drives this fractious House majority. You have, of course, the hard-right flank of the party who have a couple of different aspirations in mind. One is that they do want to leverage their newfound subpoena power and their power in the majority to enact vengeance, essentially, on the Biden administration, to investigate them in the way they felt the Democrats used their power in the majority to investigate former President Donald Trump. And you also have Republicans in that hard-right flank who really want to use their power in the new majority to enact deep spending cuts to essentially change the way the House functions and to really enact sweeping changes to the way the House does business when it comes to the government's finances.
Then you have moderate Republicans who are looking to reach across the aisle and try to get some bipartisan governing done to keep the government open, to make sure the government does not default on our debt. And so you have a lot of different motivations, some of which are working at cross purposes. And that is going to guarantee that it is going to be a pretty fractious two years.
GROSS: Is one of the goals of the far right of the Republican Party to impeach President Biden?
EDMONDSON: It depends on who you speak to, but that is certainly a goal of many of the hard-right lawmakers, particularly those who seem to be picking up influence within the party. I'm thinking specifically of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who introduced articles of impeachment against President Biden in, I believe, her second or third week in office. That is certainly something that some members of the far-right flank want to see. That is a concept that has gotten some pushback from Republican leaders. So I think that is going to be a dance that Republican leadership and the right flank do for the next couple of years. And certainly some of those members and even more moderate members of the Republican Party, or mainstream members, I should say, would like to see the Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas impeached as well.
GROSS: Now Republicans have subpoena power and they're creating new committees to investigate Democrats. So let's start with the new subcommittee on investigating the weaponization of government. This is a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee. Judiciary is now led by Jim Jordan, who's a Trump ally and an election denier, and played a role in trying to overturn the election. So what was his role in trying to overturn the election?
EDMONDSON: Well, it's interesting because Congressman Jordan went on TV after the election in 2020 and he parroted some of the claims that former President Trump was making at the time, raising questions about widespread election fraud that would have significantly impacted the results of the election. He had a couple of meetings with far-right congressmen in the Freedom Caucus who were trying to figure out what the best mechanism would be to try to challenge the election results. Those meetings obviously led to the effort in Congress on January 6 to overturn the election results. Mr. Jordan, as well as now all three members of House Republican leadership, all voted to overturn the election even after the Capitol was breached on January 6.
GROSS: So Jim Jordan, who played a role in trying to overturn the election, now heads the Judiciary Committee and this new subcommittee to investigate the weaponization of government. So he has a lot of power. So what will this new committee on the weaponization of government have the power to do?
EDMONDSON: So the House voted last week to authorize the creation of this special subcommittee to investigate, quote-unquote, "the weaponization of government." And because it's still in early stages, we're still waiting to see exactly how Mr. Jordan and lawmakers on this subcommittee plan to use this power. But we do have a general roadmap based off of even the last couple of years, things that Mr. Jordan has said, things that members of the far right have said. And animating this subcommittee is the concept that within the nation's intelligence services, there are partisans. This is the idea of the deep state. There are partisans who are against Republicans and against former President Trump specifically. And I think one thing that we will see this subcommittee try to achieve is hauling in former federal agents, perhaps current federal agents, and grilling them about whether there is partisan leaning within these departments that have affected the way government runs.
GROSS: Jim Jordan was one of the people subpoenaed by the January 6 committee and didn't comply. Others include Kevin McCarthy, the new speaker of the House, Scott Perry, the head of the far-right Freedom Caucus. So the subcommittee will have subpoena power, and it's headed by somebody who declined to respond to his subpoena from the January 6 committee. So - I don't know - well, what does that mean?
EDMONDSON: Well, Speaker McCarthy was actually asked about this at a news conference in Washington late last week that I attended. He was asked, given the fact that you declined to participate with the January 6 committee after you were subpoenaed, haven't you yourself just set the precedent for witnesses who are subpoenaed by this new subcommittee to decline to participate? And his answer was that while the January 6 committee was a thoroughly partisan affair, and obviously our new subcommittee is not going to be partisan at all, so, of course, any witnesses who are subpoenaed can't use the same excuse that I just did. But of course, I think the reality is that that has created a roadmap for witnesses who are subpoenaed to refuse to participate.
