Sign up FAST! Login

The affair allegations that derailed Kevin McCarthy's quest for the speakership, explained - Vox

Stashed in: Politics!, Business as Usual

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

A timeline of what happened:

  • Back in January, Charles C. Johnson, a conservative blogger and provocateur known for trafficking in "whoa if true" quasi-news, posted a story to his website GotNews"breaking" the "story" (if, indeed, the story is true).
  • Sometime after that, rumors of the affair became widespread on Capitol Hill and became part of the general backdrop of congressional gossip.
  • Then on September 25, John Boehner unexpectedly announced his intention to resign as speaker and swiftly tapped McCarthy as his chosen successor.
  • The House GOP caucus was supposed to take a vote on its leadership candidates on October 8.
  • On October 7, GOP Rep. Walter Jones sent a cryptic letter to fellow Republicans calling on any members of Congress guilty of "misdeeds" to step aside and making reference to former Rep. Bob Livingston, who back in 1999 was forced to abandon the House GOP leadership in the wake of the revelation of an affair.
  • Later that day, Ellmers's attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter to GotNews, calling the allegations of an affair both "false" and "defamatory."
  • Then, just before 8 am on the morning of October 8, Steve Baer, an influential conservative donor and activist known for his ties to the right wing of the party, sent an email to McCarthy, Ellmers, and others threatening to expose the alleged affair.
  • Hours later, McCarthy unexpectedly withdrew from the race, the leadership elections were canceled, and the caucus was thrown into chaos.


Nobody thinks the alleged affair is the actual reason McCarthy faced opposition in his quest for the speaker's gavel. Rather, the affair seems to be a tool that his enemies inside the caucus and in the larger movement used against him.

It's a tool that works on two levels:

  • At least a few GOP congressmen who don't have strong objections to McCarthy on the merits might fear the elevation of a speaker who would end up tainting the caucus with a sex scandal.
  • McCarthy might have bowed out despite having the votes to win simply because he wanted to spare his family (he has a wife and two children) the embarrassment of an affair being revealed publicly.

The affair allegations matter, in other words, because they raise the possibility that the Freedom Caucus doesn't actually have the votes necessary to block an establishment-friendly choice for speaker from obtaining the 218 votes needed to take over.

Geez. That's some nasty politics there. 

You May Also Like: