It didn’t take long for the fate of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, to be cast. His colleagues voted this Tuesday to remove him as the third authority in the country less than 24 hours after his great rival in the Republican ranks, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, a member of the radical wing and a guy with an appetite for the spotlight, announced his intention to present a motion of censure against its leader in Congress. The historic decision plunges the United States into unprecedented legislative paralysis and leaves the Capitol plunged into chaos.
After 2:30 p.m. (local time), the plenary session voted to go ahead with the motion of censure, while the reporters, crowded in the press gallery, took a roll call of McCarthy’s allies and rivals, and of the absences, the loudest of which was all, that of Nancy Pelosi. Just over an hour of exchanged speeches later, the withering political dismissal was completed with an archaic and slow voice vote. Eight Republicans and all the Democrats present (208) withdrew their confidence in McCarthy, who attended from the middle of the chamber and with resignation to his public humiliation, already sung more or less at the end of the morning. At least he received several standing ovations from his faithful. It had been more than a century since the plenary session had attended a process like this and it was the first time in history that a speaker had been dismissed in such a dishonorable manner.
The reason for the eviction is McCarthy’s in extremis pact last Saturday with the Democrats, from whom he extracted a vote to avoid the administrative closure in Washington, which translated into a budget extension to maintain government financing until November 17 . Aid to Ukraine was left out of that commitment, which divides the Republican Party. Gaetz, along with other wayward congressmen that McCarthy has had in front of him for nine months, when they put him through 15 votes before allowing him to be elected speaker, considered that compromise as an unforgivable betrayal.
Gaetz, banished by his own, spoke from a microphone on the Democratic side before the final vote. He spoke with the vehemence of someone who has been waiting for his moment for a long time. “My colleagues and I cannot support our party in the task of leading the country into chaos,” he said to justify his initiative. “Chaos is President McCarthy. Chaos is someone whose word we cannot trust. Chaos is accumulating 33 trillion dollars of debt, and an annual deficit of 2.2 trillion dollars.”
It was an intense day for him and another turbulent day at the Capitol, a three-ring political circus show broadcast live to a public opinion distrustful of its institutions and accustomed to Washington’s dysfunctions. It soon became known that the House was not planning to exhaust the maximum two-day period to hold McCarthy’s vote of confidence. This representative from California, tried to stop the blow and save himself the drink without success, and appeared before the press with the half smile that has been frozen on his face for several days. He tried to convey self-confidence and announced that if he gained the support of Democrats it would not be in exchange for any compromise.
The Democratic decision
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Both parties held closed-door meetings. The congressmen abandoned them to attend to the press, which ran from one representative’s office to another. By mid-morning, when “chaos” had already become the word of the day, Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic minority leader, confirmed to a swarm of journalists that he was not going to ask his people to vote to save McCarthy. The dilemma was whether to drop a rival who does not arouse any sympathy or save him to avoid paralysis of the Chamber until a successor is elected, while time moves towards the next deadline to avoid the feared closure of the Government. This Wednesday there will be only 43 days left.
Earlier in the afternoon, Jeffries went further, sending a letter to his colleagues confirming that they would vote to oust McCarthy given the Republican Party’s “unwillingness to break with MAGA extremism.” Great Again, motto of Trumpism). In the text, the politician accused his rivals of sowing “chaos, dysfunction and extremism among hard-working American taxpayers,” for, among other things, failing to comply with a financing commitment made with Biden, promoting “radical laws” and launch an impeachment against the president for the affairs of his son Hunter without prior approval from the full House
Matt Gaetz addresses the media Tuesday morning. SHAWN THEW (EFE)
Gaetz’s initiative had the support of several extreme Republicans, who announced on Monday that they were getting on that ship: among them, Bob Good (representative of Virginia), Tim Burchett (Tennessee) and Eli Crane and Andy Biggs ( both from Arizona). Good spoke when it seemed that McCarthy had no solution with a speech that he began by “regretting” that all this was happening and then mercilessly making firewood from the fallen tree. For the eviction to take place, a simple majority of the participants in the vote was enough. The Chamber has 435 congressmen, but there are two vacancies (one for each party). The composition emerging from last November’s elections gave the conservatives a slim advantage of 222 to 213.
McCarthy didn’t have to look far to find those responsible for finding himself on the brink. It is notorious that the political dream of his life was to become speaker of the Chamber and that slim majority placed him on the verge of fulfilling it, and forced him to make some concessions to the most extreme wing of his party. One of them was to change the rules so that the effort of a single representative was enough, instead of the five that were needed before, to present a motion of censure. That lone sniper turned out to be Gaetz. Since January, neither of them has hidden the mutual antipathy they profess.
Then it took 15 votes to bend the wayward will of Gaetz and his people. It was a historic embarrassment: it had been more than a century since the House of Representatives had needed to repeat the vote so many times to choose the majority leader.
What happened this Tuesday didn’t have much precedent either. The last time such an eviction attempt occurred at the Capitol was in 2015, when then-Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina (who would later become Donald Trump’s chief of staff) introduced a resolution to evict John Boehner (Ohio). The plenary never voted on it, but Boehner resigned.
In 1910, it was the president of the House of Representatives himself, Joseph Cannon, who raised what is literally a motion to leave the position vacant and which, when promoted by the holder of the position, functioned as a motion of confidence. Fed up with criticism from some parliamentarians, he asked for a vote in order to win it and thus turn the move into a show of force.
The fall of the gavel after the vote that expelled McCarthy this Tuesday left the echo with an urgent question: what now? Now his position will be occupied provisionally by the first on a list delivered by McCarthy himself to the secretary of the House. The chosen one is Republican Representative Patrick McHenry, of North Carolina. His first mission will be to appoint a new speaker. There is no Republican candidate who enjoys so much support to achieve this.
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