GROSS: OK. Let's take a short break here. My guest is Catie Edmondson, who covers Congress for The New York Times. We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF NAOMI MOON SIEGEL'S "IT'S NOT SAFE")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Catie Edmondson. She covers Congress for The New York Times. We're talking about the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives led by the new speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who made many concessions to the far right of his party in order to get elected speaker.
Let's look at the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is headed now by James Comer of Kentucky. First of all, tell us a little bit about James Comer.
EDMONDSON: Yeah. Congressman Comer has been a sort of loyal soldier of the House Republican Conference for quite some time now. He's from Kentucky. And actually, one of his pet issues for quite a long time was something that achieved bipartisan buy-in, which was using hemp as a crop, essentially, and trying to get more people to buy in to - allowing the purchase and sale of hemp.
But he has found himself now in the position of becoming the chairman of the oversight committee, which obviously is one of the key committees in the House for pursuing investigations. This was a committee that Democrats, when they were in the majority during the Trump administration, used to bedevil the Trump administration - to haul in Trump administration officials and grill them about various issues. And Chairman Comer has promised to do much the same with his gavel.
GROSS: So he's expected to lead an investigation into President Biden and his son Hunter Biden. What does he plan to investigate?
EDMONDSON: That's right. He has said that his investigation is really going to focus on two things. It is going to focus first on the business dealings of Hunter Biden abroad in China and Ukraine. And then, he said that really the important second piece of his investigation is going to be looking to see whether there are ties between President Biden and Hunter's business dealing. And the way he has framed his investigation is that this is not just an investigation of Hunter, but it is, by proxy, an investigation fundamentally of President Biden himself.
GROSS: Is this committee also expected to investigate the classified documents that were found in President Biden's home and office?
EDMONDSON: Yes, it is. Congressman Comer said over the weekend that he plans to open an investigation into President Biden's handling of the classified documents. That investigation obviously is going to open up a lot of questions about the way that Republicans have responded to former President Trump's mishandling of classified documents. It already has prompted several reporters to ask Republicans about whether they see any hypocrisy in the way they have responded to President Biden's handling of these documents versus their extremely muted response to former President Trump's handling. And Congressman Comer said over the weekend that it wasn't really the mishandling of classified documents by President Biden that he was concerned about, but that he was more concerned about the disparity and the way he believes both president and former president were treated.
GROSS: He's an example of the disparity in the sense that he totally downplayed the Trump classified documents, but he seems pretty upset by the Biden classified documents.
EDMONDSON: That's right. And I think that is going to be a general theme that we see here in the next two years, is that you are going to have Republican members of Congress who looked the other way when former President Trump was engaged in some sort of misconduct or questionable behavior, then go on to seize on smaller offenses by President Biden and his administration.
GROSS: There's a new House rules package with compromises and concessions that McCarthy made to get elected speaker. Of all those changes, which do you think are the most consequential?
EDMONDSON: Well, there are a few big ones. And I should also say that the list of concessions that McCarthy made to the hard-right rebels is not fully enumerated in the rules package. Several of those concessions, you can see them when you pull up the rules package to read it. But several of them have yet to be formally codified. They exist basically as a handshake agreement between Speaker McCarthy and these hard-right rebels. And as a reporter, I'll say that is somewhat concerning to me simply because you'd like to see what was agreed to. You'd like to see it on paper. You'd like to know that you have a full understanding of exactly what concessions were made. And to this day, we still really don't.
That being said, there are a couple of really important changes that were made. And this actually does not exist in the rules package. But one is that Speaker McCarthy agreed to give the hard-right rebels a critical block on a committee called the Rules Committee. This is somewhat of an arcane committee, but it's a really important one because it effectively acts as sort of the gatekeepers of what legislation can be voted on on the House floor and how it can be voted on. And so this is going to give the hard-right flank of his party enormous power when it comes to deciding what even can get a vote in the House of Representatives.
These are lawmakers who have said that they do not want to vote to raise the debt ceiling, for example, unless it comes with deep, deep cuts to the United States budget. These are lawmakers who are typically anathema to most bipartisan legislation. And so putting them on this committee could have really significant impact on how the House functions for the next couple of years.
