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Rep. Self was among a small group that held up House Speaker McCarthy's election


House Republicans came together yesterday to approve new operating rules for Congress - that in spite of the concerns of some Republicans. They feared House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made too many concessions to the right wing of the party in order to obtain his post. McCarthy won the speaker's gavel Saturday after a grueling 15 rounds of voting over five days. That very public display of Republican disunity has raised questions about McCarthy's power and the ability of Republicans to govern. So what are their prospects going forward? We asked Texas Congressman Keith Self, who initially opposed McCarthy before changing his mind on Friday. Good morning, Congressman.

KEITH SELF: Good morning. Glad to be here.

FADEL: Thank you for being here. I'd love to start with the original reason you opposed McCarthy and then changed your vote.

SELF: My original intent was to try to change the culture of Congress. The last few years, we've seen the speaker rule with an iron fist. We've seen that there have been no amendments on the floor for six years. We've seen spending go vertical. We've seen the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill that spends money on everything. All of this, regular members of Congress had absolutely no say-so on. And I could see that. And as a freshman congressman, I won't be in leadership. I won't be a committee chair. And I wanted to have some input to how Congress operates. So I thought that this was an excellent exercise for us to claw back some of the authority for regular members of Congress to have some input into what happens.

FADEL: What specific concessions did Speaker McCarthy agree to that ultimately won you over?

SELF: There are two aspects of this that are particularly attractive to me. The single-issue bills - I mean, there can only be a single issue on a bill. And the second one is the germaneness. Whatever the discussion or amendments that come to the floor, they must be germane to the bill that we are discussing, that we're trying to pass. Of course, I'm delighted in several of the tax issues, the supermajority for a tax increase. I'm delighted in that.

FADEL: The dysfunction in the party that was on display last week over the speaker vote, it did raise some questions about whether there will be consistent political gridlock going forward. What do you say to Americans who are worried that basic things just won't get done in Congress, like avoiding default on America's trillions of dollars in debt?

SELF: That was not the discord. That was democracy in action. That was what the House is supposed to look like, debate, discussion, votes until we get it right. So that's where I stand.

FADEL: One of the handshake concessions was not to allow a debt increase without spending cuts. But that's going to be difficult, nearly impossible, in a divided government. Is allowing a debt default off the table this year?

SELF: A divided government is normally good for the American people. I don't know what we will be able to do. And I'm not going to speculate on what we might be able to do. But this is exactly where we took the House. We want more debate. We want to address the issues.

FADEL: I think that's true, having a diversity of opinions and people governing with their constituents in mind. But also, a lot of Americans who support one party or the other get worried about gridlock, where nothing gets done.

SELF: I will tell you, when we've had the government shutdowns in the past...

FADEL: Yeah.

SELF: ...The people down on Main Street, their lives kept going. Commerce kept moving. The highways were full. So this is a Washington insider deal. And I leave it at that.

FADEL: Unless it hurts the American pocketbook, people can't pay for their things, their homes, their lives. And that's why I kind of asked about debt default and the concerns around that.

SELF: We're not going to default. That's not going to happen. You need to dismiss that idea. We will not default. That would have repercussions around the world, so we are not going to default.

FADEL: What are your constituents saying? How did they react to watching what happened last week and your decision to hold out and then to vote for McCarthy?

SELF: I came to Washington to be a voice and a vote for my constituents. And I believe that I'm doing that. And I will continue to be both a voice and a vote for congressional District three in Texas.

FADEL: How has it been as - in your first week?

SELF: Well, as you know, it was pretty wild and pretty crazy.

FADEL: Yeah.

SELF: But I think that was democracy in action. And I think, at the end of the day, we got some things that will change the culture of Congress.

FADEL: Texas freshman Congressman Keith Self, thanks so much for your time.

SELF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.