Exhausted members of the U.S. House of Representatives took their seats a little after 1 a.m. on Jan. 7 to watch the maiden address of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.), who was finally elected to hold the gavel after the longest, most contentious, and bruising Speaker votes since the Civil War.
And as the protracted episode reminded America—without a Speaker members of the House cannot be sworn in and House business and legislating cannot begin.
Electing a Speaker for the House of the 118th Congress was an event in which division was wider and bad blood nastier among Republicans than between Republicans and Democrats.
Indeed, the internal Republican squabbling became a bit schoolyard.
Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama got to within a few feet of Florida’s Matt Gaetz and barked at Gaetz with enough anger that it motivated Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), who was behind Rogers, to put his hand over Roger’s mouth and pull him backward.
In his maiden address, Speaker Kevin McCarthy had to make the best out of an episode that, even as it was resolved successfully and in his favor, laid bare and made prominent the deep divisions within his party and left in question his ability to lead and get things done.
It fell to the Speaker to call on national memory and to a time in which the future of the American experiment was in the most dire and urgent peril and through which it persevered.
McCarthy told House members that his favorite place in the Capitol building was not the chamber where the body now does its work but Statuary Hall, the area of the building where the House met before moving to its present location in December 1857.
“You see, it’s where Abraham Lincoln served—he’s just a one-term congressman; he sat in the back,” said McCarthy.
“I like to go to that spot, and I like to stand where he stood. I like to do it at night when people aren’t around. I like to look over and look at the clock. Because that’s the same clock and same view that Abraham Lincoln saw.”
McCarthy told of Lincoln stewarding the nation through its most grave crisis and calamity—the Civil War. Of how Lincoln brought rivals together—and “dreamt of a future and built a railroad across the nation.
“I want us to all take a moment one time that you are here. I want you to stand there. I want you to look. And I want you to think, if America could do it then, we can do it now—one more time.”
Many who make a career in studying and teaching about Congress and its history, and the Constitution, believe that the teamwork and collaboration the Speaker touts and hopes for will be elusive and maybe unattainable.
In a conversation with The Epoch Times, Jared Carter, a professor at Vermont Law and Graduate School, says a fundamental component of the operating dynamic of the House has changed and been reordered.
“I sort of feel like there are three parties in Congress now—with different governing values,” said Carter. “You have the Democrats, and then what I would call traditional Republicans, and then the MAGA Republicans.
“What you are seeing in the House is a bit like some of the parliamentary governments in Europe—like Germany, for example. In Germany, there are more than two main parties—and they participate in a form of coalition building that is different from how legislating had traditionally been done in the U.S. House.”
Democrats are promoting a narrative that the failure of the majority party in the U.S. House to elect a speaker expediently shows that Republicans can’t lead and can’t do the business of the people in the People’s House.
On Jan. 6, with a Speaker still not elected, Rosalyn Cooperman, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and International Affairs at University of Mary Washington, spoke with The Epoch Times.
Following McCarthy’s election, Cooperman sent an email to The Epoch Times in which she wrote, “my comments from our conversation yesterday remain relevant.”
Cooperman believes that McCarthy has made several mistakes, and he is paying for them.
“A primary part of the Speaker’s job is to negotiate and to bring people together,” said Cooperman in the Jan. 6 call with The Epoch Times. “And what we are seeing is that Kevin McCarthy is not doing a good job of negotiating and bringing people together.
“And who is he allowing to hold business up? A small faction of dissenters who are punching above their weight. Really. There is Lauren Boebert, who wins a razor-thin election in Colorado, and Matt Gaetz, who spent much of his past term fighting sex-trafficking charges.”
Cooperman thinks that if McCarthy had planned better and got out in front of the vote, he would not have had to contend with the problems he faced.
“What Kevin McCarthy should have done back in November, right after the election, when he won the vote to be the Republican leader, is to meet with the Freedom Caucus. He should have said to members of the caucus, ‘Tell me 10 things that you want, and I am going to give you four of them.
“And there is merit to some of what they want. For example, they oppose the omnibus spending bill as a way of budgeting and that it doesn’t hold legislators accountable.
“With the omnibus bill, what you are doing is rolling into one massive spending bill what used to be contained in 13 separate appropriations bills on which the House voted.
“Now you have a bill with such breadth and density that no one can read all of it. No one knows what’s in it.”
In fact, a concession that McCarthy ended up making to the holdout Republicans was agreeing that the vote on the federal budget will entail considering and voting on 12 separate appropriations bills rather than one in which all the bills are packaged together.
In a statement that Rep. Boebert (R-Colo.) shared on Twitter just shy of 2 a.m. on Jan. 7, she celebrated areas of policy on which Freedom Caucus members insisted in exchange for their vote, and noted, “It’s better to get things right than to get them quickly.”