Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy speaks to guests at the Elephant Remembers dinner in Omaha on Feb. 29, 2020. Photo: Matt Johnson / Right Cheer, reproduced under a Creative Commons license

After four days and fif­teen rounds of bal­lot­ing, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can Kevin McCarthy has final­ly claimed the title of Speak­er of the Unit­ed States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, ful­fill­ing his ambi­tion of get­ting the cham­ber’s top post.

But it’s a Pyrrhic vic­to­ry: McCarthy will be the weak­est Speak­er of the House in mem­o­ry. He’ll wield lit­tle real pow­er and will like­ly lurch from cri­sis to cri­sis as he strug­gles to hold togeth­er a nar­row major­i­ty full of peo­ple who don’t like each oth­er and don’t trust each oth­er… a cau­cus that is already at the mer­cy of mil­i­tant extrem­ists who believe in destroy­ing gov­ern­ment rather than improv­ing it.

Despite hav­ing the same size major­i­ty as Nan­cy Pelosi did to begin the last Con­gress, McCarthy was unable to secure elec­tion to the job of Speak­er on the first day of the 118th… or the sec­ond… or the third.… or even the fourth.

He did get 216 votes… the same num­ber as Pelosi and John Boehn­er… but unlike them, he had to endure defeat in four­teen pri­or rounds of bal­lot­ing at the hands of his own mem­bers, some of whom seemed to delight in pub­licly attack­ing him.

It was not until the wee hours of Sat­ur­day morn­ing (East­ern Time!) that McCarthy’s wheel­ing and deal­ing final­ly pro­duced the votes he need­ed from his own mem­bers to secure the title. And for him, it is prin­ci­pal­ly a title.

McCarthy now holds — thanks to his own dys­func­tion­al and reck­less Repub­li­can major­i­ty — the worst job in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. So… congratulations?

The New York Times’ Emi­ly Cochrane not­ed this was sup­posed to be the easy part: “Imag­ine the arm-twist­ing that will come when it is time to pass pol­i­cy. Or a bill that needs Pres­i­dent Biden’s sig­na­ture to avoid a gov­ern­ment shutdown.”

The last few days have shown that the real pow­er in the House is wield­ed by the most extreme of the extreme mem­bers of the House Repub­li­can cau­cus. They do not care about gov­ern­ing. They are wreck­ers. They want to tear apart as much as they can because they fer­vent­ly believe that defund­ing the peo­ple’s essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices (except for per­haps the nation­al secu­ri­ty and police appa­ra­tus) will make Amer­i­cans’ lives bet­ter. But they are wrong. Utter­ly and total­ly wrong.

If McCarthy had hoped to be giv­en the gav­el by Pelosi, who was a true Speak­er of the House in every respect for four non-con­sec­u­tive Con­gress­es, he was dis­ap­point­ed. New House Demo­c­ra­t­ic Leader Hakeem Jef­fries per­formed the duty instead, and did­n’t hold back in mak­ing the most of an oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about Demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues and pri­or­i­ties, mak­ing extreme­ly heavy use of allit­er­a­tion in his remarks (and mak­ing McCarthy wait even longer to hold the gavel).

Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer like­wise tweet­ed:

“Speak­er McCarthy’s dream job could turn into a night­mare for the Amer­i­can peo­ple. To get the votes, he sur­ren­dered to demands of a fringe ele­ment of the GOP. Amer­i­cans want Con­gress to build on the his­toric bipar­ti­san achieve­ments from the last two years, not more gridlock.”

McCarthy was, at least, able to swear in the new mem­bers of the House after get­ting his title. That means that some reg­u­lar order can return to the cham­ber. New mem­bers of Con­gress like Marie Glue­senkamp Perez and Andrea Sali­nas are now offi­cial­ly Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and can begin exer­cis­ing their respon­si­bil­i­ties. The delayed start has already had some reper­cus­sions, though the worst con­se­quences of a not-seat­ed House have prob­a­bly been avoided.

The adop­tion of a rules pack­age will appar­ent­ly have to wait until next Tues­day since Repub­li­cans still don’t have their act togeth­er on that front.

“Jill and I con­grat­u­late Kevin McCarthy on his elec­tion as Speak­er of the House,” said Pres­i­dent Joe Biden in a late-night statement.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple expect their lead­ers to gov­ern in a way that puts their needs above all else, and that is what we need to do now.”

“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. Now that the lead­er­ship of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has been decid­ed it is time for that process to begin.”

“Today we learned that my plan to build an econ­o­my that works from the bot­tom up and the mid­dle out has achieved the low­est unem­ploy­ment rate in fifty years. And that we made 2021 and 2022 the best years for job growth on record.”

“It’s imper­a­tive that we con­tin­ue that eco­nom­ic progress, not set it back. It is imper­a­tive that we pro­tect Social Secu­ri­ty and Medicare, not slash them. It is imper­a­tive that we defend our nation­al secu­ri­ty, not defund it.”

“These are some of the choic­es before us.”

“As the last two years show, we can do pro­found things for the coun­try when we do them togeth­er. For exam­ple, this week I trav­elled to Ken­tucky to high­light the grow­ing ben­e­fits that the Bipar­ti­san Infra­struc­ture Law is bring­ing to com­mu­ni­ties all over the coun­try. This is a time to gov­ern respon­si­bly and to ensure that we’re putting the inter­ests of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies first.”

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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