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The Foreword

The Rise and Fall of Kevin McCarthy

+Jim+Watson%2C+Fox+News
Jim Watson, Fox News

Kevin McCarthy has served in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican since he was elected to represent the state of California in the 110th Congress. Over the years, McCarthy rose through the ranks in the House, eventually becoming the leader of the House Republican Conference at the beginning of the 116th Congress. For several years McCarthy has shifted between being the Majority and Minority leaders of the house, as the Republican party has gained and lost seats. However, in January of 2023, the real drama began.

In the 2022 midterm elections, the Republican party won a slim majority in the 118th Congress, with 221 representatives, versus the Democrat’s 213. As the leader of the majority party in the House, McCarthy was the obvious pick for the office of Speaker of the House, and the third person in the presidential line of succession. This time, it wasn’t so easy. Due to their extremely slim majority, only a few Republicans (four to be exact) needed to break with the rest of the party to deprive them of a majority, thus not allowing McCarthy to become the Speaker of the House. That is exactly what happened. During the first round of voting, nineteen far-right members of the house, primarily members of the so-called House Freedom Caucus, trying to take advantage of the situation for their own benefit, chose to cast their ballots for alternative candidates. During this and all subsequent votes for speaker, every Democratic representative voted for their candidate like, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), standing united through the chaos. It took fifteen rounds of voting to finally install McCarthy as Speaker of the 118th House. 

McCarthy was only able to achieve this by making a substantial number of concessions to the radicals. This was his greatest failure and it could be his undoing.  There were a lot of concessions that hurt McCarthy politically, but the only one that matters here is the Motion to Vacate. This motion to Vacate the Chair, if passed by a simple majority, declares the office of Speaker of the House to be vacant. These motions have been around for decades, but they have required a Party or Caucus to bring them to the floor. The new rules that McCarthy was forced to implement reduced that threshold to a single member of the house. This one change that McCarthy allowed is what annihilated the stability of the House. He handed the radical right the power to disproportionately control policy, and hold the House hostage when they don’t get to push their agenda. 

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In the fall of 2023, McCarthy faced a crisis of his own making. It was time for the house to pass a new budget to keep the government running for another year. Normally this is a simple, routine process, but this year, the newly empowered radicals decided to press their agenda. They refused to support the budget without extreme modifications. McCarthy was unwilling to accept those modifications, and with no new budget, it seemed like a government shutdown was only a matter of time. Then, McCarthy did something unexpected. He worked with the Democrats to make a bipartisan budget bill and go around his party’s right wing. This is the move he should have taken to be elected speaker, rather than bowing to the radicals. The bill passed, but this move by McCarthy infuriated the radical members of his party. One of these members, Representative Matt Gaetz, filed a motion to vacate in response to McCarthy’s gambit. This motion passed, with several right-wing Republicans and every Democrat voting in favor. This was the end for McCarthy’s speakership. He was removed from office, and Representative Patrick McHenry took his place as acting speaker until the house could appoint a new one. Representative Mike Johnson (R-LA) has been elected as the new Speaker of the House.

 

When asked to comment on this unprecedented situation Allderdice AP U.S Government and Politics teacher Ms. Halloran said that the primary causes of these events were; factionalism within the Republican party, the razor-thin Republican majority, and McCarthy’s lacking popularity. AP U.S. history teacher Mr. Straussman added that McCarthy was so desperate to be speaker that he “gave a small group on the fringes of the Republican party an absolute veto on his tenureship”, and that he rejected bipartisanship, furthering his reliance on his right flank. Both agreed that this will generally reduce stability in the house, and force compromises to be struck. The two of them also said that this ordeal was better for the Democrats than the Republicans. Ms. Halloran said that the Republicans appeared disorganized and immature, and Mr.Straussman said that the Democrats looked like “The adults in the room”. When asked how they thought this event would impact the 2024 U.S. general elections, both responded by saying that it was impossible to predict. Ms. Halloran added that “ultimately it will come down to gerrymandering and candidates”

 

This ordeal may not be over yet, but it already has begun to show its effects. The Republican party has shown themselves to be squabbling infants, concerned more with their own power and influence than properly governing our nation, while the Democrats have shown themselves to be, as Mr. Straussman said, “the adults in the room”. The Republican party still has a tenuous majority in the house, and thus speaker McHenry can be removed just as easily as McCarthy was. To really regain stability in the house, either one party needs to gain a stronger majority, or the new rules relating to the motion to vacate need to be repealed. Or we can go for the real solution. We can vote out the radicals that are holding our congress hostage, and replace them with people who can cooperate like reasonable adults.

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