The US House Speaker Elections
You don’t have to be a political fanatic to have found the recent House Elections entertaining, although the biennial process typically goes unnoticed. Yet, this year, it made headlines for its’ unforeseen 15 rounds of voting and the embarrassing divide within the Republican Party – here’s why this may prove to be significant:
Every two years, a new US House of Representatives is sworn in, and a Speaker is elected by the 435 members. The Speaker holds great influence over the US government – they preside over sessions of the US House and manage which bills are debated and when. Typically, the vote for speaker falls strictly along party lines – in 2021: Nancy Pelosi (Democrat from California) was elected 216 to 209 in one, easy vote. 2023 couldn’t have been more different – in theory, California Republican Kevin McCarthy should have easily won the House Speaker election, having been a figurehead in the House Republican party for years. Nevertheless, a faction of 20 far-right Republicans tried to crush his ambitions, refusing to vote for him and instead, supporting a wide range of other, more conservative, Republicans including Jim Jordan, Byron Donalds and Andy Biggs. It was only after 15 rounds of voting - over four days - that McCarthy finally got the votes he needed to become Speaker of the House. Four main problems exist with this, and the consequences are far from over.
The first problem is that four days is precious time for the US government - and the bureaucracy doesn't stop after the election for Speaker. Once the speaker is elected, different representatives are then assigned to different committees. Then, once in these smaller committees, they draft legislation. Then, they vote as a committee to approve that legislation. Then, the entire house debates said legislation. Then, maybe, a change is made. Considering the closely looming debt troubles and the ongoing gun violence epidemic - this could not be further from what we need right now.
On a more political front, this could impact the 2024 Presidential Election. In all 15 rounds of voting, every Member-elect of the Democratic party voted for their new leader – Hakeem Jeffries from New York. Meanwhile, President Biden continued his work, unfazed by the mania down the road from the White House – he promoted an infrastructure project in Kentucky, held a memorial service for the officers killed in the January 6th riot and went to the southern border to assess the situation in Texas. On the other hand, the Republicans were starkly divided. In Round 12 of voting, some of the anti-McCarthy Republicans finally changed their stance – it took this long even though the party’s de facto leader, Donald Trump, called on members-elect to vote for McCarthy. The stubbornness and infighting shown by House Republicans over the course of the week has only served to damage their reputation – particularly against the backdrop of a Democratic party which, over the past few months, has undergone a seamless change in leadership.
There’s also reason to question whether McCarthy’s concessions to the hard-right wing of his party were in the best interest of the American people. To sway their votes, McCarthy has promised to give some of the holdouts an influential role on the House Rules committee. This effectively means he agreed to reduce his own power to appease the far-right holdouts who have expressed a keen desire to shift power from the Speaker of the House and more evenly distribute it across all 435 members. This change could see more extremist legislation from both the left and right come up in debate, potentially detracting from issues at the heart of the main Republican agenda, like rising crime rates and the border crisis.
Finally, the mess in the House will prove reputationally damaging for the whole country on a world scale. The USA is known to be the home of the free world and a country that proudly upholds the values of Democracy. Yet, between this and the Capitol Riot two years ago, it would be reasonable for people to begin questioning whether the US is fulfilling its role. While some of the anti-McCarthy Republicans have claimed that this infighting shows the spirit of American democracy, I can’t help but wonder if this is truly a turning point in American history. The last time a vote like this happened was in 1923 – yet this feels like it won’t be an anomaly.