U.S. Government & governance Speaker of the House

Written by  //  January 7, 2023  //  Government & Governance, U.S.  //  No comments

Heather Cox Richardson January 7, 2023
Republican Kevin McCarthy of California won enough votes to become speaker of the House of Representatives. Not since 1860, when it took 44 ballots to elect New Jersey’s William Pennington as a compromise candidate, has it taken 15 ballots to elect a speaker.
…there is no doubt that the concessions he made to extremist Republicans to win their votes mean he has finally grasped the speaker’s gavel from a much weaker position than previous speakers. “He will have to live the entirety of his speakership in a straitjacket constructed by the rules that we’re working on now,” one of the extremist ring leaders, Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told reporters.
McCarthy promised that the Republicans recognized that their responsibility was not to themselves or their conference, but to the country, but then went on to lay out a right-wing wish list for investigations, business deregulation, and enhanced use of fossil fuels, along with attacks on immigration, “woke indoctrination” in public schools, and the 87,000 new IRS agents funded by the Inflation Reduction Act to enforce tax laws. Somewhat oddly, considering the Biden administration’s focus on China and successful start to the repatriation of the hugely important chip industry, McCarthy promised that the Republicans would essentially jump on Biden’s coattails, working to counter communist China and bring jobs home. McCarthy promised that Republicans would “be a check and provide some balance to the President’s policies.”
Immediately after his victory, McCarthy thanked the members who stayed with him through all the votes, but told reporters: “I do want to especially thank President Trump. I don’t think anybody should doubt his influence. He was with me from the beginning…. He would call me and he would call others…. Thank you, President Trump.”
Aaron Rupar of Public Notice pointed out that “McCarthy going out of his way to gush over Trump at a time when his influence is clearly diminished & political brand is more toxic to mainstream voters than ever—especially on the anniversary of the insurrection—is notable & indicative of who he’ll be beholden to as speaker.”
I would go a step further and say that embracing Trump after his influence on the Republican Party has made it lose the last three elections suggests that, going forward, the party is planning either to convince more Americans to like the extremism of the MAGA Republicans—which is unlikely—or to restrict the vote so that opposition to that extremism doesn’t matter.
The clock starts ticking on McCarthy’s speakership
KEVIN McCARTHY finally got the gavel — but in the process, he gave away the House
(POLITICO Playbook) The concessions the California Republican awarded his critics to secure his position all but ensure that he will operate as speaker in name only. For the first time in decades, rank-and-file members will have as much power as their leader. That reality could blow back on moderates and could ultimately undercut Republicans politically: Despite their desire to use their newfound majority to focus attention on President JOE BIDEN, GOP infighting is going to dominate the Congress.
The chaotic past week is just a prelude to what is shaping up to be equally unstable next two years in the House. Here are four dynamics we’ll be watching:
1. The Freedom Caucus’ new veto power.
2. Tough votes for moderates and swing-seat representatives.
3. The coming GOP battle over defense spending.
4. McCarthy’s ticking clock.
We think McCarthy will probably have a few months. But the fiscal deadlines looming this year — spending bills and a debt ceiling increase, with shutdowns and even a national default possible — mean that his hourglass is already starting to run out of time.
Speaker in Name Only
Kevin McCarthy finally has the job he always wanted. What did he sacrifice to get it?
By Russell Berman
(The Atlantic) With the speaker’s gavel in hand, McCarthy will soon find out whether it was all worth it. To end the crisis, he cut a deal that essentially traded away a sizable chunk of power from the position, placing the new speaker at the mercy of the very hard-liners who had thwarted him.
Under the agreement McCarthy struck, any Republican will be able to demand a vote on his ouster. McCarthy is reportedly guaranteeing the far-right House Freedom Caucus enough seats on the Rules Committee to give the group an effective veto over most legislation that comes up for a vote. He’s committing the party to pursue steep—and, in all likelihood, politically unpopular—budget cuts while ensuring a partisan brawl over the debt ceiling that could damage the nation’s economy.
Kevin McCarthy’s Hollow Victory Will Have Economic and Political Consequences
If the new House Speaker is to get anything done, he will need to retain the support of far-right extremists.
By John Cassidy
(The New Yorker) Early Saturday morning, amid scenes redolent of the nineteenth century, when brawls occasionally broke out on the floor of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker of the 118th Congress. After it was all over—after McCarthy had angrily confronted the holdout Matt Gaetz in full view of the C-SPAN cameras; after a fellow-congressman had to grab the McCarthy ally Mike Rogers, of Alabama, around the throat to keep him from lunging at Gaetz; after enough of the holdouts had finally agreed to end this four-day political debacle in a fifteenth ballot—after all that, the best the fifty-seven-year-old Californian could manage, when his Democratic opponent Hakeem Jeffries finally handed him the wooden gavel, was a lame wisecrack, followed by a telling admission. “That was easy, huh?” McCarthy said. “I never thought we’d get up here.
… In February, 2021, eleven House Republicans voted with the Democrats to strip [Marjorie Taylor] Greene of her committee assignments. McCarthy wasn’t among them, but he did issue a statement “unequivocally” condemning some of her incendiary statements, which included endorsing political violence against Democrats and suggesting that some school shootings had been staged. After McCarthy’s tortuous elevation, things are very different. In return for backing McCarthy, Greene will likely receive new committee assignments and be treated, by Party leaders, as an important ally
… Based on his own self-serving modus operandi, McCarthy doesn’t have much choice but to comply; if he is to get anything done over the next two years, he will need to retain the support of Greene and many other far-right extremists.
This prospect is already raising alarms on Wall Street, where attention is focussing on the need to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a U.S. government default—an imperative that will probably become pressing by the summer. Earlier this week, Representative Ralph Norman, of South Carolina, who is a member of the Freedom Caucus, called on McCarthy to “shut down the government rather than raise the debt ceiling,” adding that this demand was “a non-negotiable item.” In this instance, it would be a mistake to focus exclusively on the MAGA crazies: months ago, McCarthy and Senator John Thune, of South Dakota, both made clear that they favored using the debt limit to force big cuts in spending. But McCarthy’s humiliation has made clear how little flexibility he will have in managing his own caucus during the debt-ceiling brinkmanship.

