I’ve been watching the attempted election of a new Speaker of the House with interest and, I must admit, a little bit of schadenfreude. (I’ll get to the schadenfreude later).
The House’s own web site notes that, of 127 Speaker elections, only 14 times did they require multiple ballots, and that 13 of those occurred before the Civil War. The 14th was in 1923. So now, the site will have to be updated to include the 15th in 2023.
Caroline Linton, for CBS News, has already done some research on those previous multi-ballot elections. Pay particular attention to the election of Howell Cobb, in a non-two-party era.
The current election is interesting for a few other reasons. One of them — one rarely commented on in the media — is the presidential line of succession. If something dire were to happen to both the President and the Vice President, the next in line to succeed to the presidency is the Speaker of the House. But since there is no Speaker at the moment, the line of succession would move on to the next eligible person, the President pro tempore of the Senate, Patty Murray of Washington. Incidentally, Murray became President pro temp on January 3rd, when the retiring Patrick Leahy left the Senate, and she was elected to the post. She is the first woman to be President pro temp. Following her is the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and on through the Cabinet.
The schadenfreude crops up when I look at the reason we’ve now seen six ballots with no candidate earning a majority of the votes to be Speaker. The Democrats have been united: each ballot, all 212 of them voted for Hakeem Jeffries. No surprises there.
The Republicans, however, have not been nearly so united. Kevin McCarthy — who had been the House minority leader, and was assumed to be the next Speaker — got 203 votes each of the first two ballots, and then 202 on the third (the first ballot saw 10 votes for Biggs, and 9 for others; the second gave 19 to Jordan, and the third, 20 to Jordan). Then the Republicans pulled themselves together enough to adjourn for the night.
They returned on the 4th and again started voting. Again, Jeffries got 212 votes on all three ballots. And on all three ballots, McCarthy was down to 201, with 20 votes for Donalds, and one Representative-elect — Victoria Spratz of Indiana — voting “present”. Again, the Republicans called for an adjournment, though only for three and a half hours.
They reconvened at 8pm, and immediately moved to adjourn for the night. This time, the Democrats made them work for it, demanding a recorded vote. Four Republicans joined the Democrats in voting no, so that the vote to adjourn wound up being a very close thing.
But how did we get here? We got here because the Republicans chose to take short-term power and got into bed with the devil to do it. In this case, the devil was the newly emerging Trumpian party. The Republicans (and the news media, for that matter) have vested interests (different interests, but with the same result) in maintaining the theory that we are in a two-party system. But we aren’t, not really, not anymore.
The Republicans keep talking about the 20 break-away Republicans as just a wing of the party, and McCarthy keeps thinking if he can just give in to enough of their demands, they’ll vote for him. But they’re not interested in compromising with him, in working together. They’re out for their own ends, and those ends come not from fixing the system, but from burning it down.
Among their latest demands, for instance, are for the Republican leadership to butt out of future primaries, giving their extremist brethren even more chance to win their way into the House in the costume of Republicans. It’s time for McCarthy and company to wake up and realize those Trumpians are no longer Republicans, that they’re angling for the long-term growth of their own party, at the expense of the Republican party. It’s time for the true Republicans to realize they’ve lost, and seek a negotiated settlement not with the Trumpians, but with the Democrats.
I bet the Republicans are now regretting forcing out Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, and company.