Kevin McCarthy is elected Speaker of the House of Representatives
BY PEDRO GRATEROL
On the evening of January 6th, the House of Representatives elected a new Speaker: the California Republican, Kevin McCarthy. After the results of the last midterm elections, where the Republican Party won a slim majority in the legislative body, it was expected that this party was going to hold the position. However, the road to his election was nothing less than convoluted. It took 15 ballots, dramatic concessions, heated debates, and a near Congressional standstill for days for McCarthy to get elected, and the process might be heralding more Congressional chaos in the next two years.
While not as flashy as the President or the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House is one of the most powerful positions in Washington. Not only is it third in the line of presidential succession, but also, it’s responsible for setting the legislative agenda for the House of Representatives, setting the calendar, and controlling the assignments to committees. So, it’s a very important player in deciding what legislation gets voted on, and even discussed. Normally, the leader of the party that holds the majority is the speaker, but since this is not a requirement, there is usually a vote. If no candidate gets a majority, then multiple rounds of voting happen, while the House is not allowed to operate normally. This has only happened on 15 occasions. The last time in modern history was 1923, nearly a century ago. Then, it took 9 rounds of voting, 6 less than this time.
The reason why this happened is a combination of structural components of the House of Representatives and the current state of the Republican Party. According to Pew Research Data, Congressional polarization, including the House of Representatives, is at its highest point in 50 years. There are particular aspects of the way the House is set up that lead to this. Unlike Senators, who represent entire states, Representatives have to answer to Congressional Districts. These tend to be much smaller and can have more polarized views than whole states. When a strongly polarized electorate is combined with the fact that members face reelection every two years, members are incentivized to match the specific views of their district. In turn, making it even harder to seek compromise with those who disagree with them, even if they are in their party.
These structural concerns are only amplified by the existing in-fighting between the Republican Party. Many Republicans are distancing themselves from former President Trump, as, according to an article in The Guardian, multiple candidates backed by Trump lost in the midterm elections. While Trump’s hold over the Party seems to have diminished, the hardline anti-establishment ideology associated with him remains present. Currently, it’s being championed by Representatives like Andy Biggs, R-Ariz, Lauren Boebert, R-Colo, and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. Normally, strong views like these would not cause an issue for a party, but with the small Republican majority in the House, they started to cause challenges. These members’ opposition to McCarthy and that of around 17 other like-minded Representatives stalled the process for 14 rounds and are likely to continue disrupting Congressional procedures in the near future. After intense negotiations, enough of a majority of Representatives switched their support to McCarthy, but this came with major concessions on behalf of the California Republican. These included, according to the Washington Post, the fact that a single lawmaker can start the process of ousting the speaker, which can trigger this process all over again, and the appointment of several of McCarthy’s detractors to the powerful rules committee. At the time of the writing of this article, Speaker McCarthy has just been elected, but it seems that his election is just the beginning of two complicated years in Congress.
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