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After lengthy voting process, Speaker of the House is chosen
February 1, 2023
On Saturday, January 7, Kevin McCarthy was elected to be the Speaker of the House for the 118th Congress. The road to becoming speaker, however, was unusual for McCarthy, as it took five days and 15 rounds of voting for a Speaker to be chosen, as no candidate managed to win the 218 votes needed for a majority. This marked the longest race for Speaker in 164 years.
“I was shocked at how long they took to finally choose the Speaker. It felt like it was never going to end,” said Dana Camp (‘24).
Throughout the process, McCarthy was always Republicans’ top choice, receiving the majority of the votes from the party; since Republicans now hold the majority in the House, this indicated it was likely McCarthy would become the Speaker. However, he was prevented from reaching the majority of votes needed to assume the role by the most conservative faction within his party. Since the Republican majority is slim in the house, the 20 representatives who voted for various other candidates were able to repeatedly block McCarthy’s victory. In fact, despite Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries receiving more votes than him in most rounds despite being from the minority party — however, Jeffries still did not reach the majority needed.
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This presented a significant roadblock for the House, as no business could be conducted without first picking a Speaker — for instance, new members could not officially be sworn into office. Members also could not vote on rules or begin to form committees, which are processes that will influence the rest of the Congressional session. This is because the Speaker directs all business in the House, and thus without a leader no work could be conducted. Thus, the conservative faction was able to exercise influence over many of the House rules and committee assignments by withholding the position from McCarthy.
“From what I was keeping up with, the race seemed very tedious. It feels like there are more important things they should be doing, and this dilemma was just holding things up,” said Brynn Wilary (‘23).
From the very beginning, McCarthy’s road to becoming the Speaker was tumultuous, as he struggled to receive enough votes to receive the nomination for Speaker. Members of the Freedom Caucus, the most conservative within the GOP, were reluctant to put McCarthy forward. This signaled future difficulties for McCarthy because the GOP gained fewer seats in the midterm elections than expected, meaning McCarthy had to do more to unify the party. This situation allowed a small minority of conservatives to have undue influence over the position and business in the House in general, using this leverage to achieve many of their own goals. These goals are not necessarily reflective of the Republican party as a whole.
After 15 rounds of votes McCarthy still had not reached the majority needed, despite already making concessions to the conservative faction. The process had grown tense, especially after the 14 rounds of voting. Representative Matt Gaetz from Florida had voted “present,” after voting for someone other than McCarthy for the previous 13 rounds. This led some to believe that the number required for a majority had shifted and that McCarthy had finally won; however, this was not the case, as Gaetz needed to vote for McCarthy in order for him to actually win. This led to a confrontation on the House floor, as McCarthy himself went up and confronted Gaetz. Representative Mark Rogers from Alabama lunged also moved toward Gaetz, and was physically restrained by another representative.
JUST IN: An extraordinary scene erupted, involving a confrontation between Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Matt Gaetz, on the House floor Friday night as voting was underway for House speaker. https://t.co/6D04OCikAm pic.twitter.com/ZHMWXE4mQI
— CNN (@CNN) January 7, 2023
This tension culminated in the 15 and final round of voting, in which McCarthy received the majority needed, and thus won the position of Speaker. However, this came at some expense to McCarthy and other members of the Republican party. McCarthy offered several changes in House rules to sway voters in his favor, including requiring one member to sponsor a motion to remove the Speaker, requiring 72 hours notice before voting on a bill, and the creation of a new subcommittee, the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. McCarthy also offered key committee assignments, such as positions on the Rules and Appropriations Committee.
Whilst the issue of picking a Speaker has been resolved, it may signal issues for Republicans in the House as the current Congress proceeds. Republicans hold a narrow majority in the House of 222 to 212. Thus, in order to push any significant bills forward, they must stand as a united front, using this narrow majority to the fullest extent possible. This is especially true because the Senate is majority Democratic, and the presidency is currently held by a Democratic. Without this cooperation between the center and more conservative groups within the party, Republicans could struggle to make significant headway during this session.
At a DNC fundraiser in NYC today, Biden called Kevin McCarthy "a decent man" who made "off the wall" promises to GOPers to be speaker.⁰ ⁰"I can't imagine, Chuck, you making one of those commitments," Biden said to Schumer.
⁰Schumer: "It took us one vote, and it was unanimous."
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) February 1, 2023
The more conservative legion within the party has also demonstrated its influence over the rest of the party, with the ability to withhold the majority. This influence has only grown with their committee assignments, as they will be able to control, at least in part, the agenda of the Congress and what bills make it to the House floor. With the concessions McCarthy has already made to this group, they may continue to exert such influence over policymaking, skewing the House more conservative. Additionally, in order for McCarthy to make progress with his agenda, he will have to either gain the support of this conservative faction or attempt to gain bipartisan support.
Social Studies teacher Stacy Filocco said, “Anyone who wants to hold out for concessions has the opportunity to have outsized influence on moving legislation forward unless you can garner bipartisan support. This suggests that, in the House, Speaker McCarthy will have to be very thoughtful about what he brings forward for a vote in order to ensure that he is able to accomplish his agenda as a majority may not be a given.”
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