Four Days of Uncertainty: McCarthy Elected

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Juan Abbas

The 118th Congressional session began on January 3. Each term, new representatives are sworn in to carry out their duties, as liaisons for their district. And so was the case this term, except they were never sworn in, until almost four days later. New Congressional representatives are sworn in by the Speaker, elected at the beginning of each term. The Representatives-elect, elect a speaker-which is usually decided upon during the election cycle-and are subsequently sworn into office by the new leader of the House. It happened with Nancy Pelosi, it happened with Paul Ryan, and it happened with every speaker before that because that’s just how American democracy works. Its fragility must be cared for because ultimately it is the “People’s House” and only carries a message from each community to the national stage.
This year, however, was a bit different. Republicans were poised to win both the House and the Senate in the November midterm elections, one of which they lost (the Senate) and the other of which they gained the tiniest of majorities. The Republican Party-ever since the dawn of Trump-has been a dynamic power play for many in Washington. Unlike previous Republican Party variants or Democrats, this Republican Party is solely concerned with electability.
And it is that fault that has brought them to acknowledge that there hasn’t been a Speaker of the United States House of Representatives for 4 straight days, up until last night. What does that mean? It means that Congress was paralyzed for the entirety of this week and is in disarray. It could have passed useful legislation for Ukraine, and useful legislation for curbing inflation – instead, it chose to sit back and enjoy every step of the GOP eating itself up.
It was unable to carry out its business calendar, forcing many of the hearings and meetings alike, to shift to unforeseen dates-which usually cause a backlog around the holiday season. In a nutshell, the districts that elected a new representative have no representative, since the House’s official population only consists of the incumbent Congresspeople.
The House broke a record in what was the 15th round of ballots in which a speaker was to be chosen. Persistently, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy-the main GOP candidate for Speaker-lost 14 ballots, and the Democrat Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) won most rounds in terms of the popular vote. Due to House Rules, Republicans cannot effectively challenge Jeffries’ Speakership unless they see Jeffries as a viable alternative to a member of their party.
4 is the magic number – the only number Kevin McCarthy could afford to lose in any ballot heading into a record-breaking 15th ballot last night. Every day that Congress isn’t doing its job, is every day lost in legislating for the American people. Folks who call up their representatives to ask for pending inclusions in legislation are virtually being turned away, since the Rules Committee itself isn’t in working order, until Monday, which is a week of losses.
McCarthy has wanted the Speaker’s Gavel since 2015, when he challenged many of his Republican colleagues to a speakership vote, and eventually bowed out after he didn’t gather enough votes. His ambitious goal of becoming a Speaker was always a personality challenge for many, who saw him as a controlling figure. Truth be told, Speaker Pelosi was also a very controlling figure in the Democratic Party but always listened to her members and respected the caucus’ integrity-over partisan political structures. Donald Trump has a big hand in all of this mess. Trump was condemned by McCarthy after the January 6th insurrection-which had its 2nd anniversary. A few days later, McCarthy went back to President Trump to appear as though he was a party to January 6th, to appeal to the base, which was heavily dependent on his future Speaker-ship prospects. Last week, Trump even reached out to McCarthy to cut a deal underhand, which was leaked to the press, to give major concessions to the Conference. McCarthy rejected that deal and that too publicly.
Interestingly, the number of opposes continued to increase after each set of negotiations. McCarthy moved into the Speaker’s office prematurely. He was facing tough opposition from Rep. Donalds of Florida, who had gathered enough support, to enact what one Democratic lawmaker called a “prop”. The last time something like this happened, was when Jim Crow was implementing racist policies across the old west over 100 years ago. Sadly, the same factors are in play with these Speaker ballots.
In the tenth vote, McCarthy had 20 total GOP lawmakers voting against him. The tally was 200 for McCarthy, 13 for Donalds and seven for Hern with one present vote. A similarity was noted in the 11th ballot, on a historic day, which the President noted as “embarrassing” on an ironic note. With Capitol Hill fighting for a Speaker, the President and the Senate Republican Leadership was travelling to Kentucky, to inaugurate the Brent Spence Bridge connecting major infrastructural resources between the East Coast and Midwest. Regardless, McCarthy’s actions are not in line with the GOP’s decades-old policy of “falling in line”. He put himself first over the American people and is adopting very desperate measures to put the Speaker title on his CV for the future. He won the Speaker-ship last night, noting Historical precedence from George Washington to himself. His persistence will surely be noted in the 118th session, but it is the policies he helps create with the help of the freedom caucus that will define his legacy-other than his “debatable” words, that he acknowledges himself.