House of Representatives | The end of a torture or the beginning of an ordeal?

Kevin McCarthy’s ordeal has come to an end after 4 days, 15 votes and a multitude of concessions likely to doom him to impotence.

Updated at 1:02 a.m.

Humiliated since the beginning of the week by a series of unsuccessful votes for the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives, the elected Republican from California ended up rallying to his cause a sufficient number of rebels to realize the dream of his political career. at the end of a Friday evening marked by unprecedented twists and turns.

During a 14e poll held after 10 p.m. and an adjournment of several hours, Kevin McCarthy saw the election escape him by a single vote, that of one of the leaders of the sling, Matt Gaetz. A few hours earlier, he had said he was sure he had enough votes to succeed Nancy Pelosi.

At the end of this ballot, his face frozen in an expression of anger, McCarthy walked towards Gaetz to encourage him to change his vote. As the Florida representative stuck to his guns, the House soon after voted to adjourn the election until Monday.


Republican Representative Matt Gaetz during his exchange with Kevin McCarthy (right)

However, at the same time, Matt Gaetz received the call from his mentor, Donald Trump, who convinced him to put an end to the rebellion. During the 15e ballot, the representative of Florida voted “present”, as did five other slingers.

And Kevin McCarthy was elected by 216 votes against 212 for the Democratic representative of New York Hakeem Jeffries.

“I’m glad it’s over,” said the new Speaker of the House after the 15e vote.

But his election is perhaps only the beginning of his ordeal.

“To assume the position of Speaker of the House with the current culture of the Republican Party is almost political suicide,” commented Mark Martinez, political scientist at California State University in Bakersfield, this agricultural and oil city which saw the birth of Kevin McCarthy 57 years ago.

“These people are not just nihilists; they are crazy comedians in a kabuki theatre, ”he added, referring to the Republican rebels who rendered the lower house of Congress inoperative for more than four days, unheard of since the second half of the 19th century.e century.

Professor Martinez’s judgment of the rebels of the Republican group is no harsher than that of some of Kevin McCarthy’s allies.

“We can’t let the terrorists win,” Texas Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy Seal who lost an eye in Afghanistan, said earlier this week.

His Republican colleague from Nebraska Don Bacon, another veteran, had for his part qualified as “Taliban” the recalcitrant Republicans, whose number rose to 20 after the second ballot.

Sword of Damocles

Yet it is to win these same representatives to his cause that Kevin McCarthy has multiplied the concessions in recent days. Concessions that risk reducing his power as Speaker of the House to almost nothing and strengthening the influence of the same radicals who humiliated him.

“Clearly he gifted the sun, the moon and the stars to each of these individuals,” said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank. “And I suspect he has assured some of the holdouts that they will not face serious ethical investigation for trying to overthrow the government in 2020.”

Coincidentally, the fourth day of the House Speaker’s election falls on the second anniversary of the storming of the United States Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump.

One of the concessions granted by Kevin McCarthy will bring back a rule that forced the resignation of John Boehner, the second to last Republican Speaker of the House. This rule will allow a single Representative to call at any time for a vote to remove the Speaker of the House from office.

In other words, Kevin McCarthy will permanently have a sword of Damocles over his head.

The numerous skirmishes between John Boehner and the Freedom Caucus of his time could be a harbinger of what will await Kevin McCarthy. In 2013, despite Boehner’s opposition, the most radical Republican representatives precipitated a 16-day paralysis of the American state in the vain hope of forcing Barack Obama to delay the entry into force by a year. of its health insurance law.

The image of the Republicans in the House had suffered from this confrontation which had cost 24 billion dollars to the American economy. After his resignation, John Boehner called the Freedom Caucus members’ approach “legislative terrorism.” He had also called one of the leaders of the group, the representative of Ohio Jim Jordan, “terrorist” and “moron”.

Under Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan will chair the important House Judiciary Committee. In particular, he intends to investigate the FBI and the Department of Justice.

Threat of paralysis

Another major concession by Kevin McCarthy will secure more seats for the Freedom Caucus on the House Rules Committee. As its name suggests, this committee dictates the rules by which bills are introduced in the House.

“We will have the weakest Speaker of the House in modern history,” argued Norm Ornstein. Even without McCarthy’s extremely important concessions, the most radical of its members would have had all the power because of the narrowness of the Republican majority. And they are ready to exercise these powers. »

We are going to have a chaotic House and real threats of state paralysis and default.

Norm Ornstein, Congressional Scholar with the American Enterprise Institute

The threat of a default is linked to the raising of the debt ceiling, which will be necessary at an as yet undetermined date in 2023. However, McCarthy has promised the most extremist of its members to condition the raising of the debt ceiling on major cuts in government spending. If he keeps his promise, the Democrats will not fail to denounce a “blackmail” likely to lead the United States to a default, which has never happened in the history of the country.

Failure to pay could cause a national and even international financial crisis.

Under pressure from critics of US support for Ukraine, Kevin McCarthy also said he favored cutting military spending by $75 billion in 2023.

“This chaotic process to elect a Speaker of the House is unprecedented and dangerous,” said Connecticut Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro. “I really hope these rumors of critical funding cuts are false. We cannot have a future Speaker of the House trading funding that helps communities and protects our national security for personal gain. »

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