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Voters in Georgia react to their congressman backtracking to support McCarthy


After four days and 15 votes, Kevin McCarthy is now speaker of the House. A group of ultra-conservative Republicans stood down on Friday after opposing McCarthy's bid all week. One of those congressmen is Andrew Clyde of Georgia. WABE's Sam Gringlas spent the day after that vote in Clyde's district, asking his constituents about the protracted drama on Capitol Hill.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Theresa Johnson has a texting group with five of her friends.

THERESA JOHNSON: My phone was blowing up all during this House vote. Every time they voted, I would get, like, 20 messages.

GRINGLAS: Johnson says everyone in the group can't stand Kevin McCarthy. A big thorn has been his willingness to pass billions in aid for Ukraine. Johnson is a teacher, and she was asleep by the time McCarthy secured the speaker's gavel well after midnight. Now she's talking it over at a coffee shop with another friend, Alison Brewer, a school nurse.

Did you watch all 15 votes? Some of the 15 votes?

ALISON BREWER: No, sir. It got ridiculous, and I'm tired of people being paid to do ridiculous things with my tax dollars.

GRINGLAS: Brewer thinks McCarthy should have just stepped aside, but she's glad her congressman, Andrew Clyde, didn't support him, though now Brewer's wondering why he backtracked.

BREWER: What is really going on in the background? I don't know that it's in the best interest of this community.

GRINGLAS: This community is called Flowery Branch. It's got a little downtown near the shores of a popular reservoir, where the sprawl of Atlanta's far-out suburbs give way to the north Georgia mountains. Next door to the coffee place is an antique store where there's a sale going on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All of the Christmas is 25% off.

GRINGLAS: The shop is packed with vintage furniture, art and trinkets. Minton O'Neil is browsing with an iced drink in his hand, and he's pretty happy with the concessions Clyde and others extracted from McCarthy.

MINTON O'NEIL: Democratic politics is a messy thing. In the end, I think the ends justify the means.

GRINGLAS: To win over the hard-right holdouts, McCarthy agreed to rules that make it easier for them to oust the speaker, scuttle spending bills and control what legislation makes it to the floor.

O'NEIL: I believe we have enough laws, and so I don't think gridlock is a bad thing if gridlock results in smaller, more conservative government.

GRINGLAS: Closer to Atlanta, on the town green in suburban Suwanee, Christine Lewis is worried about that gridlock. She says McCarthy bending to far-right congressmen like Clyde comes at a cost. The deal they struck may make it difficult to fund the government or raise the debt ceiling, making a shutdown or default more likely.

CHRISTINE LEWIS: The whole process of somebody not winning and then continuing to make that many concessions to try and get people to support them, I just wonder, what do you have to give up in order to gain somebody's support?

GRINGLAS: Lewis used to consider herself a Republican, but she's soured on the GOP in recent elections. And she says last week's drama only solidified her shift away from the party.

LEWIS: I mean, it matters to me in that I think it's representative of how things are right now, especially the divisiveness in politics and all of that.

GRINGLAS: Across the park, Kabiru Valani is resting on a metal bench. The 15 votes last week were the most to elect a speaker since 1859. But Valani - he didn't follow any of them.

KABIRU VALANI: Because none of these politicians work for the common people and working people like me, so I really don't care who's in the seat or not because I still have to work 75 hours a week to feed my family.

GRINGLAS: For Valani, it's a grind that makes this latest political battle in Washington feel pretty far away.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Gringlas in Suwanee, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.

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