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Opinion: If Kevin McCarthy was the loser, who was the winner?

WSPNs+Kally+Proctor+discusses+the+recent+ousting+of+former+Speaker+Kevin+McCarthy+and+what+this+means+for+American+democracy.
Credit: Kally Proctor
WSPN’s Kally Proctor discusses the recent ousting of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy and what this means for American democracy.

For the first time in American history, the Speaker of the House has been ousted from office.

The House finds itself in disarray as members scramble for a new speaker. Candidates ranging from House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio and even former President Donald Trump have been considered for the position.

Ironically, it was a member of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s own party, Matt Gaetz, who gave him the boot. This past Tuesday, Oct. 3, McCarthy was officially voted out of the Speaker’s role in a historic vote of 216-210, with eight Republican Freedom Caucus members joining all of the 2018 House Democrats.

So, if McCarthy was the loser, who was the winner? So far, it seems there weren’t any winners, only losers. But perhaps the biggest loser of them all was democracy itself.

During his run as Speaker of the House, McCarthy was sometimes criticized for playing both sides of the aisle, alternatively working with Republicans in a bid to open an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, as well as partnering with the Democrats to prevent a government shutdown.

His supporters would say that his bipartisanship is what political compromise is all about, just the kind of thing a Speaker should be doing in our increasingly politically polarized country. But not Matt Gaetz.

The big story here is about how and why one person would or could bring down the Speaker when this kind of thing has never happened before in American history. The even bigger story here is what this means for democracy in America when one individual, let alone a small minority of extremists, can dominate the will of the majority to such an extent.

How did this happen? How did things get to this point of absolute chaos?

During McCarthy’s election to Speaker, a small number of Republican hardliners were required to tip the scale in his favor. While they didn’t have enough members to elect their preferred candidate, they had just enough for veto power.

According to the terms of a deal McCarthy made in January to win the gavel, the threshold for triggering a motion to vacate was brought down to just one House member, far below the party-majority needed under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Essentially, this meant that any member of the House could throw down the gauntlet and call for motion to vacate.

Previously, motions to vacate required a majority vote. Only one such motion was ever voted on by the House: the attempted ousting of Rep. Joseph Cannon in 1910. That motion failed to pass.

“The ability for one person to vacate the Speaker of the House will keep a chokehold on this body through 2024,” Rep. Carlos Gimenez of Florida said in a statement. “Personal politics should never again be used to trump the will of 96% of House conservatives. Any candidate for speaker must explain to us how what happened Tuesday never happens again.”

Indeed, McCarthy only really needed five or six Republicans to join the significant number of Democrats, whereas he would have needed one half of the Republicans in a normal election. What’s dangerous about this move is that even the Republicans who voted against McCarthy, like Gaetz, agree that members of the House shouldn’t be able to use the motion to vacate in such a way.

A small group of Republican extremists seized upon the motion to vacate as an invitation for personal aggrandizement. And that’s why democracy is the biggest loser.

Now, members of the House are attempting to change, or perhaps even get rid of, the very rule that allowed McCarthy to be dismissed so that it cannot be used in such a way in the future. Even Gaetz said that he would be “open-minded” about a change to the rule. Hypocritical? Perhaps.

What happened will now distract the House from governance until resolved. What happened undermines the confidence of the American people in the ability of our government to function. What happened was simply an act of political grandstanding which prioritized personal attention over what’s best for our country.

Despite the elaborate checks and balances embedded in the Constitution by our framers, they somehow missed this one. I’m sure they never envisioned a scenario where one person could upend the will of the majority like this.

So now that McCarthy is gone, what next? Of course, the House needs to elect a new Speaker, but the situation remains murky, and so does the future of the Speakership. With the House in disarray, many questions remain unanswered, and it seems some of them may remain that way.

After all, if McCarthy is the loser, then who is the winner? So far, it seems no one is.

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About the Contributor
Kally Proctor
Kally Proctor, Co-Features Editor
Kally Proctor, Class of 2024, is a third year reporter and co-features editor for WSPN. She is captain of the high school’s mock trial team and tennis team in the spring. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with friends, visiting new places and finding new books to read. Contact: [email protected]
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