Speakers of the House (1789 to present)
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution states: “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers…”
The Speaker is the political and parliamentary leader of the House of Representatives. The Constitution mandates the office, but since the early 19th century the House and the individual Speakers have continually redefined its contours.
The Speaker is elected at the beginning of a new Congress by a majority of the Representatives-elect from candidates separately chosen by the majority- and minority-party caucuses. These candidates are elected by their party members at the organizing caucuses held soon after the new Congress is elected. In cases of an unexpected vacancy during a Congress a new Speaker is elected by a majority of the House from candidates previously chosen by the two parties.
The Speaker of the House is by law second in line to succeed the President, after the Vice President, and 25th Amendment makes the Speaker a part of the process announcing presidential disability.
The First Day of a New Congress: A Guide to Proceedings on the House Floor (Report ) (Updated December 15, 2022)

3 January 2023
How is the House speaker chosen? The Constitution doesn’t say.
Uncertainty about the process has led to prolonged gridlock in past eras of political conflict
(WaPo) “The Constitution says almost nothing about the selection process for the speaker of the House,” said Matthew Green, a professor of political science at the Catholic University of America. “All it says in Article One … is ‘The House shall choose their speaker.’ That’s it.”
The role of speaker is one of the few that appears in America’s foundational document. But the rules for picking one — and the powers of the office — were intentionally left vague, the only major condition being that the entire House must participate. Instead, the rules have evolved over centuries. Like other political customs that developed as norms rather than originating from written rules, they’re more vulnerable to possible abuse or dysfunction.
A majority of the chamber, 218 votes, is usually needed to be elected speaker. Both parties traditionally nominate their caucus leader for the job; if the majority leader’s party rallies behind him or her — a scenario that McCarthy’s allies hope for as he stands more than five votes shy of the needed number — the roll-call vote is completed in a single round. The speaker roll-call vote is overseen by the incumbent clerk of the House, an administrative role that records the happenings of the chamber.
If no nominee commands a majority of the chamber, the clerk can conduct a roll call until a victor is decided, or the rules can be amended to force out the least popular candidates or allow for only a plurality to elect the speaker, as was sometimes the case in the 1850s. The 1856 fight for speaker took two months, the longest in history, and was only resolved with a plurality vote.