And I would say the second change that is also worth noting is that Speaker McCarthy, in fact, promised the hard-right rebels that he would not allow a vote to raise the debt ceiling unless the Biden administration relented and agreed to, again, those deep cuts in the federal budget. And so I think those two changes sets us up for a really dangerous path when it comes to ensuring that the United States does not default on its debt.
GROSS: Yeah, 'cause this is money that the United States has already - already owes. And so if it defaults on its debt, then the full faith and credit of the U.S. is kind of destroyed. And with that comes, like, chaos.
GROSS: Like, the general understanding is that you don't negotiate about the debt ceiling. Like, you pay your debts.
EDMONDSON: That's right. And I mean, going back to 2011, when there was, again, this hard-right flank of Republicans that was ascendant in the House majority at the time, when President Obama was president, that was sort of the last time that we saw this type of collision. But ultimately, the House was able to negotiate with the Senate and with President Obama's administration, and they were able to figure something out.
Now, President Biden and his administration have said that they have actually no appetite to negotiate with House Republicans on the debt ceiling, that this is something that Congress simply must take care of and that it is their duty to take care of. But at the same time, you have this really unyielding right flank in the House Republican Party that has just shown that it has a great deal of influence when it comes to what can or cannot move on the House floor. And that has made a lot of people, both in Congress and on Wall Street, extremely nervous about how this skirmish is going to play out later in the year.
GROSS: I think it's fair to say that no legislation is going to get passed for the next two years. Because if the Republican-led House passes a bill, the Senate won't pass it 'cause that's controlled by Democrats. And Biden probably wouldn't sign it. If Democrats bring legislation to the floor, if it gets to the floor, that'll be voted down by the Republican House majority. But what Republicans do have the power to do is, you know, to obstruct, to prevent things from going to the floor, and also to conduct the investigations that we've been talking about.
EDMONDSON: That's right. You know, I am a pessimist by nature. And so I generally am inclined to agree with you that we are going to see very little in the way of actual legislating. I think maybe, maybe, there could be some agreement found on foreign policy issues, whether that's Ukraine or trying to combat the rise of the Chinese government, or even perhaps something to do with reining in big tech. Those would be sort of the three areas I could foresee potentially Republicans and Democrats finding some agreement on. But I think you're absolutely right in that the next two years is not going to be defined by governing and legislating. It is going to be defined by obstruction and clashes of personalities and investigation.
GROSS: The Republican majority in the House is a very narrow one. So they're kind of in a bind now about George Santos, the congressman from New York who was caught in lie after lie after lie on his resume. He basically just, like, created a whole new biography even with different names, a false resume. And it keeps being new things coming forward including that he has ties to a businessman who's a cousin of a Russian oligarch, and he got money from this cousin. What - explain the bind that the Republican Party is in about dealing with Santos.
EDMONDSON: This became a glaring problem immediately for House Republicans. And I think it also illustrated very clearly just how in dire need of every single vote Kevin McCarthy was in order to win the speaker's gavel, is that House Republican leadership essentially was silent for a couple of weeks when they returned to Washington at the beginning of the year about this member of their conference who seems to have fabricated, out of thin air, almost every single detail about his life. And George Santos had indicated quite early on that he planned to vote for McCarthy for speaker. The pure political reality of that ensured, essentially, that Santos would not receive any punishment from House Republican leaders at least before McCarthy was elected speaker.
Now, we have seen Speaker McCarthy make some comments about Congressman Santos ever since. They've been fairly muted. He said that he did have some questions when he first saw Santos' resume. He said that he does not plan to put Congressman Santos on any committees where Congressman Santos might receive classified information, top-secret information, which obviously precludes him from sitting on any of the national security committees.
But at the end of the day, a question we get a lot is, why don't they force him to resign? And the answer is that Congressman Santos hails from a district that, in fact, used to be held by a Democrat. He won that district by 8 points in November. But there is a very real fear among Republicans that if Santos were to resign, it would force a special election. And the fear is that Republicans would lose that special election because voters in the district would be so angry at the deception that Congressman Santos engaged them in.
