Did Kevin McCarthy Do Something Heroic?

Did Kevin McCarthy Do Something Heroic?


Leonard Zwelling


At the last instant before a government shutdown would have taken effect, Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy cut a deal with congressional Democrats to keep the government open for 45 days. This House deal was passed by the Senate and President Biden signed it into law. The shutdown was averted. For now.

In the blink of an eye, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz announced that he would put forward a motion to “vacate” the Speaker, which he later did. What that means is that a single member can decide to call a vote on the Speaker’s fitness to continue serving. McCarthy just lost that vote as I was writing this.

For McCarthy to have remained Speaker he would have needed the votes of the Democrats yet again as there are sufficient numbers of MAGA Republicans in his own slim majority to oust him if all the Democrats vote against him as is usually the case for a Speaker candidate from the opposite party. (That’s what happened.) In other words, to save the paychecks of thousands of government employees, Speaker McCarthy put his own job in jeopardy. Admittedly, there are no apparent successors as the next in line, Steve Scalise, is being treated for multiple myeloma right now, but even given that, was this a heroic move by a previously pretty wimpy member of Congress whose main claim to fame was his willingness to please whoever he last spoke with?

I think it just may have been heroic.

He called the bluff of the extreme wing of his own caucus. Where are they going to go now that they ousted McCarthy? Who knows? I doubt that the MAGAots can get one of their own elected Speaker as the Democrats will all oppose that nominee as would many Republicans. The Speaker’s office may indeed remain vacant now that the Gaetz crew got their way.

It is very rare today for an American politician to take a principled stance on anything. If you’re looking for heroes, Congress is not the place to find them. The last time I remember someone doing something heroic in Congress it was John McCain’s vote not to overturn ObamaCare or Tom Coburn volunteering to use the initial “public option” Democratic-backed health plan for his own care and that of the rest of the Senate should it pass the Congress. No fear. That government-guaranteed insurance plan never passed the Congress.

My point is only that there was a time in the not-so-distant past when senators and members of the House took principled positions that put their own jobs at risk. Now, that rarely occurs.

You might wonder, who am I (meaning your blogger) to criticize others for not taking risky stances?

I did it more than once and paid the price.

I was a constant thorn in the side of the President of MD Anderson during my tenure as the Vice President for Research Administration. My office took on high billing, highly regarded clinical faculty who could not abide by the federal rules governing human subjects research. I also oversaw several cases of research misconduct that were controversial. I was sued in federal court because I stood up to a clinical faculty member who received a warning letter from the FDA. And more than once I crossed swords with the president himself about what constituted the proper conduct of clinical research and how doing what he thought was best for the patient was not the governing force behind protocol-based science. He never understood that the protocol governs the physician-scientist’s behavior, not what the doctor or the patient wants when the patient is registered on a clinical trial. If you want to break the protocol, remove the patient from the trial.

It cost me. First, I resigned from the oversight of clinical research after a faculty blue ribbon committee thought too much power was vested in my office. Then, once my boss and protector Dr. Kripke retired, I was removed from the remaining duties of my vice presidency. It turned out alright. I went to Washington for a year on the Hill and came back and served out most of my tenure at Anderson before moving to a position at a local federally-qualified health clinic on whose board I had served.

My independence even cost me that job. I was serving as the chief medical officer when I resisted the constant pressure to increase revenues by speeding up clinic visits and growing the clinic beyond its ability to track care when I thought that care was being compromised.

So, I am taking this opportunity to applaud Speaker McCarthy. He did the right thing for whatever reason. For that he gets major props from a fellow risk taker even as he shares my fate.

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:


on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle, 


directly from the publisher Dorrance at: https://bookstore.dorrancepublishing.com/conflict-of-interest-money-drives-medicine-and-people-die-pb/m

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