The House of Representatives freezes


Courtesy of AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Representative Kevin McCarthy in discussion with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene in the House Chamber.

The 2022 United States midterm elections saw the Democrats maintain control of the Senate, but lose the House of Representatives to the Republican Party. With a Democratic President, split Congress, and Republican Supreme Court, the American political process will follow a tempestuous, narrow, and contested path for the next two to four years.

And nowhere is this path more apparent than in the House of Representatives, where the now majority Republican Party has failed its first big task – electing a House Speaker to preside over the chamber’s proceedings. Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) seemed the favored Republican candidate for the position. But during the House vote to establish a Speaker on January 3rd, McCarthy failed to secure the 218 votes he needed to secure the position. This has rendered the House unable to proceed to its regular business of lawmaking and policy shaping, with no Speaker to facilitate proceedings and swear in the Congress. This technically leaves all members of the House without official representative designation. Shockingly, it was members of McCarthy’s own party who blocked his ascension to the position. Twenty Republican members of the House withheld their votes from him on Tuesday.

The motives for this dissent are not completely clear. However, personal and political enmity towards McCarthy himself are suspected as a major reason. Many of the representatives in question are stringent supporters of ex-President Donald Trump. Apart from this, demands have been made by the dissenters for McCarthy to step down as the Republican candidate, or yield concessions to representatives such as allowing for on the spot House Speaker removal voting and the enlargement of the powers of rank and file members.

With no other recourse, the House held the Speaker vote again and again on Tuesday and Wednesday. As of Wednesday night, the vote has been repeated seven times with nearly the same results. Steps have been taken to remedy the deadlock, albeit without any return. For example, Representative McCarthy has held numerous behind-doors meetings with his caucus, attempting to bring them to his side. This, however, has been unsuccessful. Even a call from ex-President Donald Trump to rally around McCarthy could not convince Trump’s most dedicated congressional supporters to cease their resistance. Dissenting caucus members have vowed to stay true to their cause. 

“I…am prepared for an extended battle that I will ultimately win,” wrote Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in a Twitter post on January 3rd. Gaetz is one of the chief architects and ringleaders of the revolt against McCarthy.

As the Republican Party splinters in Congress, the Democrats of the House have kept largely unified behind House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Although very unlikely, there is a sliver of hope in some that the divided Republican Party could siphon off its voting power and allow a Democratic House Leader to be elected. Regardless of its feasibility, the Democrats remain compact and focused on pushing forward their own agenda in Congress.

In an age where, according to a November Gallup poll, only 22% of adult Americans trust their Congress, debacles like a frozen House of Representatives only serve to further disillusion the public and reduce esteem in our institutions. Whatever the outcome of the current gridlock, the reputation of our governing bodies is declining day by day, with no recourse in sight.