Rep. Kevin McCarthy leaves the House floor Tuesday after being...

Rep. Kevin McCarthy leaves the House floor Tuesday after being ousted as speaker. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

The uneasy tenure of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, tittering and tottering on the brink of disaster since he made a deal with the devil to get the gavel in January, is now over. McCarthy agreed to the very change in rules that allowed a small minority of his conference to make him the first speaker to be removed from office. 

It was only a matter of time. Until the Republican Party reaches a consensus on what its conservative political philosophy really means, what happens next in Congress and how this nation will be governed is disturbingly uncertain. This episode is a wide-angle lens look at what happens when too many House members are elected from gerrymandered seats that empower them to make radical demands that paralyze Washington.

McCarthy, a weak and feckless leader, suffered slings and arrows from a hard-bitten extremist and publicity hound, Rep. Matt Gaetz, who spearheaded the effort to remove the speaker. McCarthy’s crime? Having the temerity to agree with Democrats last weekend on a Band-Aid budget deal that will keep the federal government running a few more weeks until late November.

For merely accepting the idea that the government must keep running, McCarthy was humiliated. He declined any accommodations with Democrats to keep his job, once again underlining his willingness to tolerate the extremism in his slight House Republican majority rather than appear as a consensus builder. Instead of throwing a lifeline of support with their votes to someone who betrayed their trust, the Democrats let McCarthy’s fate remain with the wolves in his own party. That glimmer of bipartisanship is now roadkill.

These GOP extremists have little regard for how a government shutdown would impact vital government services and disrupt its workforce, or even how it could impact the nation’s credit rating, costing millions more in paying off our debt. McCarthy agreed to start an impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden but Gaetz, in floor remarks Tuesday, then blamed McCarthy for the embarrassing failure of the first hearing.

So what now? The House's larger problem was not solved by jettisoning McCarthy. He would be best replaced by a moderate Republican strong-willed enough to ignore the cacophony of the extremists. In this regard, the Republicans who make up Long Island’s House delegation — like Andrew Garbarino, who termed the episode "disgraceful" and "embarrasing" and "damaging to our party and the institution as a whole" — should help point the way toward a responsible speakership. This may be too much to expect in the ever-contentious House Republican majority. But Long Island’s representatives know that their constituents have little tolerance for dysfunctional government or the cant of wing nuts.

What the House needs is a speaker who understands that working with moderates in both parties is the best way to do the people's business, or this desultory drama surely will recur.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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