The debt limit battle began with the assumption that Kevin McCarthy, a newcomer to high-stakes negotiation and untried, would either preside a politically and economically disastrous government default, or risk losing his hard-earned post after giving in to Democrats.
He has so far avoided both outcomes, while also claiming some fiscal victories and policy successes.
McCarthy, who personally negotiated the debt limit package with President Biden on Wednesday night, defied expectations. He even earned the respect of White House officials by insisting that concessions be made in exchange for increasing the country's borrowing limits.
McCarthy's bar was low, as he is known for his politicking, fund-raising and less for his policymaking. He struggled to get the job in the first instance, when House Republicans gained control in January.
He did, however, deliver an agreement which met his goal to reduce spending below current levels. It was ugly, in fact. It was only possible with the help of Democrats, who rescued him in a crucial procedural vote. They also provided the necessary support for passage. McCarthy achieved his goal to win the support of a majority of his party members, with 149 voting for it. However, more Democrats --165 -- voted in favor of the bill, which will fuel Republican criticisms that he made a deal and sold out his people.
It isn't the usual way that powerful speakers in the past achieved their goals.
McCarthy, however, has shown a willingness to suffer political pain and humiliation - a trait that he displayed in his 15-round battle for the Speakership of the House in January – while concentrating on securing a few concessions that would allow him to win and avoid a default that he clearly wanted to avoid despite many of his members not agreeing.
He was praised by his allies for taking on White House and Senate Democrats, and achieving a positive outcome when Democrats expected him to fail. White House officials, as well as congressional Democrats, privately predicted that McCarthy would not be able to control his fractious troop, and therefore would have no leverage during fiscal negotiations, allowing him to force through a debt ceiling increase with little, if anything, concessions from Republicans.
Representative Patrick T. McHenry, of North Carolina and one of the leading G.O.P. negotiators.
The achievement of Mr. McCarthy may still come with a price. The far-right conservative Republicans are still outraged by the agreement that McCarthy reached with Mr. Biden. They say it falls woefully below what he had promised and what Republicans pledged to do when they sought the majority in the last election.
Some people feel personally betrayed by his failure to keep his promise of reducing spending further. McCarthy's dissatisfaction was expressed by more than two dozen Republicans who opposed the procedural motion to bring the package to the floor. This aggressive move against the leadership showed that they did not care about retaliation from the Speaker's Office.
Ken Buck, Republican Representative of Colorado, stated that Mr. McCarthy has hurt himself 'big-time, big-time' with many House Republicans.
Buck and other McCarthy critics said that lawmakers would discuss how to or whether to go about forcing the speaker out.
In an interview with Fox News, Mr. McCarthy said that the possibility of him being removed from office was not something to worry about.
He said that it was not easy to govern, but he did not want to be wrong in history. He also stated that those who opposed the package would regret doing so. "Every member who votes 'no,' will miss out on the chance to vote for the biggest cut in American History."
This is almost certainly exaggeration. The agreement was full of complex side deals and details, which allowed the G.O.P. The G.O.P. claimed far greater spending cuts than what they actually achieved.
McCarthy was able to hold off the move against him because conservatives who had standing in the House Republicans such as Jim Jordan from Ohio remained in his camp. A distinct group of House Republicans are looking to get past the fiscal battle and concentrate on issues such as investigations and the culture war, which they believe will resonate better with their constituents and that are currently being overlooked.
McCarthy's supporters say that his critics don't understand their limitations in only controlling the House, while Democrats have the majority in both the Senate and the White House. McCarthy's supporters say that he would never have been able to reach an agreement with the extreme elements of the House Republicans unless he forced a disastrous default. He was clear from the beginning that he wasn't.
White House officials, along with Senate Democrats, thought that they could delay Mr. McCarthy's demand to start talks with Mr. Biden about budget and spending matters by declaring he had to first prove that he was able pass something in the House. The White House and Senate Democrats thought that was unlikely given the four-seat margin of error, as well as the diverse ideologies among his members.
He did this in late April, to the surprise and dismay of both the administration and the Democratic members of Congress. The measure, which was a partisan one, cut spending and reversed Biden's initiatives. This legislation was never going to pass in the Senate, but it served as a sign and earned him a place at the negotiation table.
Garret Graves, a Louisiana representative and one of the most important Republican negotiators, said that the White House had miscalculated this issue. They misjudged their speaker.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, a Democrat and majority leader, has downplayed the suggestion that Mr. McCarthy outmanoeuvred the Democrats.
Mr. Schumer said to reporters, 'Look at what happened.' It is a long, long way from where the Republicans began.
Officials in the administration admitted that they may have treated Mr. McCarthy too casually. They claim in private that he was a more formidable opponent than they had anticipated.
He also got some concessions on policy that officials in the administration had not anticipated. Top administration officials privately predicted for months that Mr. Biden was going to agree to modest spending caps to go along with an increase in the debt limit.
McCarthy was able to secure a deal that would protect military spending, which forced domestic programs such as education and environment protection to take the brunt of cuts. This is a condition Democrats had fought against in previous budget negotiations. McCarthy also secured an agreement that would reduce $20 billion of new funding for the I.R.S. Republicans were aiming to cut funding for the IRS's crackdown on tax cheats.
These successes did not satisfy the hard-right critics, who demanded more. McCarthy was happy to accept what he got and declare victory, despite the abuse that he already received.