Kevin McCarthy meets with then President Donald Trump in 2019. Photo credit: Kevin McCarthy Flickr page

The House, The House, The House is on fire

Republican hardliners expressed a radical change in House of Relatives.

For the first time in 100 years, the U.S. lacks a fully formed Congress. Multiple rounds of votes have been cast for the Speaker of the House, and still there are no signs of a clear winner.

Since Republicans have a slightly higher representation in the House, they are expected to take the majority speaker position. Yet, for three days, the GOP-majority members show a divide in who they want in leadership. 

Before the first vote, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) assumed he would nab the Speaker position. Soon after his talk to fellow congressional officials, it was clear that all were not onboard with leadership ascension. 

On one hand, the opposition alleges that Rep. McCarthy would be an establishment Republican who will lead within the parameters of the status quo, while others think he will capitulate to hard-care, right-wing House members. llinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger said Rep. McCarthy (R-WA) “will be the worst speaker and he won’t last because he’s going to be led around by insurrectionists.”

In total, 218 votes are needed for the speaker position, but Rep. McCarthy continues to fall short. The last vote, the ninth one, the count went as followed:

  • Kevin McCarthy (R) 201
  • Hakeem Jeffries (D) 212
  • Byron Donalds (R) 17
  • Others 3 (Rep. Kevin Hern 3)
  • Present 1

“Our constituents think . . . that this is how every day functions. They think that this is how every bill gets addressed in this body,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) after vote number nine.

One rallying cry from detractors is that the voting system in place at the House is broken. Rep. Rosendale (R-MT) said that there needs to be more equal representation in the voting process. He pointed out how congress must vote on bills  within hours, but are presented to them as 1000-page documents.

Another issue he cited was how some votes are cast. According to the Montana statesman, every Monday a legislative review takes place which determines the fate of many bills.

“The leadership on both sides of the aisle negotiate a number of bills, 15 to 20 pieces of legislation. . . . they discuss momentarily, and then they say the magic words, ‘Without objection, we will pass this by unanimous consent.’”

He goes on to explain that one representative shows up to cast the vote for multiple members, while many are absent from voting. For those aligned with Rep. Rosendale, the stalemate with the Speaker of the House vote shows Democracy at work. “This deliberation is healthy,” professed Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) in a Twitter post on Thursday. “The House should always be this engaged instead of rubber stamping all bills coming through it.”

What both Republicans are alleging is that for too long, established House members in both major parties push both a voting and leadership agenda that fails to fully represent the congressional members and the interests of their constituents. As a result, voting within a bloc without much discussion leads to limitations in substantive engagement.

For at least 21 Republicans, Rep. McCarthy stands as the mainstream candidate who will sway with the status quo. For those detractors, he is a problem.

“We need a leader who is not beholden to the broken system,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert in a speech on the floor. Previously, she voted for Rep. Donalds, but nominated Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK) after the eighth round of votes.

The other side of the aisle

What Democrats see, the slow down in voting is what is to come for the next two years. “Republicans are putting politics over the people,” claimed Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) who has won the most votes as the Speaker.

During the tenth vote, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) told Rep. Rosendale to “get it together” after he called her out during this speech. Rep. Rosendale was cited for doing so.

Yet, the Democrats also have been accused of bullying the vote when they held the majority. In 2020, there was an internal conflict between the older, established Democrats and the younger progressives who rejected Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s leadership as the Speaker. Then, Rep. Jeffries vied for the position. Sherice J. Nelson, a political science professor at Southern A&M said that the New York congressional member was told to wait.

The Brookings Institute termed the Democratic infighting as “establishment versus progressive battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.” Ultimately, Pelosi maintained her position, but announced last year that she would not pursue the minority speaker position after her husband, Paul Pelosi, was violently attacked by David DePape in their Bay Area home on October 28, 2022.

While the heterogeneity in the party grows more visible, most of the House Democrats voted in line with the party during the first half of the Biden-Harris presidency. As for the voting marathon now, Democrats vote in unison—the ballots cast in favor of Rep. Jeffries.

Contrasting, many think the Republicans are doing what a lot of Democrats fear to do—rage against the machine.

Gridlocked politics

The blowback to a stalled Speaker and an incompletely formed House means that business is not running as usual. Along with members not being paid, they have not received clearance. “The Biden administration is going unchecked and there is no oversight of the White House, State Department, Department of Defense, or the intelligence community. We cannot let personal politics place the safety and security of the United States at risk,” wrote the incoming chairs of several committees in a statement released on Thursday morning.

Nonetheless, the opposition says to let the old House rules burn in what they see as antiquated, ineffective politics. At 4:45 p.m. ET, no Speaker of the House has been named, but closed-door negotiations amongst Republicans continues.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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