U.S. House adopts rules sought by hardliners to control McCarthy

WASHINGTON, Jan 9 (Reuters) - The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives on Monday adopted a package of internal rules that give right-wing hardliners more leverage over the chamber's newly elected Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy.

Lawmakers voted 220-213 to approve the legislation. One Republican, Representative Tony Gonzales, joined all 212 Democrats in voting against the rules package. Another Republican did not vote.

The rules package, which will govern House operations over the next two years, represented an early test of McCarthy's ability to keep his caucus together, after he suffered the humiliation of 14 failed ballots last week before finally being elected speaker on Saturday.

The legislation includes key concessions that hardliners sought and McCarthy agreed to in his quest for the speaker's gavel. The changes include allowing a single lawmaker to call for his removal at any time. Other changes would place new restrictions on federal spending, potentially limiting McCarthy's ability to negotiate government funding packages with President Joe Biden, whose fellow Democrats control the Senate.

Democrats denounced the legislation as a rules package for “MAGA extremists” that would favor wealthy corporations over workers, undermine congressional ethics standards and lead to further restrictions on abortion services. "These rules are not a serious attempt at governing. They're essentially a ransom note to America from the extreme right," Representative Jim McGovern said.

U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) wields the Speaker's gavel after being elected the next Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in a late night 15th round of voting on the fourth day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 7, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Gonzales, the lone Republican to oppose the legislation, said he objected to potential limits on U.S. defense spending at a time of growing tensions with Russia and China.

His vote came despite an earlier warning from the grass-roots conservative group FreedomWorks, which said on Twitter: "If Tony's a 'NO' on the House Rules Package he should not be welcomed into the 119th Congress."

Republicans have a narrow majority of 222-212 in the House, after winning fewer seats than expected in November's midterm elections. This has amplified the hardliners' power and raised questions about how the divided Congress will function.

Lawmakers face critical tasks in the year ahead including addressing the federal government's $31.4 trillion debt limit. Failure to do that, or even a long standoff, would shake the global economy.

Other changes include a 72-hour waiting period between when a bill is introduced and when it can get a vote, a cap on government spending at 2022 levels, and the creation of a committee to investigate the Justice Department.

Reporting by David Morgan and Moira Warburton in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell, Aurora Ellis and Leslie Adler

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