GROSS: My guest is Catie Edmondson. She covers Congress for The New York Times. We recorded our interview yesterday morning. Later in the day, it was reported that the House Republican Steering Committee recommended that George Santos be seated on the House Small Business Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee. The entire House Republican Conference still has to ratify the appointments. We'll hear more from Catie Edmondson after a break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Catie Edmondson. She covers Congress for The New York Times. We're talking about the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives led by the new speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who made many concessions with the far-right members of his party in order to get elected speaker.
You described Matt Gaetz, representative from Florida, as Kevin McCarthy's chief antagonist. Now, Gaetz voted against McCarthy becoming speaker until the very end, when he only voted present. So he never voted for McCarthy. But with that vote of present, he also didn't stand in the way of McCarthy getting elected. So what are their conflicts likely to be about now that McCarthy is speaker?
EDMONDSON: Well, it's interesting because we had about two weeks of Matt Gaetz just absolutely antagonizing now Speaker McCarthy. Matt Gaetz has had a long running sort of feud with Speaker McCarthy. He views Speaker McCarthy as someone who does not really have political principles. He views him as someone who will essentially do anything for power. And we saw repeatedly Congressman Gaetz attack Speaker McCarthy in really personal terms, terms that you don't normally hear on the House floor in the run up to the vote that allowed McCarthy to become speaker. Since then, though, Congressman Gaetz has changed his tone completely. He has said that he wants McCarthy to do well as speaker. He has declined to go back and enumerate some of his grievances against McCarthy, saying it's time for us to move on. It's time for us to act as a unified conference. Now, I think the question is, how long will this last?
But essentially, what Matt Gaetz has working in his favor - and this is true of all of the 20 hard-right Republicans who initially opposed McCarthy - is that one of the concessions they won that allowed McCarthy to become speaker was they secured this procedural motion called the motion to vacate, which is essentially the rule that any one lawmaker can at any time call a snap vote to oust the speaker. And so what Matt Gaetz and, really, any member of the Republican conference has working in their favor right now is this sword of Damocles, essentially, hanging over Speaker McCarthy's head, with McCarthy knowing that if he takes some sort of action that Congressman Gaetz or another member of Congress doesn't like, they can call a vote to oust him.
GROSS: So with Matt Gaetz, since he now seems to be accepting and supporting McCarthy as speaker, considering a lot of politics is transactional in nature, what do you think Gaetz is getting in return for that support?
EDMONDSON: It's a great question. And it's one that we still don't fully know the answer to. One of the things that Congressman Gaetz has publicly said is that in order to get his sort of caucus of defectors to vote for McCarthy is that they received the assurance that none of them would be the target of retribution for causing this embarrassing spectacle on the floor for McCarthy. But I think it's really a question that has yet to be answered. Now, there are a couple of sort of pet issues of Matt Gaetz's that we have seen come to fruition or that, I think, very likely will come to fruition. Speaker McCarthy, last week at his news conference in Washington, said that he agreed to release footage of the Capitol grounds in the run-up to the attack on the Capitol on January 6. And Matt Gaetz very quickly claimed credit for that.
He said, this is one of the concessions that we secured from Speaker McCarthy to make him speaker. And I'm very proud to say that this was something that we pushed on him. Presumably, hard-right Republicans like Mr. Gaetz think that, somehow, the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol is going to be exonerated. Or something will be shown from that footage. It's not exactly clear to me why this was one of their demands. But that was a demand that Matt Gaetz said that he secured from Speaker McCarthy.
And the other thing that is going to be really interesting to watch is that Matt Gaetz has for years now been a Republican who wants to scale back the scope of U.S. foreign investment in other countries, and particularly in the Ukrainian war effort. He and Marjorie Taylor Greene have been two extremely vocal Republicans saying that the United States should not be sending over billions and billions of dollars to aid the Ukrainians, ward off the Russian attacks. And so I think it will be very interesting to see how Speaker McCarthy handles Ukrainian aid supplementals that come across his desk, knowing, again, that some of these hard-right Republicans who allowed him to become speaker are extremely opposed to them.
GROSS: Let's talk about the no confidence vote some more. This is that any one member of the Republican caucus in the House can call a vote of no confidence and then vote out McCarthy as speaker of the House. I'd like to hear more about the process. Like, if somebody does that vote of no confidence, putting this whole process into place, what happens next?
