As the saying goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If that still holds up, Americans can rest assured knowing that their elected officials have completely lost their minds.
After the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans were left sorely disappointed by the lack of their “Red Wave.” Instead of the margins predicted by most projections in the nation, Republicans only took the House of Representatives by nine seats, and failed to take the Senate at all. Such a slim majority means that now, more than ever, Republicans need to band together and cooperate if they want to get anything done.
Unfortunately, getting politicians to do their jobs efficiently is a bit like herding cats.
On the very first day that the House was supposed to enter session, the first order of business was to elect a new Speaker of the House, given that the majority had changed parties. This is a purely procedural process; usually, everybody knows who the new Speaker is before they even step foot in the office. But it’s still an important step, because until the Speaker is elected, the House cannot proceed with anything: not setting rules and certainly not passing laws.
This time was different. Due to the slim red majority, Kevin McCarthy, the expected Republican choice for Speaker, could only afford to lose four of his party members in the vote.
He lost 19.
Washington D.C. erupted. For the first time in over 150 years, a nominated Speaker did not have enough votes to meet the necessary threshold of 218, so without a leader, the House could not enter session. Every single Democrat held strong behind their candidate, Hakeem Jeffies, so McCarthy could expect no assistance from the blue party. Some of the 19 GOP holdouts are on the more extreme side of the Republican party, such as Florida Representative Matt Gaetz and Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert. Many of them are election-deniers and COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theorists, and they argued that they “struggle with trust” when it comes to McCarthy and the Republican agenda.
McCarthy lost a second round of votes, then a third. The House returned the next day, and many Democrats started toting popcorn bags. When a fourth vote was called, none of the holdouts gave in, and McCarthy actually lost a GOP member’s vote.
Another day of votes went by. Then another. Throughout the process, Republicans debated furiously amongst themselves, determining how many “concessions” they would have to give the holdouts — that is, what they could give in exchange for a vote — all while hurling insults and even contemplating working with Democrats. A fight even broke out, though it was quickly shut down. Finally, on the fourth day, after concession and concession, McCarthy whittled down his opposition until he finally reached the threshold late at night on Jan. 7. In total, it took 15 rounds for McCarthy to win.
As NPR reported, the first thing McCarthy said upon becoming Speaker was “That was easy, huh? I never thought we’d get up here.” If that doesn’t inspire confidence in our nation’s leadership, what will?
One of the concessions made by McCarthy includes a controversial rule change. According to Slate, “A single rank-and-file lawmaker from either party will now be able to force a vote on ousting the House speaker.” Meaning, any Representative can decide they don’t like what McCarthy is doing, or they want to hold up Congress, and they can bring Congress to a screeching halt by forcing all 435 members to vote in a popularity contest — making the House even more impotent than it already is.
McCarthy also agreed to place many of the previous vote holdouts in high-consequence committee positions, such as the House Rules committee, which determines the rules of how the lower house of Congress will conduct its procedures. Another concession was to rework national debt rules — Congress now has to vote to keep the U.S. economy from defaulting, a uniquely bad idea dredged from the depths of right-wing economics. Previously, the debt ceiling automatically rose because defaulting on America’s $23 trillion economy would spell disaster for everyday Americans, along with every foreign economy that has invested in or holds assets in the United States.
Representative Gaetz forced McCarthy to agree to a cap on the military budget, “which could reduce national defense spending by $75 billion,” according to Forbes. Whether you believe this is a good decision or not, one representative having the power to knock billions of dollars off the federal budget spells disaster for the future of lawmaking.
The biggest takeaway remains that the Speaker of the House debacle is a microcosm of rampant political polarization in this country, and it’s only downhill from here. Though Congressional Republicans tried to brush it off as the “messy” nature of democracy, there’s a difference between messiness and insanity, and Congress rests squarely in the latter.