Abortion, China, big government: Republicans gear up to flex U.S. House muscles

Kevin McCarthy is elected next Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

By Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hours after Republican leader Kevin McCarthy finally clinched the U.S. House speaker role, his party was already rolling out its initial legislative steps: the creation of committees to investigate China and the "weaponization of the federal government," and a bill that could potentially limit abortion care nationwide.

McCarthy won the election for speaker of the U.S. House in the 15th round of voting in the early hours of Saturday, after four solid days of negotiation with a group of hardline conservatives in his caucus - the longest speaker's election in 160 years.

After a weaker-than-expected performance in the November midterm elections, Republicans control the House with a narrow majority of 222-212, giving just a few hardline members outsized leverage to force through their political and legislative goals.

The protracted intraparty battle highlighted the deep rifts between mainstream conservatives and hard-right members of the Republican caucus, and was resolved only after McCarthy agreed to major concessions that will severely curtail his power compared with the previous speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

Highlights of the new rules of the House, which will get a vote on Monday, include a 72-hour waiting period before the introduction of a bill and a vote on it; and allowing any member to trigger a vote of confidence in the speaker.

"My father always told me: It's not how you start, it's how you finish," McCarthy said in a speech on Saturday morning, after winning the gavel. "I think at the end of the day, we're going to be more effective, more efficient."

The efficiency was on full display as his office almost immediately issued a list of bills to be voted on as soon as the rules package is approved on Monday. These include the creation of a committee to investigate competition between the United States and the Chinese government, as well as a committee investigating "the weaponization of the federal government."

A bill that would "prohibit a healthcare practitioner from failing to exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion" will also get introduced next week.

Both applause and caution poured in from Democrats after the election, including from President Joe Biden, who congratulated McCarthy on his win.

"As I said after the midterms, I am prepared to work with Republicans when I can and voters made clear that they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me as well," Biden said in a statement. "Now that the leadership of the House of Representatives has been decided it is time for that process to begin."

The House will reconvene on Monday to pass the rules package. At least one Republican has said he will not support it.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)