EDMONDSON: Well, even the threat of this vote being called was enough to oust John Boehner when he was speaker. Mark Meadows at the time had filed paperwork, essentially, that would move this vote along. And that was enough for Boehner to decide to retire even though the vote was actually never held. And so a lot of the power of this mechanism isn't necessarily even in having the vote on the House floor. It's the idea that this threat is going to be looming over whoever the speaker is. It's essentially paperwork that you have to file. You go to the House clerk. And you say, I'd like to bring up this motion to vacate the speaker's office. And eventually, it will come to the floor for a vote. And all members would have to vote on whether or not to oust the speaker.
Now, I think it's important to note that all of these hard-right Republicans who oppose McCarthy have said, this is not a mechanism that we want to use. But they thought it was something that they needed to ensure they had at their disposal, in their words, to keep McCarthy honest, to ensure that all of the concessions that he made to them in order to secure the speaker's gavel had an enforcement mechanism, essentially.
GROSS: So the assumption is that now McCarthy is beholden to the far right of his party because he made this concession that any one member of the Republican caucus can step forward with a vote of no confidence. But it also opens the door to, you know, more or slightly more moderate Republicans to come forward and do the same thing. What are the odds of that happening?
EDMONDSON: Well, that's right. And I think it creates a really interesting dynamic because, of course, having this razor-thin majority in the House - four or five seats, give or take - it really emboldens everyone or it gives everyone the opportunity to throw their weight around, not just the hard-right flank, but, as you pointed out, the moderates. But I think the key difference here is that generally the moderate flank of the House Republican caucus - these are people who are interested in governing. These are people who maybe are seen as willing to compromise more, who are a little bit more go-along-to-get-along, just to make sure that, again, the basics of governing get done.
And so if they start to see or feel that Speaker McCarthy is making too many concessions to that right flank of the party, they certainly have the tools at their disposal to make their displeasure very concerning for Speaker McCarthy, to make it a problem for him. But I think the general way of thinking about this group is that they are far less inclined to pull a stunt like threatening a snap vote to oust McCarthy. They're far less likely to try to pull some procedural tactics to make McCarthy's life a nightmare than the hard-right flank is, because at the end of the day, the hard right's MO for a long time has been obstruction and wreaking chaos, whereas the centrists really want to show up and just get things done for their constituents and want to make sure the House can govern.
GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Catie Edmondson, who covers Congress for The New York Times. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Catie Edmondson. She covers Congress for The New York Times. We're talking about the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives led by the new speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who made many concessions with the far-right members of his party in order to get elected speaker. It seems like one of the Republicans to watch in the House now is Chip Roy of Texas. Who is he, and why is he likely to be important in this term?
EDMONDSON: Yeah, I think that's absolutely right. Chip Roy is a - I believe - sophomore, now, congressman from Texas. He actually was Ted Cruz's former chief of staff over in the Senate. And Congressman Roy really emerged as the lead negotiator between the McCarthy camp and the far-right rebels when it came to ironing out those concessions that McCarthy ultimately agreed to. Congressman Roy is someone who is quite partisan, who is deeply conservative, but he also is really deeply steeped in House rules, in the procedure of how the House functions. And it is his belief that essentially the way the House has functioned has been such that House leadership has had way too much power, that that power needs to be decentralized and given to the rank-and-file members.
And so he really was the person who was the brainchild of many of these concessions to, again, emboldened the right flank of his party. So I think you're right that he is someone to watch when it comes to making sure these concessions are enforced and just in general, trying to figure out what direction the House is going to go when it comes to key questions like raising the debt ceiling.
GROSS: And he wants to take power away from the leadership and give more individual congressmen power. What's his rationale for doing that?
EDMONDSON: Well, he is someone who refers to D.C. and Congress as the swamp. He has a belief fundamentally that every single rank-and-file member of Congress, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, should be empowered. And he is someone who has been really frustrated with the way that Congress and especially the House has functioned for years now, which is essentially that members of leadership for important bills, such as the spending bills that fund the government, will get behind closed doors. They will hammer out some sort of compromise. There will be a massive thousand-plus page spending bill that goes out to the rank and file. They have, say, 24, 48 hours to read it, and then they have to vote on it, and they have to vote either on the entire bill or they reject the entire bill.
