The second day of the 118th Congress ended much like the first day: the House does have a speaker of the House and Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is still seeking the necessary votes to take the gavel.
Many Democrats might find Mr McCarthy’s predicament hilarious, given that he contorted himself in every way to earn the support of some of the most extreme members of the House Republican conference such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Paul Gosar. When Mr Gosar tweeted out an anime video that featured a character with his head killing a character with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s head on it, Mr McCarthy defended him and said he would reinstate him on committees. Mr Gosar has repaid Mr McCarthy by voting against him and nominating Andy Biggs for House speaker.
Mr McCarthy went from saying Donald Trump bore responsibility for the Capitol riot on January 6 to heading down to Mar-a-Lago to get on his good side. All of this came as the House Republican Conference excommunicated Republicans who sought to hold Mr Trump accountable. Furthermore, unlike previous Republican leaders, Mr McCarthy has failed to distinguish himself.
Tons of memes abounded showing Democrats munching on popcorn given the fact that they are wholly unified in backing their leader Hakeem Jeffries for speaker. But the schadenfreude may be short-lived. For one, this means that Congress actually has no members right now, which has huge implications.
“If they can’t even pick a speaker, how are they going to govern,” Representative Nanette Barragan told me on Wednesday evening. “Are we going to be in this situation for the next two years?”
Members are also sworn into office after the House picks a speaker. That means that technically, Congress has no members at the moment. Representative Ted Lieu was one of the Democrats who posted a picture of himself with a bag of popcorn to enjoy the havoc that was the Republican attempt to get to 218. But on Wednesday, he told me he was worried.
“We have no House, so we can’t view classified documents, hold committee hearings, conduct oversight,” Representative Ted Lieu of California told me. “If there were to be any major crisis in the United States or abroad, we can't respond in the chaos on the Republican side is having real world consequences.”
That state of flux comes as the Ukraine continues to push back against Vladimir Putin’s aggeession. It comes as the United States still has people dying of Covid-19 and the economic recovery from the pandemic sputters along. The House is in charge of any type of spending, which means that the power of the purse might as well be secured in a safe as of right now.
More dangerously, the insurgent conservatives feel no need to change course for the direction of the country.
“It's not like people sitting in you know, Minnesota and Minneapolis are going ‘Oh my god, you don't have a speaker. Well, how am I gonna go to work today,’” Representative Chip Roy of Texas, who formally nominated Representative Byron Donalds of Florida to be speaker on Wednesday, told reporters.
But arguably, the opposite is more true. Many Americans do work consistently hard and pay the taxes that subsidize the salaries of Mr Roy and his compatriots, only to see them hold up the official business of the people.
Eventually, Mr McCarthy will get the required 218 votes needed or Republicans will put forward a consensus candidate and give him the boot. Once that happens, though, any potential speaker will be forced to actually try to govern.
And there is plenty of work afoot this Congress. But the idea of governing has become essentially antithetical to the current Republican conference. The United States is set to hit the debt limit this year, which means Congress will have to raise it. If not, the country will default on its debt, which could send the country and the world into a financial crisis. On top of that, Congress will need to pass either a budget or a continuing resolution to keep the government open later this year.
To boot, Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate and occupy the White House, which means a Speaker McCarthy or anyone else would need to ultimately cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Joe Biden. Given that most Republicans would hate any such notion, he would need the assistance of Democrats to shepherd must-pass legislation. But the moment that happens, he will immediately risk a revolt in his caucus. On top of that, he’s agreed to allow for a motion to vacate the chair, which would allow for a sliver of his conference to essentially stage a no-confidence vote to boot him.
That means that even if he or anyone else survives, he will be significantly wounded, as was the case with his Republican predecessor John Boehner, who quit shortly after an attempt to vacate the chair. Mr McCarthy’s concession has put the germ of the idea in the brains of right-wing insurgents.Regardless of who becomes the next speaker, the House conservatives have drawn blood and they have forced any speaker into an impossible position and placed the country on a fast-track to a crisis.