Ousted into chaos.
On the night of Tuesday, October 3rd, a coalition of Republicans, spearheaded by Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, succeeded in removing Kevin McCarthy from his position as House Speaker. Just a couple of days earlier, McCarthy scrambled to steer away from a government shutdown that nearly resulted from the partisan stalling of an appropriation bill. McCarthy’s solution was compromise- reaching with a strained hand across the aisle to rack up Democratic support, and passing a last-minute bill to extend government funding for 45 days, until November 17th. McCarthy’s Democratic handshaking only fueled Republican dissent with the bill—which received 90 conservative nays—and began a push from the House’s far-right flanks to force him to lay down the gavel.
Such an event is unprecedented, but, in all honesty, far from surprising. McCarthy’s tenure has always been under the magnifying glass of many Republicans, and he has received numerous threats from Gaetz about the consequences of his regular concessions to the left. Even looking back to the beginning, it took 15 ballots back in January for him to be originally appointed, and not without unending appeasements to many of his conservative colleagues. One of these appeasements came in the form of reinstating the ability for a singular member to force a vote to remove the speaker (something done away with under Pelosi), which is exactly the procedure Gaetz used to remove McCarthy.
It seems that ousting has been in the back of Republicans’ minds since the beginning.
But McCarthy seemed ready to fight. Throughout the turmoil, he retained his confidence and urged Gaetz, with both feet bolted to the ground, to “bring it on” —but to no avail. In the past, numerous speakers have stepped down once their party’s rug of support had been pulled out from under them, but never before had an acting speaker been ousted. Now the House lies speakerless, and the Republican party remains splintered without a plan to glue it back together.
Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina filled the void after McCarthy’s departure, being the first name on a list to become Speaker Pro Tempore in the event of a removal. After he took his role, the Chamber immediately expressed the need to find a permanent speaker. Naturally, one of the first names to swirl around was that of House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana. The victim of a shooting back in 2017 that (very) briefly unified Congress, Scalise shared his resolve to “mend the deep wounds that exist within [the] conference.” But it didn’t take long for his supporters to dwindle, and a decision from his desk that he would remove his name from the race.
Then along came Jordan. The brash, jacketless, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jim Jordan almost immediately expressed his interest in filling the vacancy. The Ohio native has been known to be an effective force in ripping apart personalities that have sat before the judiciary committee, with a tough guy persona and a staunchly Republican leadership style that drove him to co-found the House Freedom Caucus. But what he gains in intimidation, he lacks in successful legislation. Not once in his 16-year career as a representative has he sponsored a bill that was passed. Nevertheless, he sought to collect the votes necessary to become Speaker.
In a similar fashion to McCarthy’s appointment, Jordan’s first attempt at the position failed. As did the second. Not a single Democratic vote was cast in his favor, and the Republican consensus was fractured into two camps. Despite his views being saturated in a deep shade of red and his previous alliance with Trump, Jordan was somehow presented as a mostly middle-of-the-lane candidate—but not enough for some—with the chief reason for his double loss being moderate Republican holdouts. When a third vote came around after countless closed-door meetings between Jordan and his colleagues, his downward trend of supporters continued once again, and he lost what would be his third and final attempt at the speakership.
Which brings the House back into limbo. The name that will finally take the mantle continues to lurk in the unknown and the days until November 17th continue to tick past, when McCarthy’s final bill requires a more permanent resolution. Jordan was too radical; McCarthy was not radical enough. For a half second, an idea floated around that McHenry should solidify a permanent position from his temporary role—but that too was quickly thrown away. The debate over sending aid to Israel and Ukraine still rages, but without a Speaker, all actions have become frozen. In the last couple of days, Republicans came up with a list of nine possible candidates, including Kevin Hern (OK) and Tom Emmer (MN). There have also been propositions from two representatives that none other than Former President Trump should be the face to lead them, as the position is not limited to elected House members. But it seems that Emmer will be chosen as the next nominee for Speaker, and not without a long, uphill battle for the position.
What’s most striking about this situation is how it is not a phenomenon purely contained within the Chamber, but rather is a microcosm for the larger Republican divide. It seems the Republican Party as a whole is without a concrete leader: the race for the Presidency is comprised of a handful of candidates scrounging for Trump’s morsels (who is far more the savior of a conservative faction than a moderate compromiser), Mitch McConnell is struggling to keep control over his minority let alone his sudden pauses and the House Speaker remains nothing but a hollow shadow. It’s almost as if, yet again, Trump’s influence (or at least the influence of his politics) still holds sway over the Republican brain chemistry. His followers and opponents seem to be stuck in a deadlock, unaware of his absence.
Regardless, a heavy dose of infighting does seem to be without an antidote for the time being—and the question looms of whether a far-right splinter will grow to become the collective norm, or if it will lead to an even deeper division.