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Biden congratulates McCarthy on Speaker win as critics cite concessions

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., points to the sign above his new office after being elected Speaker in the House at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., points to the sign above his new office after being elected Speaker in the House at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 7 (UPI) — President Joe Biden on Saturday congratulated Rep. Kevin McCarthy on his election as Speaker of the House as members of both parties voices concerns about concessions made to right-wing rebels.

McCarthy, R-Calif., won the job early Saturday morning after an epic, 15-ballot struggle against a handful of conservative Republican holdouts determined to withhold their support.

“Jill and I congratulate Kevin McCarthy on his election as Speaker of the House,” Biden said in a statement. “The American people expect their leaders to govern in a way that puts their needs above all else, and that is what we need to do now.”

In his congratulatory message, Biden repeated his willingness “to work with Republicans when I can” but stressed that voters in November’s midterm elections made clear “that they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me as well” when they limited the GOP to a smaller-than-expected majority in the chamber.

“Now that the leadership of the House of Representatives has been decided it is time for that process to begin,” Biden said.

In making the case for bipartisanship, Biden touted “the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years” and urged House Republicans to “continue that economic progress, not set it back.”

He also criticized the stated intentions of some Republican lawmakers to demand steep cuts in the Social Security and Medicare programs as a political price for funding federal government operations and raising the debt ceiling.

“It is imperative that we protect Social Security and Medicare, not slash them,” he said, adding, “This is a time to govern responsibly and to ensure that we’re putting the interests of American families first.”

McCarthy’s long ordeal to obtain the Speaker’s gavel marked the first time the process went to multiple ballots in 100 years.

To finally win the contest, however, McCarthy was forced to make numerous rules concession to rebels such as Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Andy Biggs of Arizona.

One rule change will allow a single lawmaker to begin the process of ousting the Speaker, which critics in both parties worried will allow the hardline group of conservatives to force McCarthy into keeping crucial must-pass bills, such as government funding or the debt ceiling, off the floor.

As a result, they warned, the risk of shuttering the government or defaulting on federal debts has grown considerably.

Another new rule conceded to the rebels requires a separate vote on hiking the debt limit, all but assuring the issue will become a high-stakes showdown when the ceiling is reached sometime this summer.

McCarthy, however, defended the concessions, telling reporters, “It would only be a weaker Speaker if I was afraid of it. I won’t be a weaker Speaker,” adding, “I think I’m very fine with that.”

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