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).
“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.”