by Kyle Sammin
Wednesday, 4
January 2023
Reaction
11:55

Kevin McCarthy’s critics have a point

Warnings about the degradation of the House strike a chord with Americans
by Kyle Sammin
Rep. Chip Roy nominates Rep. Jim Jordan to be Speaker of the House yesterday. Credit: Getty.

The 118th Congress convened in Washington, D.C. yesterday and, for the first time in a hundred years, the House failed to elect a Speaker on the first ballot.

It is, in one way, a testament to the strength of the American two-party system that it has taken this long for the problem to arise. The last Congress was also narrowly divided, but Democrat Nancy Pelosi managed to hold the votes of all but two members of her caucus, eking out a narrow win. Many assumed that the same would be true this time as the Republican majority swept in, and that opposition to the presumptive Speaker, California’s Kevin McCarthy, would fade away just as far-Left opposition to Pelosi did in 2021.


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Three rounds of voting later and we see that this is not the case. With 222 Republicans elected and 218 votes needed for a majority, McCarthy had a very small margin for error. On the first ballot, 19 members defected, voting for various other Republicans they deemed more acceptable — and more conservative — than McCarthy.

If anyone thought this was a mere protest vote, the second ballot dispelled the notion: the same 19 refused to vote for McCarthy, this time coalescing around Ohio Republican Jim Jordan as their pick. Jordan, for his part, did not join the defectors and gave a speech nominating McCarthy. A third ballot was taken, and the number of anti-McCarthy voters rose to 20 as Florida’s Byron Donalds joined the group.

The House adjourned after that, with no Speaker and no possibility of conducting any other business.

How long the revolt lasts will depend on the nature of the 20 defectors’ motivations. Much of what goes on in the American Congress — especially from members on the far-Right and far-Left — is symbolic and performative. As the legislature has shed its responsibilities over the years in favour of the courts and the executive branch, much of the “business” of Congress has been giving speeches to an empty chamber, not writing laws or debating them.

This revolt may be more of the same. Or it may be a cynical power grab, as McCarthy has alleged, a ploy to win committee chairmanships for the more conservative members. But the sentiments raised by Chip Roy (one of the 19), about the degradation of the House and the diminution of the conservative principles of its Republican members, may strike a chord with some of those watching the contest.

Roy shamed the House for voting for massive spending bills no one read, paid for with money the country does not have, where military and spending goes up, “and the American people are the big losers.” That message will resonate with a conservative base that is tired of voting for people who promise fiscal responsibility and deliver the opposite. But will it matter? Will more than one member join their never-Kevin caucus?

“This place has to change,” Roy says. And surely many Americans agree. Opposition to the status quo is the easy part. But change to what? That will no doubt be the sticking point. A majority of House members agreed yesterday that they did not want Kevin McCarthy to be Speaker, but that was the only thing on which they agreed.

In the 1850s, one Congress took two months to settle on a Speaker in a time even more unsettled than our own. This departure from the orderly patterns of the 20th century is not likely to be so pronounced as all that, but it may suggest that the dissatisfaction with establishment politics is moving from performance to reality.

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Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
29 days ago

“The last Congress was also narrowly divided, but Democrat Nancy Pelosi managed to hold the votes of all but two members of her caucus, eking out a narrow win.”
Will Rogers was wrong; it’s the Republicans who belong to no organized political party. The Democrats, meanwhile, have the party discipline of a wolf pack, and similar morals.

Romi Elnagar
Romi Elnagar
29 days ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

And you’re claiming that REPUBLICANS have “morals”?
Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!

Robert Cocco
Robert Cocco
29 days ago
Reply to  Romi Elnagar

I don’t see that claim anywhere in Mr. Lee’s comment.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
29 days ago
Reply to  Romi Elnagar

I guess it was too much to expect that UnHerd’s comment section would remain troll-free.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
29 days ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

The GOP is a disgraceful mess. The Dems win elections because the Republicans are so divided they can’t develop a coherent policy platform or nominate candidates who appeal to independents.