5-6 January
The 14 Republicans who switched their votes to McCarthy
McCarthy won 13 new votes on the 12th ballot, and picked up a 14th new vote on the 13th ballot.
It’s not enough to make McCarthy the Speaker, as he needs a majority of those present. But his 214 votes on the 12th ballot fell just three shy of the number needed to seize the gavel, and it marked the first time this week that he bested the Democratic leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), who had led every previous ballot.
What McCarthy has offered his GOP opponents, and what’s under discussion
Committee membership still under discussion: Hard-line conservatives want increased representation on influential committees, but there is no agreement or promise on that — and McCarthy does not have the sole power to give it, as it is a decision for the House Republican Steering Committee, a group of around 30 members from leadership and elected regional representatives.
What McCarthy has not offered
On a House GOP conference call on Friday, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) shut down rumors that Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) had been promised chair of the powerful House Rules Committee.
Heather Cox Richardson January 5, 2023
Throughout the day, the allies of Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (CA) negotiated with the 20 extremists who refuse to back him, apparently offering them more and more power to win their votes. McCarthy has allegedly agreed to their demand that a single person can force a vote to get rid of the speaker, a demand that puts him at their mercy and that he had previously insisted he would never accept. He has also apparently offered members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus two spots on the House Rules Committee, which decides how measures will be presented to the House, and given them control over appropriations bills. He is also said to be considering letting them choose committee chairs, jumping over those with seniority.
This will not sit well with the rest of the conference. Lawyer and Washington Post columnist George Conway wrote, “I’m no political scientist, but it does strike me that a guy who negotiates by giving stuff up and and getting nothing in return probably wouldn’t make a good leader of a legislative body.”
If McCarthy does eventually win the speakership, he will have empowered a small group of extremists to control the House, and the next two years will be a constant fight as this tiny minority can hamstring the government. One of the extremists, Ralph Norman (R-SC), who wanted Trump to declare martial law in 2021 in order to retain the White House, said that McCarthy will get his vote only if he agrees not to raise the debt ceiling and will instead shut down the government and default on the national debt.
Bulwark podcast host Charlie Sykes told Alex Wagner Tonight, “There is no Republican establishment…. [W]hoever becomes the speaker is going to preside over the chaos that has been building for years. He or she is going to be the mayor of Crazytown.”
House Speaker vote: House votes to adjourn after McCarthy falls short 11th time (8pm)
The results were largely unchanged from all three of Wednesday’s and Thursday’s first four votes. …
Lawmakers are still in negotiations but are touting progress.
House moves to 10th ballot as McCarthy fails to sway hard-right Republicans
No other business in the House can proceed without a speaker. The last time a speaker election took more than one ballot was in 1923, when Speaker Frederick Gillett (R-Mass.) was reelected on the ninth ballot.
The latest: Pelosi says Democrats won’t make a deal to elect McCarthy
Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters there’s no chance that Democrats will strike a deal to provide the votes to elect GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as speaker.
“It’s Democrats’ responsibility to find common ground with Republicans on policy and even on House rules such as the motion to vacate, she said, “but they have to select their leader first.”
The House speaker fiasco: Day 2
(GZero/Signal) Another day, another letdown for Kevin McCarthy. For a second consecutive day, the Republican stalwart again failed to clinch enough votes from his own caucus to become House speaker, one of the most powerful jobs in US government. After six rounds of voting over two days – and a late-night team huddle on Wednesday in which McCarthy said he was willing to make significant concessions – 20 anti-establishment Republicans still refused to cast their ballot for McCarthy. Though they have some different demands, the broad consensus is that McCarthy is a creature of the swamp, slavish to special interests. What’s more, former President Donald Trump reportedly called on the group of detractors – a ragtag of his most ardent devotees – to “knock it off.” But the group shows no signs of backing down – for now – going so far as to say that Trump should have instead called on McCarthy to withdraw. Resolving the stalemate could still take days or weeks, and whoever prevails will emerge a weak leader with limited ability to control an unruly caucus. The last few days, however, have been a boon for President Joe Biden and the Democrats. Even Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of the QAnon variety, has distanced herself from some far-right members of the GOP by supporting McCarthy’s bid. She said on Wednesday that the current House speaker fiasco “makes the Republican Party look totally inadequate and not prepared to run the country.”

