the contours of a agreement that could turn Republican leader Kevin McCarthy in Speaker of the House of Representatives have begun to take shape after three grueling days and 11 failed votes in a political spectacle never seen in a century. He has left the Republicans mired in confusion and has once again highlighted the fragility of American democracy.
The House will return to the charge on Friday, with the Republicans trying to choose their new president, this time against the backdrop of the second anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. The deadly attack was an unimaginable scene of chaos that rocked the country when a mob of supporters of the then president donald trump tried to prevent Congress from certifying the Republican’s electoral defeat in 2020.
McCarthy made no promises of a final vote that would secure him the Speaker’s gavel, but loomed glimpses of an agreement with at least some of the far-right holdouts denying him their support.
“We have made some progress”McCarthy said late Thursday, responding to questions about the lengthy and complicated process. “It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you end.”
The agreement that McCarthy presented to members of the Conservative Freedom Caucus and to others it focuses on the changes to the rules that they have been looking for for months. Those changes would reduce the power of the president’s office and give grassroots lawmakers more influence in writing and passing laws.
Even if McCarthy gets the votes he needs, he’ll come out as a weakened president, having relinquished some powers, which leaves him constantly under threat of being expelled by his detractors. But he would also emerge emboldened as a survivor of one of the most brutal mallet fights in American history.
At the center of the emerging deal is the reinstatement of a House rule that would allow a single lawmaker to file a motion to “vacate the chair”, essentially calling for a vote to remove the president. McCarthy had been reluctant to allow it, because it had crossed his mind to the previous Republican president, John Boehnerchasing him into early retirement.
The chair of the House Freedom Caucus, Scott Perry from Pennsylvania, who had been a leader in Trump’s efforts to challenge his presidential election loss to the Democrat Joe Bidenseemed receptive to the proposed package, tweeting a Ronald Reagan adage, “Trust but verify”.
Other victories for the holdouts include provisions in the proposed agreement to increase the number of seats available in the House Rules Committee, to require 72 hours for bills to be released before the vote and to promise to try a constitutional amendment that would impose federal limits on the number of terms a person can serve in the House and Senate.
So that hopes do not get ahead of reality, the conservative Ralph Normanfrom South Carolina, said: “This is the first assault”.
It could be the beginning of a deal to end a deadlock that has left the House unable to function fully. The deputies have not been sworn in and practically no other matter can be discussed. A memo sent Thursday night by the House administrative chief said the committees “will only carry out basic constitutional responsibilities.” Payrolls cannot be processed if the Chamber is not in operation on January 13.
After a long week of failed votes, Thursday’s tally was grim: McCarthy lost the seventh, eighth and then the historic ninth, tenth and eleventh rounds of voting, surpassing the number of 100 years ago in the last and endless fight to choose a spokesperson.
The California Republican walked out of the chamber and joked about the moment: “Apparently, I like to make history”.
Feelings of boredom, despair, and annoyance seemed more and more evident.
A critic of McCarthy, the representative Matt Gaetzfrom Florida, voted for Trump, a symbolic but obvious sign of the wide divisions over the future of the Republican Party. He then went further, turning the protest day into absurdity by formally nominating the former president as speaker of the House of Representatives on the 11th ballot. Trump got one vote, Gaetz’s, which drew laughter.
The Democrats said it was time to get serious. “This hallowed House of Representatives needs a leader”said the democrat Joe Neguseof Colorado, by nominating his own party leader, Hakeem Jeffries, for Speaker of the House.
What began as a political novelty, the first time since 1923 that a candidate did not win the gavel on the first ballot, has become a bitter Republican Party dispute and in a deepening potential crisis.
Democratic leader Jeffries, from New York, was the most elected in all the votes, but he also fell just short of the majority. McCarthy came in second, not gaining any ground.
every passing day pressure rises for McCarthy to get the votes he needs or step aside. Incoming Republican chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees asserted that national security was in jeopardy.
“The Biden administration has no control and no White House oversight,” the Republicans wrote. Michael McCaul, Mike Rogers and Mike Turner in a joint statement.
But McCarthy’s right-wing detractors, led by the Freedom Caucus and aligned with Trump, seemed emboldened, even though the former president publicly endorsed McCarthy.
The Republican Party repeatedly proposed the name of the congressman Byron Donalds, of Florida, ensuring the continuation of the stalemate that has increasingly racial and political undertones. They also proposed to the Republican kevin hernof Oklahoma, splitting the protest vote.
Donalds, what is Afro-Americanis considered a emerging party leader and a GOP counterpoint to the Democratic leader, Jeffries, who is the first African-American leader of a major political party in the US Congress and is on track to one day become a speaker himself.
The polls continued to show much the same result, with 20 Conservatives still refusing to support McCarthy, leaving him far behind the 218 needed to get hold of the deck.
In fact, McCarthy saw his support dwindle to 201as a fellow Republican went on to vote simply “present,” and later to 200. With only 222 Republican majority seats, McCarthy was forced to leave the House. With a Republican majority of 222 seats, he did not have votes to spare.
The disorganized start to the new Congress pointed to difficulties ahead with Republicans now in control of the House, just as some previous Republican presidents, including Boehner, had trouble leading a rogue right flank. The result: government shutdowns, clashes and Boehner’s early retirement.
The longest fight for the mallet began at the end of 1855 and lasted for two months, with 133 votes, during debates over slavery in the run up to the Civil War.
(With information from AP)
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