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Week in politics: McCarthy's bid to be Speaker; federal budget for next year

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Republicans won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, but they can't agree on who they'll make speaker of the House. The party's current leader, Kevin McCarthy, still hasn't sewn up the votes. NPR political correspondent Susan Davis joins us. Thanks for being with us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: Now, remind us why Kevin McCarthy really can't lose the vote of a single Republican if he's going to be speaker.

DAVIS: Well, the whole House votes for the speaker, unlike any other elected party leader in Congress. And he's going to need a majority of lawmakers present and voting to win. So if the full 435 members of the House are there, the magic number is 218. But that number can change depending on who shows up to vote. Now, that does mean he can only lose four Republicans and still win a majority to become speaker. And if you recall, after the November election, 31 Republicans in a secret ballot voted for someone else, and already five Republicans are publicly out against him. So he's got work to do.

You know, the vast majority of lawmakers support McCarthy. Many of them were wearing buttons around the Capitol this week that said OK - only Kevin. They won't vote for anyone else. But don't expect Democrats to do McCarthy any favors here. No one's going to cross the party aisle and vote for him. This is really seen as a test of party loyalty. And even McCarthy allies say there's a possibility it could go to multiple rounds of ballots. It's not unprecedented, but it's very rare, and it hasn't happened in 100 years.

SIMON: What are the arguments that those 31 Republicans who voted against him make against Kevin McCarthy?

DAVIS: Well, I think some people on the far right will never be satisfied with McCarthy, that they don't see him as one of their own. For example, Matt Gaetz of Florida has essentially said he'll never vote for him. A lot of these folks are just doing it as leverage, that they want to extract something out of him. It's not unusual to see members try to use it to get something like a committee assignment. There's also a bloc of conservatives that want to pressure McCarthy to agree to change the House rules to make it easier for any member to bring up a motion that could force the speaker out of power in the middle of a session.

Now, doing that would essentially make the speaker incredibly weak, especially in a narrow majority like the one he's facing. And there's an equally large or larger bloc of Republicans who are saying absolutely don't change those rules. And a lot of this sort of seems like Capitol intrigue, but it has a really practical effect on how the government functions. Nothing can happen in the House until a speaker is sworn in. It's the first order of business in a new Congress. You can't even swear in other lawmakers until there is an elected speaker.

SIMON: Looks like there's a federal budget for next year, or at least the remaining nine months of the fiscal year, at least a framework for a budget. What's in it?

DAVIS: Don't know the total cost yet, but it's going to be about 1 1/2 trillion dollars. One thing we do know that's in it - it's got about $16 billion in earmarks for lawmaker projects. They returned last year after a decade-long ban. I mean, good government groups do not like earmarks. They think they are rife for corruption. But Congress has decided that they are helpful for getting things done. And they might have a point here. If approved, as you said, everything will keep running until the end of next September. And it would give Kevin McCarthy, should he be speaker, some breathing room before he has to confront the possibility of a government shutdown on his own.

SIMON: House January 6 committee is expected to release its final report Monday. Do we know if it will recommend that the Justice Department seek criminal charges against former President Trump?

DAVIS: It seems certain to. Already in a March court filing, the committee said Trump illegally obstructed an official proceeding, that being Congress's counting of the electoral college votes on January 6. That is a crime. The committee added in that filing that Trump also engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States. That's also a crime.

Now, as we've said many times, these referrals don't have the force of law. The Justice Department decides who and what to prosecute, but they are already investigating the former president. But it would put the House of Representatives on the record accusing the former president of crimes against the government. And I don't think that's an insignificant moment in terms of the historical record.

SIMON: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.