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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023

Top Republican Kevin McCarthy’s bid for Speaker fails on first day of 118th Congress

House Repub­li­can Leader Kevin McCarthy was humil­i­at­ed by col­leagues from his own par­ty on Tues­day, as for the first time in one hun­dred years, Con­gress’ low­er cham­ber failed to elect a House Speak­er on its first ballot.

McCarthy came up short three times, a sign that Repub­li­can have brought chaos rather than con­trol to the House.

The defec­tion of twen­ty far-right Repub­li­cans not only blocked McCarthy from the Speaker’s chair but pre­vent­ed the House from organizing.

The cham­ber adjourned until mid­day on Wednes­day, amidst swirling rumors and Repub­li­can recrim­i­na­tions. Ex-Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump appeared to with­draw sup­port from McCarthy, who has repeat­ed­ly tried to obstruct efforts to hold Trump account­able for the Jan­u­ary 6th, 2021 insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capitol.

The stale­mate left Wash­ing­ton’s U.S. Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray tem­porar­i­ly sec­ond in line for the pres­i­den­cy, a posi­tion nor­mal­ly held by the House Speaker.

Mur­ray was unan­i­mous­ly cho­sen as Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore of the U.S. Sen­ate, where Democ­rats still hold sway. Mur­ray is the first woman to hold a posi­tion hith­er­to the domain of tough old men.

“I am tru­ly hon­ored to have earned the con­fi­dence of my col­leagues to serve in the role, and the sig­nif­i­cance of this moment is cer­tain­ly not lost on me,” Mur­ray said in accept­ing the post. She was sworn in by Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris with a stand­ing bipar­ti­san ovation.

Across the Capi­tol, there was acrimony.

McCarthy, with 202 votes, trailed new House Demo­c­ra­t­ic Leader Hakeem Jef­fries, who gained unan­i­mous sup­port from his 212-mem­ber cau­cus. The Democ­rats appeared in high spir­its, cheer­ing their leader’s vote totals on the House floor.

The Biden admin­is­tra­tion moved to con­trast its achieve­ments and com­mit­ment to bipar­ti­san­ship with the Repub­li­cans’ fratricide.

The 46th Pres­i­dent will appear Wednes­day in Cov­ing­ton, Ken­tucky, to cel­e­brate the bipar­ti­san infra­struc­ture pack­age. He will be accom­pa­nied by Sen­ate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McConnell and Ohio’s Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Mike DeWine along with Kentucky’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Gov­er­nor Andy Beshear. They will appear at the Brent Spence Bridge, which links the Buck­eye and Blue­grass states.

“We do pro­found things for the coun­try when we work togeth­er,” White House press sec­re­tary Karine Jean-Pierre told the dai­ly brief­ing. Watch­ing the Repub­li­cans’ inter­nal feud, she added: “We’re cer­tain­ly not going to insert our­selves in what’s hap­pen­ing on the oth­er side of Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzan Del­Bene, D‑Washington, chair of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, was not so ret­i­cent. “The 118th Con­gress has yet to begin and Amer­i­cans are already see­ing how dis­as­trous GOP con­trol of the House is going to be,” she said in a state­ment. “No mat­ter who becomes Speak­er of the House or how many votes it takes, the con­trast is clear and in two short years vot­ers will reject the MAGA chaos and confusion.”

The Speak­er stale­mate put off by a day the swear­ing in of Rep. Marie Glue­senkamp-Perez, D‑Washington, the auto repair shop co-own­er elect­ed to rep­re­sent South­west Wash­ing­ton in Con­gress, and of Andrea Sali­nas, D‑Oregon, the rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Beaver State’s new 6th Con­gres­sion­al District.

With deft under­state­ment, how­ev­er, MGP under­scored dys­func­tion on the oth­er side of the aisle. “We want peo­ple who fix things for a liv­ing,” she said, adding: “The can­di­date selec­tion process is fun­da­men­tal­ly broken.”

Oppo­si­tion to McCarthy was splin­tered among far right Repub­li­cans on the first bal­lot. It coa­lesced lat­er behind Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Jor­dan, R‑Ohio, the stri­dent elec­tion denier who is a fix­ture on Rupert Mur­doch’s FNC. Quite like­ly play­ing a dou­ble game, how­ev­er, Jor­dan him­self nom­i­nat­ed McCarthy and vot­ed for McCarthy. Jor­dan is in line to chair the House Judi­cia­ry Committee.

The extreme right cost the Repub­li­cans numer­ous House and Sen­ate races last Novem­ber. Glue­senkamp Perez was elect­ed over Trump-endorsed elec­tion denier Joe Kent, after Kent upset Repub­li­can incum­bent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler in the August Top Two elec­tion. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mary Pel­to­la, D‑Alaska, beat for­mer Repub­li­can vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Sarah Palin to win a House seat held for forty-nine years by Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Don Young.

