Last Tuesday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy became the first House Speaker to be ousted by a “motion to vacate.“ In a 216-210 vote, McCarthy’s historic removal was led by a small group of right-wing House Republicans unhappy about his collaboration with Democrats. Leaving the chamber without a leader and an unknown future, Republicans’ chaos was not a shock. Rather, McCarthy’s removal as a result of far-right Republicans actions represents a dysfunctional party unable to govern or advance policy.
McCarthy’s speakership was doomed from the start. Agreeing to the “one-member” rule and making promises he couldn’t keep with conservatives, McCarthy’s word stretched too far. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz called for the vote when McCarthy came to an agreement on the federal budget that prevented Gaetz and his conservative peers from pressuring Democrats to accept deep spending cuts. In addition, Democrats saw no reason to save McCarthy as they also couldn’t “trust“ him either — especially after it took 15 rounds of votes for McCarthy to win the speakership.
Yet, it’s difficult to argue that a House with McCarthy as speaker is worse than one without him. His removal means the House has no ability to govern on major policy issues, such as aid for Ukraine or prevent another government shutdown before funding runs out on November 18. If a government shutdown were to occur, “essential” workers would continue to work unpaid until the government reopens. However, extreme party polarization isn’t the problem this time. The House is in a state of paralysis because House Republicans are suffering from their own internal divisions.
To select a new speaker Republicans will need to get past their own “civil war” and find common legislative goals again. In the past, Republicans have shared a conservative ideology centered on core principles, such as a free market, constitutional rights and national security. But, since 2010, three Republican speakers — John Boehner, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy — have come and gone quickly due to Republican divisions over a consistent set of policy initiatives. Instead, rioting and delegitimizing the American political system has become the goal.
In comparison, former-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was able to successfully keep her party in line by negotiating and compromising tradeoffs in legislation with other members. But the difference is that Democrats are still largely organized around the same policy goals — social programs, environmental policy and civil rights. Republicans, by comparison, seem to be only passing legislation in response to Democrats, and without a strong leader or a desire to compromise, can’t find a way to govern anyone effectively or at all.
Neutralizing Gaetz and the far-right wing should be one of the Republican Party’s first steps. Rep. Gaetz’s photographed smirks and whispers to his conservative followers are poisonous in an already tense political atmosphere. His agenda does not appear to be about serving his constituents or political party, rather he wants a moment of fame and to raise money for his brand. No matter what political party they belong to, politicians need to remember they are public servants first and foremost.
Additionally, the “one-movement“ rule needs to be changed as it bestows too much power on one single member and its usage here sets a dangerous precedent. Until this happens, the “one-movement” rule will continue to serve as a threat to the next speaker — even if they are supported by a majority — and allow any member for whatever reason the opportunity to control the House.
The fact that a few far-right Republicans have such power over the House’s speakership and legislative operations is deeply concerning and dangerous. So too is the notion that voters are electing politicians whose main aim is to cause havoc in government as a way to fight back. Governing is a bipartisan effort that requires compromise and a belief in a democratic system, something Republicans seem to have forgotten.