In an unprecedented turn of events within the US Capitol, in the wake of a near government shutdown, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has been unseated. This marks a historic moment, for this is the first time a speaker has been voted out. This is already having far reaching consequences on American political stability.
Let’s rewind a bit.
McCarthy assumed the Speakership only this January, and over the weekend of the 30th of September, was staring down a potential government shutdown. Within the House of Representatives, a handful of hard-right Republicans were throwing down for significant budget cuts, causing disagreement within the Republican party and fierce standoff with the Democrats.
This forced McCarthy to engage in negotiations with Democrats, a decision which completely outraged the far-right wing of his own party who branded it a betrayal. Paradoxically, these same Republicans sought support from Democrats to oust McCarthy as an act of retribution. The Democrats who had earlier teamed up and worked with McCarthy to successfully avoid the shutdown joined in on ousting him.
Matt Gaetz, Florida’s MAGA-loving representative, led the charge against McCarthy, saying he was the “feature from the swamp” and needed to go. He rallied with seven other staunch Republicans, and together they were, in their own words, “breaking the fever”.
The vote passed 216-210, with all 208 Democrats voting against McCarthy. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries wrote“given their unwillingness to break from MAGA extremism in an authentic and comprehensive manner, House Democratic leadership will vote yes on pending Republican Motion to Vacate the Chair.”
So what’s the deal now? Without a speaker, business in the chamber is frozen. The House cannot vote on important pieces of legislation, for example the pending 2024 spending bills. The interim Speaker, Patrick Henry (R. NC) is extremely limited in his powers. His main job is to organise the election for the new speaker. He is not able to conduct normal legislative business.
GOP members such as Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick have already spoken out emphasising the disruption caused by the ousting. He said to CNN: “We have a third, one of our three branches of government, offline right now. That is a very dangerous thing for our country, and it cannot continue much longer.”
McCarthy isn’t taking his ousting lightly. He points the finger at a broken political system. He’s got valid concerns about how easy it is to kick a speaker out, and how that can lead to chaos thereby preventing the House from doing it’s real job: making laws. He said in an interview:
“In today’s world if you’re sitting in Congress and you took a gamble to make sure government was still open and eight people can throw you out of Speaker and the Democrats who said they wanted to keep government open, I think you got a real divide, I think you got a real institutional problem.”
McCarthy’s speech put a big spotlight on the polarised nature of the Republican party. Gaetz’s rebellion highlights how divided the party is, creating a significant roadblock for them to present a united front and push their conservative agenda.
In a Politico article Joanne Freeman, a professor at Yale, argues the events of the ousting are a “banner of dysfunction”. She believes the Republicans are moving away from democratic practises and flirting with authoritarianism. McCarthy’s ousting is a warning sign for this bigger problem. She’s got a valid point: democracy needs constant nurturing and defence and the rise of extremism and degradation of democratic practises are not helping.
On the other side of the debate, Bill Scher sees things very different to Freeman. He believes that “American politics wasn’t broken. Until Tuesday”. He focuses on mistrust and misaligned expectations being the real issue in American politics. On one side of the House a small number of Republicans do not trust McCarthy’s deal with the Democrats and the Democrats are not feeling confident about keeping government lights on under McCarthy’s watch. Scher’s concerns are that all this political divide and polarisation will result in bad governance within the House.
Now that McCarthy’s gone and stated he’s not going to stand for re-election, the House needs to find a new speaker, and fast. The House is Republican-controlled, which means that if they all get on the same page, the new speaker will also be Republican.
The frontrunner at the moment is Rep. Jim Jordan (R. Ohio), who has received former President Trump’s official stamp of approval. He is known as being a fierce defender of Trump, supporter of President Biden’s impeachment and his endorsement of claims regarding the 2020 election being stolen.
Having Jordan as House Speaker would steer the House in a direction aligned with the MAGA movement. This will raise concerns for the Democrats, who might inadvertently find themselves with an even more right-wing Speaker who will effectively act as a surrogate for Trump.
So, as of now, America finds itself slap bang in the middle of an epic political divide, intensified by landmark events such as Roe v. Wade. The ousting of McCarthy has pushed the country to the precipice of potential fracture. What is needed right now, are for leaders and moderates from all across the political spectrum to bridge divides and start focusing on what actually matters which is the well-being of the American people.