The vote for speaker is yet another example of the GOP’s failure as a party. Biden had historically low approval ratings and they still couldn’t beat him.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
29 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Most politicians in the US are in it for themselves and will say or do anything that will further their ambitions and enlarge their bank accounts.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
28 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

You’re partly right. The Dems win elections (not always, and not nearly as often at the local level) because nationally, the Republicans are divided in a necessary mess between the portion willing to fight the Dems’ ongoing hollowing out of American culture and the part that has opted into and profits by the Dem dominated institutional state and is therefore unwilling to take a stand against it.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
28 days ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

“Dem dominated institutional state”— great way to put it. Thank you.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
29 days ago

If only some of the more doctrinally-sound members of the British Conservative Party were prepared to hold up Parliamentary business on similar grounds.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
29 days ago

Isn’t that – or something very similar – what many members of the Conservative party did in the period 2017-19 to prevent Theresa May’s attempts to secure a false deal with the EU? That culminated in Boris Johnson succeeding May as leader in July 2019, trying to prorogue parliament (stopped by the Supreme Court, but he’d made his point) and subsequently winning a landslide in December 2019.
Subsequent events notwithstanding, it’s there in the history books.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
28 days ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

It wouldn’t have been a ‘false deal’ – it would have just been one that you and some (a minority) of Parliamentarians disapproved of. Any treaty arrived at through legal due process would have been legitimate.

I have yet to hear Nigel Farage held to account for why he so vociferously supported the so-called ‘Norway option’ on many occasions, and even a second confirmatory referendum and then radically changed his position to denounce anyone advocating a “soft” Brexit as a kind of traitor. I don’t say this because I personally support that position, but because I despise the dishonest transactional positions held by politicians of all stripes.

Last edited 28 days ago by Andrew Fisher
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
27 days ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Well said.

Romi Elnagar
Romi Elnagar
29 days ago

Be careful what you wish for. This mess may result in America defaulting on its debt.
Not very pretty, even for “rebels.”

Terry M
Terry M
29 days ago

Pelosi controlled the $ that went to candidates’ campaigns as well as committee appointments, and ruled with an iron fist. And look at the f***ing mess she wrought.
“a ploy to win committee chairmanships for the more conservative members” is probably right. I just hope that whomever we get is fiscally conservative; that’s what counts and is the only thing that can save us from ruin.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
28 days ago
Reply to  Terry M

Fiscally conservative with a moral compass.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
28 days ago

I knew Kevin McCarthy when he was in the California state legislature. Even as a young man, he was sort of a cold fish and an opportunist. Nothing much has changed. It heartens me to see a few Republicans in the House say that “enough is enough”. Joe Biden largely inherited the Presidency, not least because he had “put in his time” and many people – including Joe himself – said he had “earned it” as a result. Never were less valid words spoken. No one deserves an office based on longevity. ( Like post captains in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars receiving their Admiralty just for surviving on the list long enough. ) Nancy Pelosi was (is) one of the most toxic politicians ever to occupy the position of Speaker of the House. We don’t need a repeat from the Republican side.

John Aronsson
John Aronsson
28 days ago

This strikes me as Republicans refusing to elect a charter member of the uniparty, Kevin McCarthy, to the very powerful office of Speak of the House.

As Mitch McConnell has demonstrated over the just ended lamed duck session, he is not a Republican but rather an essential member of the uniparty, a Judas goat for the Senate Republicans, nothing more. The same is true of McCarthy, the Judas goat for the House.

Mo’ better the House go on without a speaker and stop legislation for two years than endure one more day under the leadership of McConnell and McCarthy passing the kind of legislation they passed over the last four weeks.

Last edited 28 days ago by John Aronsson
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
27 days ago

Just when you think the GOP can’t get worse, they find further depths to plumb.
Just focus on winning the next presidential election.

Last edited 27 days ago by Ian Stewart