And so his argument, which has some legitimacy to it, is this is not the way we should be governing. We should each be empowered to suggest ideas, to debate ideas. And we shouldn't have these large bills shoved down our throat essentially by leadership.
GROSS: Let's talk about Marjorie Taylor Greene. She is a Trump supporter. She voted for McCarthy. She's been a QAnon supporter, although she's stepped back from that, she says. She made a deal with McCarthy to put her back on committees. She was taken off committees by Democrats because of her antisemitic and racist statements, including on social media. For example, she said in 2018 on social media that the California fires were a result of space lasers controlled by a conspiracy, a cabal that included the Rothschild banking firm. Of course, when you say conspiracy and Rothschild, that is a very antisemitic trope, because the Rothschilds were a Jewish banking family and, you know, for decades or centuries, they've been, you know, the - at the center of antisemitic conspiracy theories. So given all that, like, where is she now in terms of the power structure of the Republican Party, and what kind of committees is she likely to be on? Because McCarthy said as part of the deal that he'd put her on committees.
EDMONDSON: Right. Well, I also want to go back to the reason why Congresswoman Greene was kicked off her committees. It was because so many of these posts trafficked in anti-Muslim, antisemitic conspiracy theories. But she also endorsed a number of posts suggesting that it would be reasonable for violence to be enacted against Democrats. She had commenters suggesting that Pelosi - then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi should be executed, for example, and she liked that comment. And these posts really came out a couple months after the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
So one of the key reasons she was booted off of her committees to begin with was that she was expressing not only conspiratorial beliefs - and this was all prior to her run for Congress - but that these posts not only expressed conspiratorial beliefs, but actually endorsed physical violence. And this was obviously in a climate where Democrats were extremely concerned about the threat of violence against them. So when you look at sort of where she started in Congress - she was kicked off of her committees only a couple of months after she arrived in Congress - to now, she has a very prominent role within the House Republican Conference.
She is now a key ally of Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a twist that, I think, not a lot of people saw coming. But she became a chief cheerleader for him during the speaker fight. She has said that she would like to be on the oversight committee and that she would like to see investigations into a slew of topics that are - sort of enrapture the far right including the treatment of January 6 rioters at the jail here in Washington, D.C. And so she has very much, in the past two to three years, become someone who was seen as being at the fringes of the Republican Party, someone who mainstream Republicans privately said they were somewhat embarrassed and appalled by.
And yet this is someone who has been given an extremely prominent position in the House Republican Conference, someone who was chosen to sit sort of front and center at a big event House Republicans had in the fall unveiling their policy agenda for the new Congress. And so it has been a really fascinating journey to watch her, again, go from someone who was completely marginalized just two years ago to now someone who is really in a central position within the conference.
GROSS: Are there Republican plans to punish Democrats, especially Democrats who participated actively in the impeachment of Trump or in the January 6 committee, to - you know, to punish them in any way? I mean, like, for example, Adam Schiff is taken off the intelligence committee, right?
EDMONDSON: No one has been taken off of their committees yet. They are still in the process of naming everyone to their new committees. But Speaker McCarthy has promised - and he's promised for at least a year now - to kick off some Democratic members of Congress from their committees. This was his vow when Democrats decided to boot Congresswoman Greene and then Congressman Paul Gosar from their committees, was if you do this to my members now, I will do this to your members when our time in the majority comes. And this is something that he has given absolutely no indication that he plans to shy away from.
We expect that Adam Schiff is going to be a target, that Republicans will want to kick him off of the intelligence committee, which he is supposed to be the top Democrat on because of the role he played in the first impeachment of former President Trump. And we also expect a couple of other Democrats to be kicked off of their committees as well - Eric Swalwell of California, who, again, was a central player in the first impeachment of former President Trump, as well as Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from Minnesota.
GROSS: Catie Edmondson covers Congress for The New York Times. We recorded our interview yesterday morning. Later in the day, it was reported that the House Republican Steering Committee recommended that Marjorie Taylor Greene be appointed to the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability. The entire House Republican Conference is expected to ratify the appointments. We'll hear more from Catie Edmondson after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Catie Edmondson. She covers Congress for The New York Times. We're talking about the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives led by the new speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who made many concessions with the far-right members of his party in order to get elected speaker.
