Kevin McCarthy Elected: Victory at Long Last

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Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy talking (Image Credit: CNN)

After fifteen ballots between January 3rd and 7th, Kevin McCarthy, from California’s 20th congressional district, finally won the election to be the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Personally, I found it quite easy to sit back and laugh at McCarthy’s second through fourteenth attempts to gain the speakership that arguably should have come with the Republicans’ majority in the House of Representatives. However, although this was not the first time the House of Representatives has been in such a stalemate – this was the fifteenth – it was the longest multiple-ballot speaker election since before the Civil War. Thus, something has changed in the congressional mindset which may have greater implications than causing Britons to heighten their sense of superiority over the American people.

The deadlock has been caused by a faction of Republicans refusing to vote for McCarthy, despite him being a member of their party. In theory, the Republican Party’s 222 seats should have been enough to pass the 218 threshold required for McCarthy to secure the position. However, convincing enough of the twenty “rebel” Republicans to support (or at least, not explicitly oppose) McCarthy’s bid was not an easy task. This process required several concessions that threaten the very position McCarthy had fought for. For example, the number required to trigger a “motion to vacate” was reduced from five to one, meaning that only one legislator would now be required to begin a vote of no confidence in McCarthy or any future Speaker. Although the non-conformists have promised not to exploit this power if reinstated, this being one of their central demands raises the possibility of parliamentary processes being ruled more by chaos than by order.

Furthermore, although not the longest election in the House’s history, it was certainly the most chaotic. While the 1855-56 speakership contest saw 84 rounds of voting in December 1855 alone, the conflict saw beginnings of a resolution through a bill stating that the three main candidates were obliged to express their views on Congress’s legislation regarding the expansion of slavery. Here, a battle was fought over the fate of slavery, an important point of policy during the run-up to the Civil War. However, there were no such efforts to ease the election process in January 2023; while McCarthy did carry out negotiations, these were largely with dissidents of his party concerned with promises over positions on the Rules Committee, which decides legislation surrounding the voting, debating, and amendment of bills.

Comparably long speakership contests, including those of 1849 and 1859-60 (63 and 44 ballots respectively), took place during the period in which slavery’s role in America hung in the balance. Consequently, there were substantial points of disagreement that representatives could work through to reach some sense of agreement on a Speaker. It should be noted, however, that this sometimes occurred through the rhetorical techniques of “fistfight” and “drawing arms”, so perhaps we should consider Mike Rogers’s attempt to merely pounce on Matt Gaetz a blessing.

Regardless, this was the key difference between the speakership battles of then and now. While the elections of the 1850s were hotly contested due to the ideologically rooted agendas of the Republican and Democratic parties, the 2023 was only so arduous as many sought to delay McCarthy’s inevitable victory, given the Republican majority. The focus on the division and the attainment of power rather than any more tangible issue portrays this election process as an end in itself, as opposed to a means to a better end – whatever that might look like for either party.

It is difficult to call McCarthy a winner in this situation due to such a sword being constantly held to his throat. The Democrats emerged far from victorious, ironically united with the far-right faction of the House, with both somewhat disappointed at McCarthy’s election. Moreover, fractures among Republicans between centrist members and the Freedom Caucus (a small but staunchly conservative faction of the House who comprised the majority of the dissident Republicans) have long tormented Republican speakers, and mean that passing legislation will be far from simple, even with a Republican majority. Neither are we, the citizens, satisfied in the knowledge that the democratic process must apparently begin with five days of preamble before any politicking can begin.

The real winner, is, in fact, Marjorie Taylor Greene.  Now a key ally of McCarthy after lending him the support of the far-right, both in the House and at home, Greene has received key positions in the Homeland Security and House Oversight committees. Although previously removed from her committee assignments in 2021 for racist, incendiary remarks, Greene now looks to be a strong candidate for running mate as Trump prepares his 2024 presidential campaign. Furthermore, Greene even managed to prove to Matt Rosendale (pictured left, mid-anti-McCarthy-ing) that she is besties with a certain former president – look, she’s even got a nickname for him in her contacts!

Tweet from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Image Credit: The Independent)

Written by Lyndon Chen

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