4 January
‘There isn’t any House’: Speaker drama ripples throughout basic congressional function
(Boston Globe) As the sun set on the second day of the 118th Congress Wednesday, one chamber technically had no members.
“There isn’t any House,” said California Democratic Representative Anna Eshoo, who has served since 1993.
As Washington was spellbound by the drama unfolding in the new Republican majority, with Kevin McCarthy of California on Wednesday again failing on three consecutive votes to secure the speaker’s gavel, questions were emerging about how the House could function going forward. The impasse prompted an adjournment until 8 p.m., after which McCarthy and his allies again tried to bring the restless members of the caucus to his side, but his detractors emerged from the meetings seemingly unmoved.
Rules of the House vest virtually all organization power in the speaker. So with no speaker, everything is in limbo. Members have yet to be sworn in. Until they are, they cannot be paid or perform some official duties.
…In the meantime, members began to ask how basic House functions could proceed without a speaker.
For example, Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat, noted that the metal detectors at the entrance to the House chamber had been taken down.
“I was sort of wondering, just now that magnetometers were removed,” he said. “Under what authority?”
Representative Pete Aguilar of California, the third-ranking House Democrat, said that because he and other lawmakers have not been sworn in, there’s a real question about whether they can help constituents with problems in the federal bureaucracy. And because committees haven’t been formed, they won’t be allowed to hire staff.
Welcome to limbo House
Analysis by Philip Bump
(WaPo) A report from the endlessly useful Congressional Research Service explains the chain of events that usually leads to the swearing-in of members of the House. First, the House convenes (at noon on Jan. 3, unless the prior Congress changes things). There’s no clerk of the House yet, so the clerk of the preceding Congress checks that there’s a quorum — meaning that at least half of the full body is present. Then, the chamber votes on a speaker, itself a role defined in the Constitution. The speaker is sworn in.
The speaker then swears in the members-elect. That happens en masse on the House floor, but photographs are banned; the photos you see of new members posing with the speaker are ceremonial, souvenirs.
You can see the problem. On Tuesday, after three votes, the House had failed to select a speaker. Without a speaker, there was no administration of the oath to the new members. So they wait at the starting line, “runners” instead of runners. Or, to use the proper vernacular, members-elect instead of members.
This is not entirely a nominal point. House procedures state that, in keeping with Article VI, unsworn members are not fully empowered as elected officials.
“Until a Member-elect has subscribed to the oath, he does not enjoy all the rights and prerogatives of a Member of Congress,” the formal guidelines read. “Members who have not taken the oath are not entitled to vote or to introduce bills. However, unsworn Members have participated at the beginning of a session in organizational business, such as the election of the Speaker.” You can be named to a committee before being sworn, it notes — but you can’t serve on it until the swearing-in occurs.
And, of course, because no bills can be introduced or voted on, no legislation can pass the House. And if no legislation can pass the House, no legislation can be sent from Congress to the White House to become law. No newly named post offices, no massive spending bills, nothing.
Meet the next U.S. House speaker…Michigan’s Fred Upton?
Former U.S. Rep. Fred Upton officially retired this week, but the moderate Michigan Republican is now a long-shot candidate for another job in Congress: U.S. House Speaker.
Republicans struggled Tuesday to select a U.S. House speaker, after far-right conservatives balked at Kevin McCarthy
Fred Upton of Michigan retired this week, but said he would be willing to assume the speaker’s post
Former Michigan Congressman Justin Amash said he wants the job, too

2 January
Here Are the House Republicans to Watch if McCarthy’s Bid for Speaker Falters
Representative Kevin McCarthy has so far faced no viable challenger for the speakership. …the landscape could quickly change should Mr. McCarthy falter on Tuesday, when the new Congress convenes and lawmakers vote to elect a new speaker. House precedent requires that lawmakers continue voting on ballot after ballot if no one is able to win the gavel. If Mr. McCarthy is unable to quickly win election, Republicans would be under immense pressure to coalesce around an alternative, ending a potentially chaotic and divisive fight on the floor that could taint the start of their majority in the House.
Kevin McCarthy scrambles to firm up his speaker bid as vote looms
While an overwhelming majority of Republicans want to elect McCarthy as speaker, roughly 15 have put the outcome in serious doubt. McCarthy can only afford to lose four Republicans in Tuesday’s floor vote, and the razor-thin margin has emboldened staunch conservatives within the House Freedom Caucus, who have made specific demands in exchange for their votes.
McCarthy on the brink
(Politico Playbook) Seven years after his last, failed bid for the speakership, Kevin McCarthy’s dreams of wielding the gavel are again in peril. Despite years of political contortions aimed at winning over his critics on the far right, with just over 24 hours left until the critical floor vote, the California Republican’s math problem is getting worse, not better.
In her own words: Pelosi steps back after decades in charge
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) officially steps back from her leadership position this week after 20 years of guiding House Democrats, marking the end of a history-making tenure that saw her take the gavel twice.
Pelosi, the first and only woman to be chosen as Speaker of the House, will again be sworn in to the House Tuesday for another term, but this one as a rank-and-file member with no special privileges. It will be the first time she is sworn in without a leadership position in more than 20 years.
Pelosi, 82, held court twice recently with a small group of reporters in the “Board of Education” room on the first floor of the Capitol. … Each of those wide-ranging interview sessions was attended by a Washington Post reporter, and below are some highlights of those conversations, as well as some quotes from Post archives.

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm