The bid for House Speaker is looking more and more like a soap opera

This should have been a cakewalk for Kevin McCarthy.  The GOP has a majority in the House, which made him the presumptive speaker.  What remained was the formality for casting votes.

But these days in politics, the norm is that there are no norms.

By the end of yesterday, the House was adjourned without a speaker.  This is not the auspicious beginning that everyone was hoping for 2023. 

The last time this happened was in 1923, when it took nine rounds and several days for a speaker to be elected.  McCarthy has made history; alas for him, it is for all the wrong reasons.

McCarthy has lost three consecutive votes for speaker, failing to reach the required 218-vote threshold.  Among the 222 Republicans in the House, only 203 voted for McCarthy in the first two rounds.  Unfortunately for McCarthy, in the third round, another Republican turned against him.

It remains unclear if McCarthy has a path to victory when the House returns tomorrow.

McCarthy's primary detractors were the Freedom Caucus, who think he is part of the problem, the swamp, and not of the solution.

The group is led by Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona, who has put himself forward as an alternative.  Biggs received 10 votes in the first round, while nine Republicans backed other candidates.

In the second round, the Freedom Caucus nominated Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio to challenge McCarthy, just moments after Jordan himself nominated McCarthy for speaker.

Jordan, a leading figure of the Freedom Caucus, urged Republicans to "rally around" McCarthy in the third round of voting, yet 20 Republicans voted for Jordan, again denying victory to McCarthy.

The Freedom Caucus is reportedly holding negotiations with McCarthy.  NPR reported that McCarthy has agreed to change the House rules to make it easier to oust a sitting speaker.  This would be an essential check on power and will hold for all speakers in the future.  There could be several other such concessions.

If that wasn’t enough drama, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who backs McCarthy, claimed that members of the Freedom Caucus like Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida were using their power of the vote to negotiate plum panel assignments — i.e., their opposition was for personal gain and not based on principles.

Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado claimed that during their morning conference, Kevin McCarthy endorsed a threat of removing all committee assignments for Republicans voting against him for speaker.

There was a rare display of bipartisanship; AOC was seen in conversation with GOP congressmen Gaetz and Paul Gosar of Arizona.

All 212 Democrats unified behind election-denier Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York for the speaker.

So what are the possible outcomes now?

One scenario is that McCarthy strikes deals with the Freedom Caucus and emerges with the gavel, despite being weakened by the compromises he made.

Another possibility is that McCarthy relinquishes his bid and backs his second in command, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, or some other Republican to run as speaker.

Now for the unlikely scenarios.

Perhaps McCarthy wins over centrist Democrats to emerge as the winner.  This way, he could marginalize the Freedom Caucus while compromising on the MAGA agenda.

Perhaps some Republicans give Jeffries the votes he needs to become the next speaker of the House.

Perhaps House Republicans build a coalition with Democrats to pick a speaker who is neither McCarthy nor Jeffries.  The House is run by a coalition, and the Freedom Caucus is again marginalized.  This strange solution was prescribed by John Kasich.

The House cannot proceed with any other business, including swearing in of new members until they have chosen a speaker; hence, they will keep voting until a candidate emerges victorious.

While the occurrences of the day may appear chaotic, it may be a sign of the MAGA wing of the party working and showing its power to push back.  This is how democracy should work.  Each and every elected member should vote based on the pledge he made to voters.  Members are not meant to function like a flock of sheep proceeding in the same direction, without knowledge of the destination.

Back to McCarthy, as Tucker Carlson summarized it well:

McCarthy is not especially conservative. He's ideologically agnostic. His real constituency is the lobbying community in Washington. If you've got sincere political beliefs, that’s infuriating.

Carlson acknowledged McCarthy's strengths:

It's not easy to be Speaker when the House is this closely divided, and in some ways Kevin McCarthy is perfectly suited for that. ...

McCarthy is willing to spend the next two years living in hotel rooms raising money for his party ahead of a historic presidential election. What other Republican in the House is willing to do that?

There still remain some open questions about the occurrences yesterday.

Since there was talk of the red wave since the beginning of the year, why didn't the Freedom Caucus work behind the scenes to build a coalition within the party to have a candidate of preference?  Perhaps someone such as Jim Jordan could have been elevated long before the vote, which would have enabled him to campaign and seek support.

Would the Freedom Caucus be comfortable remaining steadfast against McCarthy such that Democrat Hakeem Jeffries gets elected?  Kevin McCarthy may not be even remotely close to what the Freedom Caucus desires, but Jeffries is a far-left Democrat who opposes everything the GOP (particularly MAGA) proclaims.  Back in 2017, Jeffries called Trump an illegitimate president.  If Jeffries becomes speaker, the Freedom Caucus will be marginalized.

Electing McCarthy may allow some of the MAGA agenda to pass, but electing Jeffries is like placing a roadblock at the last leg of the race just before the finish line.

The Freedom Caucus must also think about the voters who gave the GOP control of the House via their votes.  At such a juncture, if a Democrat emerges as speaker, it would be contrary to the public mandate and anti-democratic.

If the Freedom Caucus isn't able to cobble together a coalition to enable another Republican to become speaker of the House, its members must vote for McCarthy.

The vote should be conditional.  McCarthy must lead investigations against Democrats on their abuse of power and much more.  McCarthy must also lead in blocking the Democrat's far-left agenda while pushing the MAGA agenda of freedom and prosperity.  If McCarthy fails, they build a coalition to oust McCarthy and use the new rule that allows a group of five members to offer a resolution to remove the speaker.

While making deals, one is often compelled to strike a balance between rigidity and flexibility.  Loss is often guaranteed if one treads to either of the extremes.

In politics, the ideal outcome may not always be possible, and in such scenarios, it is wiser to settle for the best possible outcome instead of giving the adversary an easy victory.

Image: DonkeyHoteyCC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons, unaltered.

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