Chaos in Congress: McCarthy’s Battle for Speakership and What it Means Moving Forward

The Speaker of the House of Representatives is one of the most coveted positions in Congress and is often assumed by a senior member of the political party who has attained a majority. Since the Republican Party secured 222 seats in the 2022 Midterm election cycle, they obtained the necessary 218 members to gain control of the House. Every two years, January 3rd is the first day of the new Congress, when new and returning members of Congress are sworn in. Both major political parties nominate their candidate for the position of Speaker, and rules regarding House proceedings cannot be instituted until a Speaker is elected. Therefore, it is commonplace to establish a consensus among the majority party regarding whom the nomination will go to before January 3rd to facilitate a smooth transition of power. Behind closed doors, the majority party usually makes deals to garner support and decides whom they want to elect to this position. In this way, the Speaker vote has essentially always served as one that was ceremonial. However, this month, it took an astounding 15 rounds of voting procedure for Kevin McCarthy to finally obtain enough support to become Speaker.

The Speaker election took place over a few days – Paw Print writer, Jahsiah Bowie, has covered the details of the voting process – and demonstrated the stark divide in the Republican Party between the Freedom Caucus and the more moderate faction of the GOP. The Freedom Caucus’ effort to stop McCarthy’s election was spearheaded by members of Congress such as Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Chip Roy, among others. To win over his fierce opponents, McCarthy and his allies had to make a series of concessions to their conservative challengers. For instance, one of the most major concessions was agreeing to lower the number of members needed to initiate the process of removing the Speaker, known as a “motion to vacate,” from five to one. This has massive implications, as it puts him in a vulnerable and precarious position. By virtue of this deal, a single conservative member could threaten to start this removal process over a minor dispute or disagreement, leading to potential weekly power struggles in the House. In addition to this concession, McCarthy also offered these members an important deal regarding the Rules Committee. The Speaker controls the proceedings of the House through this committee, which sets the guidelines for debate. This includes deciding which bills can be brought to the floor, how long they can be debated, what amendments can be offered, and who they can be offered by. As part of his compromise, he granted this wing of the party the power to approve the positions of over ⅓ of the Republican members on the committee, effectively allowing them to block any legislation they do not favor. Furthermore, they can now propose an unlimited number of amendments that would gut or filibuster a bill, posing a dangerous threat to spending bills and legislation regarding the federal debt limit.
Many of his concessions frustrated his more politically moderate supporters, as they worry that caving to this far-right faction in the party will create obstacles for the new GOP majority to govern successfully. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats also criticized McCarthy for making these compromises, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer accusing him of having “surrendered to demands of a fringe element of the Republican party,” and, in doing so, building a foundation for a “MAGA Republican controlled house with devastating consequences to our country.” Similarly, around the nation, many were frustrated watching the proceedings play out. Pine Crest Student Avery Holzer ’24 said, “Watching the House Speaker crisis felt like a complete circus. Seeing the footage of congressmen yelling at each other and some even bringing in popcorn felt surreal.” Yet another consequence of the drama lies in the fact that it unarguably gained significant attention nationally from all sorts of people, whether they be political commentators or even those not usually interested in politics.
Mrs. Everett, a Pine Crest AP Government and Politics teacher, echoed this notion, stating, “Before the march and violence on January 6th, few people beyond government teachers and DC insiders knew that the certification of the electoral votes was a thing. Now, where the Speakership vote has become fairly pro forma over the last century, the non-traditional execution of it this year has made a whole new generation of engaged citizens more familiar with the process.”
Even though this dispute is finally resolved, many believe it foreshadowed the roadblocks McCarthy will face in his next two years as Speaker. After all, if the party in power cannot even agree on the most basic vote, it brings into question how major legislation and efforts to remedy key issues plaguing our nation will progress. Some of the concessions McCarthy has agreed on are projected to make the most vital aspects of running the House much more difficult, such as passing appropriations bills to keep the government funded, and raising the borrowing limit that enables the Treasury Department to finance the federal debt. If they cannot push these funding bills through the House, a government shutdown will be imminent. To the same effect, if the House is not able to increase the debt ceiling, the government could reach its first-ever debt default, meaning that the US would be unable to repay creditors. This would result in catastrophe for financial markets and the economy, as well as for the average American consumer.
One would think that since the Freedom Caucus only makes up about 10 percent of the House Republican conference, their defiance would not pose such a grim threat. However, with the slim majority Republicans have in the House, this faction could effectively block the entirety of the GOP’s ambitious legislative agenda in the coming two years. Although for the far-right dissidents, continued resistance could be a great way to gain publicity and media attention, it could also result in unfortunate consequences for the American people. Nevertheless, Democrats in Congress were already anticipating a legislative slowdown by virtue of the gridlock, with Democrats controlling the White House and Senate and Republicans controlling the House.
Mrs. Everett also spoke to the ramifications of our current polarized and ineffective political system, stating, “The potential widespread loss of confidence in institutions is certainly a point of concern. Much of the functioning of the federal government in our daily lives in the 21st century operates kind of like air conditioning – we tend not to notice it until something malfunctions. So various partisan theatrics aside, if people’s social security checks stop showing up in the mailbox or military veterans stop receiving benefits, then people will start to have opinions in a hurry.​​” As McCarthy navigates his new position of authority with a weak hand, the country will attentively be watching his effort to unite his party in a political landscape not only characterized by fierce partisanship, but also division within the major parties themselves.


The New York Times