Thoughts On the House Speaker

We all knew this was going to happen but it doesn’t make it better: the House of Representatives has no Speaker. With our two party system the selection of the House Speaker has been little more than a formality: every two years we swear in a new Congress and the leader is chosen by the Representatives. It’s almost always a straight party vote. But this past January we elected 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats (two seats are currently vacant). Representative Kevin McCarthy expected to be elected easily but a small group of ultra conservative members refused to support him at first. After fifteen ballots these Representatives agreed to support him with one condition: any one person can call for a “motion to vacate.” That means any representatives can call for a vote to see if they still want him.

When Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida called for such a motion. As expected no Democrats voted to support him, but 8 Republicans did the same. McCarthy was stripped of his role as Speaker (though not as a Representative) by a vote of 216 to 210.

So what’s next? Clearly the Republicans need to meet and choose someone they can all agree on. But that’s not going to be easy. The eight Republicans who refused to support McCarthy have not (as of yet) coalesced around one person that all the other Republicans can agree to. It may become a difficult fight.

I have two primary concerns about this:

The government is only funded until November 17; both houses of Congress and President Biden will need to agree on funding the government. If they don’t most government employees will not be paid and will not be allowed to work. Some of those deemed essential workers (e.g. TSA and the military) will be required to work but will not be paid. I’ve always felt that public service is a noble vocation but it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to work for the government given this level of nonsense. Unlike most members of Congress many government employees don’t have the luxury of missing paychecks. Last week I met an Air Force Reservist who was headed to Poland for several months while his family stays here. We’re asking enough of him without demanding that he do this for free.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022 we pledged monetary support to Ukraine. We’ve never seriously considered sending troops there but we found it important that Ukraine remain free and Russia be defeated. Some of the most conservative Republicans now believe we should end that support which would almost certainly lead to a Russian victory over Ukraine. I worry that these Republicans will not support a speaker without a pledge to abandon Ukraine. Even if you don’t think Ukraine is worthy of our support I believe it’s naive to think that a Russian win would satisfy Putin. Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO and we’re not obligated to support them. But if Russia then decides to invade Poland or one of the Baltic nations (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) they are NATO members and we are obligated to come to their aid. Article 5 of the treaty states that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. If we abandon Ukraine now it will require a larger support somewhere else.

As for now, fasten your seatbelts. Congress is going to be a bumpy ride.

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