Let's talk about Kevin McCarthy. You - oh, you wrote in such detail (laughter) throughout that whole process of him getting elected speaker. So let's talk about who he is and where he's from. Literally, he's from Bakersfield, one of the remaining conservative areas in California. And he was in the state House before getting elected to Congress. What were his politics in the state House?
EDMONDSON: That's right. Well, he was minority leader in the state House. He was the leader of the Republicans there. And, of course, being a Republican in California, he was always in the minority. And so his reputation when he was in the state House was really of - it was something of a dealmaker, honestly. It was someone who would try to figure out where he and his party could compromise with Democrats to secure some legislative wins. And he also, I think, almost more importantly in terms of foreshadowing what type of leader he was to become in Washington, he was known in California as a back slapper, someone who was super affable, someone who really wanted to get to know his colleagues and made a point of remembering sort of small, thoughtful little details about them, like when their wedding anniversaries were. And he retained those latter characteristics when he came to D.C. But, of course, when he came to Washington as a freshman congressman, he quickly realized that the deal-making compromiser was a brand of politician that was going out of favor within the House Republican Conference.
GROSS: When he did come to Congress, he was one of the so-called young guns, along with Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor. What did they stand for?
EDMONDSON: Yeah, that's right. The young guns created this blueprint, really, to try to recruit fresh new faces to run, to take back the House majority. And the whole idea was that they were going to try to capitalize on the populist fervor that was then sweeping the nation, and particularly in Republican circles. This was right on the cusp of the Tea Party really coming into power. So it was anti-tax. It was anti-government spending. And ultimately, the three young guns, including McCarthy, who was known as the strategist - someone who knew congressional districts really well, who was sort of an ingenue when it came to finding good candidates to recruit - they ultimately were successful. And they recruited a lot of populist-style Tea Party candidates. And they swept in to take back the House majority.
GROSS: But then the more far-right members who McCarthy helped bring into Congress ended up turning against him.
EDMONDSON: Well, that's right. And I think this goes back to a theme that we previously talked about, was the idea that some of these true believers, some of these far-right ideologues, have viewed McCarthy as someone who is willing to adopt their beliefs for the sake of political expediency and is not a true believer himself. So McCarthy at that point had recruited these candidates who were, again, anti-tax, anti-spending because he thought that they would win and do well. And they did.
But then they came to the House and - surprise, surprise - they did not want to pass any budgets that did not contain enormous cuts. They did not want to essentially take the votes that members of Congress generally have to in order to ensure that the government stays open, that the government can function. And McCarthy ended up becoming the House whip. It was his job to make sure that lawmakers voted for these types of bills. And that put him in a really precarious place where a lot of these members ended up not fully trusting him.
GROSS: What are you keeping your eye on? Is there any one thing that you're most interested in seeing? What is going to happen?
EDMONDSON: I'm really interested in watching the dynamic play out between some of these hard-right lawmakers and McCarthy, to see how long this detente lasts. And I think, overall, another dynamic that's going to be really important to watch is, with some of these investigations, do House Republicans overstep? There are some investigations that are legitimate. For example, the pull out of Afghanistan is going to be a really interesting investigation. And it could unearth interesting new material. But Republicans could also overstep and try to run some blindly partisan investigations on issues where there is legitimate grounds to probe. And so how they handle that is going to be fascinating.
GROSS: Catie Edmondson, thank you so much for talking with us. And I look forward to reading more of your reporting and seeing what's going on.
EDMONDSON: Thank you so much for having me.
GROSS: Catie Edmondson covers Congress for The New York Times. We recorded our interview yesterday morning. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, as the mishandling of classified documents makes headlines, we'll talk with Matthew Connelly. In a new book, he argues the government today designates far too many records as classified, making it hard to ever declassify them. The growing level of government secrecy, he says, is bad for public accountability. I hope you'll join us.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALBERTO IGLESIAS' "COMANDANTE I (FROM 'COMANDANTE')")
GROSS: Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALBERTO IGLESIAS' "COMANDANTE I (FROM 'COMANDANTE')") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.