Photo: Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, left, and Rep. Eli Crane, R-Oro Valley, are among a handful of Republicans who were able to bring the House to a halt this week with votes they said came from anger over the debt-ceiling bill. But analysts question the long-term goals of the group. (File photo by Alexis Waiss/Cronkite News)
Two Arizona House Republicans were among a group of conservatives this week who said they hope to restore GOP unity – by voting against fellow Republicans.
The Tuesday procedural vote by Reps. Andy Biggs of Gilbert, Eli Crane of Oro Valley and nine other Republicans effectively brought the House to a halt and delayed action on bills from other conservatives that were under consideration. After efforts to get things moving again Wednesday failed, House members headed home until next week.
Biggs, Crane and the others said in prepared statements that they took the action because of lingering anger with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the debt-limit deal he struck with the White House.
“We voted against the Speaker on this procedural vote and we’ll see if he’s really sincere about wanting to put together, again, a Republican coalition,” Biggs said in a tweeted video Tuesday evening that accused McCarthy of having a “coalition with the Democrats” instead.
Analysts doubt that that’s the goal. But they are also not sure what the goal is, calling Tuesday’s vote everything from a temper tantrum to a play for attention.
“I think this is unequivocally political infighting at its finest and less about governing, and more about this current GOP division that’s happening … within the party right now,” said Mike Noble, founder and CEO of Arizona polling firm Noble Predictive Insights.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, thinks the group has planned on being a persistent headache for McCarthy from the start, when they were able to stall his election as speaker until the 15th ballot.
“For the rebels here, the end game is always just, you know, it ends up being sort of a mystery,” Kondik said. “Just like in the speaker vote and just like … with this temper tantrum, for lack of a better way of putting it.”
Neither Biggs nor Crane responded to repeated requests for comment on the vote. Their only public statements were tweets they posted this week.
In his video, Biggs said he was upset with the deal to raise the debt ceiling this month in exchange for some budget caps and new requirements for public assistance. He called the bill a “monstrosity” and said House leaders have tried to retaliate against some Republicans who voted against it.
Crane tweeted Thursday that “there are consequences to continually selling out the American people, lying to them about it and threatening those trying to stop it.”
Sean Noble, a political consultant for Compass Strategies, said it is not surprising that Arizona lawmakers are among those casting a protest vote. He said members of the Republican party – and specifically lawmakers from Arizona – blocked procedural votes “with some regularity” in the ’90s.
“Arizona has … a pretty decent history of having strong-willed members of the delegation that are willing to stand up to leadership,” he said.
Sean Noble said the conservatives are using one of the tools at their disposal, by leveraging the slim GOP majority to block votes and get the attention of leadership. He does not think this protest will be prolonged: If conservatives were truly unhappy with McCarthy’s leadership, a motion for his removal as speaker would have already been made, he said.
“I think that this is less about the debt ceiling vote itself and more about some of the potential, perceived threats that some conservatives felt as a result of where they were on the debt ceiling,” Sean Noble said.
Arizona may have a history of strong-willed members, Kondik said, but he’s not sure how they will fare in the current political climate in Arizona, which has become a purple state in recent years.
“I just wonder about how precarious things may get for Republicans in (Arizona) because the state certainly seems to be trending Democratic,” Kondik said. “And I don’t know if the Republicans there are doing the things that maybe they should do to try to prevent that from happening or to arrest that progress by Democrats.”
Mike Noble thinks Crane, a freshman politician who won his district with a 7% margin, has more to lose than Biggs, who was elected to his fourth term with a more than 19% margin.
House leadership has scheduled votes for Monday evening and votes Tuesday on the bills that were blocked this week – including one from Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, that would have blocked federal bureaucrats from imposing new regulations on gas stoves. But analysts said there is no way of knowing when the House can get back to business.
Rodd McLeod, an Arizona campaign strategist, thinks the stalemate sparked by party squabbling sends a message that they’re not serious about governing.
“It’s all about some backroom agreement, you know, between McCarthy and this group of renegades,” McLeod said. “Maybe they’ll come around, maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll ask him for something and he’ll give it to them or maybe they just wanted a few headlines saying they weren’t going to work with him.”