Ex-Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Her­rera Beut­ler sur­faced on CNN. “I hate it, I absolute­ly hate it,” she said of the Speak­er stale­mate. “There’s noth­ing good that comes of it… I think extremes right now on both sides of the aisle are wag­ging the dog.”

The bat­tle over Speak­er pro­duced angry divi­sions even among ultra MAGA Repub­li­cans. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene and one­time House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich backed McCarthy, with Gin­grich going on Fox News to denounce cau­cus dis­si­dents. Hav­ing made a deal to back McCarthy, Greene turned her back on bud­dy Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Matt Gaetz and said: “They’re hold­ing this coun­try hostage and pre­vent­ing us from doing our job for the people.”

In turn, the atten­tion-hun­gry Gaetz, R‑Florida, took to the House floor and sneered at McCarthy’s lengthy pur­suit of the Speak­er­ship, say­ing the Cal­i­for­nia con­gress­man has “sold shares of him­self for more than a decade to get it.”

Trump had giv­en his endorse­ment to the supine McCarthy, who made a pen­i­ten­tial pil­grim­age to Mar a Lago short­ly after the Jan­u­ary 6, 2021, insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol. But Trump, when asked lat­er in the day about McCarthy’s endan­gered bid, told a radio host: “We’ll see what happens.”

Both remain­ing Repub­li­cans in Washington’s del­e­ga­tion, Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers and Dan New­house, vot­ed for McCarthy. CMR is in line to chair the pow­er­ful House Ener­gy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, where she has pledged feal­ty to the fos­sil fuel indus­try, with more oil drilling and coal min­ing on fed­er­al lands.

What is going to happen?

McCarthy has kow­towed to the far right, promis­ing mul­ti­ple inves­ti­ga­tions of the Biden fam­i­ly and even of the Jan­u­ary 6th com­mit­tee that has been inves­ti­gat­ing the insur­rec­tion. He has deliv­ered lengthy, hyper­bole-laden House floor speech­es denounc­ing Sen­ate Repub­li­cans (includ­ing McConnell) for vot­ing for the $1.7 tril­lion fed­er­al spend­ing bill. He railed against the Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act.

Not enough, say the dis­si­dents. In words of Mon­tana Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Matt Rosendale, speak­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post: “We need a leader who can stand up to a Sen­ate and Pres­i­dent Biden and unfor­tu­nate­ly it isn’t Kevin McCarthy.” Rosendale argued that more rules are need­ed to empow­er the GOP rank-and-file.

But con­ces­sions have made McCarthy look weak, and only fueled the extreme right’s strat­e­gy: The more we demand, the more we get. “Time to make the change or get out of the way,” they said in a let­ter to McCarthy late on Monday.

McCarthy erupt­ed in anger at a Repub­li­can cau­cus meet­ing on Tues­day morn­ing, declar­ing: “I earned this job. We earned this major­i­ty, and (exple­tive) we are going to win it today.” He angri­ly rebuffed demands by Gaetz and Scott Per­ry, chair­man of the House Free­dom Cau­cus, for plum com­mit­tee assignments.

Where have the rea­son­able Repub­li­can gone?

It appeared Tues­day that they’ve decamped from Con­gress and onto cable TV pro­grams. Those remain­ing in the House have lined up with McCarthy, say­ing they will stick with the embat­tled leader come hell or high water. “Kevin McCarthy is going to be Speak­er: I don’t think there is any ques­tion about it, I think the ques­tion is how many rounds it takes,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bri­an Fitz­patrick, R‑Pa.

Sent to the side­lines, Her­rera Beut­ler urged McCarthy to show backbone.

“The real­i­ty, the major­i­ty of the Repub­li­can cau­cus is not going to give into these demands,” she told CNN. “When you put your foot down, you get bet­ter results than not.”

The mess on Day One of the new Con­gress is embell­ish­ing the tough-as-nails rep­u­ta­tion of for­mer Demo­c­ra­t­ic Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi.

With a 222-seat major­i­ty, Pelosi was able to push through land­mark infra­struc­ture leg­is­la­tion, the Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act, a land­mark bill to revive America’s com­put­er chip indus­try, a mod­est pack­age of gun safe­ty mea­sures, plus fed­er­al recog­ni­tion of LBGTQ+ mar­riages. The nar­row Demo­c­ra­t­ic advan­tage in the 117th Con­gress held togeth­er on all of the above votes.

With 222 Repub­li­can seats, Kevin McCarthy can­not even secure the Speaker’s job.

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