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What’s Going on with the Speaker of the House?


The Speaker of the House of Representatives is a key figure in American politics. In addition to being second in line to the presidency, the Speaker brings legislation to the floor of the House, swears in incoming representatives, and organize committees.

In fact, without a Speaker, the House of Representatives is not able to pass a single law, or vote on anything besides who is going to be the next Speaker. Additionally, no one can be sworn into the House, so Representatives are only considered Representative-elects. Those with this role are not allowed to see classified briefings, respond to an emergency, or do the job their constituents elected them to carry out. Essentially, without a Speaker, a portion of the United States government is inoperable, and incapable of carrying out its duty to the people who elected them.

Unfortunately, the title for the Speaker of the House has been vacant for an extended period of time twice in the past year: first from January 3rd to the 7th, then from October 3rd to the 25th.

On January 3rd, after Nancy Pelosi left the Speakership, the House started voting on who would be the next speaker, a process that would end up taking 15 votes and a lot of compromising. On January 7th, the 5th day of voting, Kevin McCarthy became Speaker of the House, winning a narrow majority of 216 votes, with 212 going to Representative Hakeem Jefferies, and 6 Republicans voting present.

The Speaker’s importance is enumerated in how the House can not function without it, but also in the leadership power it wields when there is someone behind the chair. Although January 7th did see someone get voted in to wield the gavel, it was not before he gave much of it away. In order to win the race for Speaker, McCarthy conceded a lot of the power he was attempting to gain. One of his concessions was giving the ability for any Representative to push a motion to vacate the Speakership, a move that worried several lawmakers, and would ironically cause McCarthy’s fall from power.

Throughout the summer of 2023, there were several partisan debates over the budget between the House Republicans and President Biden. This culminated in a last-minute agreement between Biden and McCarthy on the evening of September 30th to pass a funding bill, postponing a looming government shutdown for another 45 days.

Despite the fact that McCarthy attempted to do what was good for the country when he made the compromise, it was not received well by his more extreme colleagues. Between October 1st and 3rd, there were several Floor debates between McCarthy’s supporters and detractors, the majority of which were Republicans, on whether to oust him from the Speakership or not. All Democrats remained silent during the debate, which ended in a 216-210 vote to remove McCarthy from the Speakership.

With McCarthy removed, the House was once again unable to function for three weeks until Mike Johnson was elected as Speaker on October 24th. His victory went right on party lines, with 220 Republicans voting for him, and 209 Democrats voting for Hakeem Jeffries.

Although it is key that a Speaker is present to keep the House running, it is also important to examine who that speaker is. Mike Johnson is an extreme Conservative Christian who has frequently visited churches where faith and politics often intermingle. In a statement, Johnson said that many people have asked what his views are, to which he answered “‘go pick up a bible off your shelf and read it-that’s my worldview. That’s what I believe and so I make no apologies for it’”. He has also called abortion “a holocaust” and opposed homosexuality itself, calling it a “dangerous lifestyle”. Being religious is one’s choice, but attempting to force your values onto everyone in the country just because you can is unacceptable.

Although it was a coalition of Republicans who voted in McCarthy and Johnson assSpeaker, it is not as if the Democrats were unable to do anything about it. In both the January and October Speaker races, all the Democrats voted for fellow Democrat Hakeem Jeffries. Although Republicans represent the majority in the House, this majoruty is slim, and Democrats had many opportunities during both races to try to get a more moderate Republican elected as the Speaker. If they had just compromised, they may have gotten a less extreme candidate elected.

In a way, the House of Representatives reflectts current American politics as a whole, with both sides diving into extremism and not being willing to compromise. People are reluctant to listen to the other side of the argument, or look for a solution everyone can agree on, which created the political atmosphere that allowed Kevin McCarthy and Mike Johnson to be elected.

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