McCarthy’s inability to win speaker is putting Congress on hold

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Kevin McCarthy’s inability to win House speaker is putting pretty much everything Congress does on hold

Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) inability to secure the 218 votes necessary to be elected speaker means that Congress is at a standstill.

Members cannot be sworn in, there are no committees, bills cannot be introduced, and laws cannot be passed.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York in an Instagram Live post this week said, “I am not a sworn-in member of Congress. … Not a single member of the House of Representatives has been sworn in to be a member of the House.” Republican infighting has left America effectively without one of its bodies of government — at least for now.

“It doesn’t have any speaker, it doesn’t have any officers, it doesn’t have any constitutional rights as a body right now,” said Josh Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute.

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“The House is not assembled, so it can’t do anything outside of try to assemble itself,” he added.

For a few days, that might be manageable, but some Republican committee leaders are already warning about the risks not having a functioning House.

“The Biden administration is going unchecked and there is no oversight of the White House, State Department, Department of Defense, or the intelligence community,” Republican Reps. Mike McCaul (Texas), Mike Rogers (Ala.) and Mike Turner (Ohio) said in a joint statement as the incoming chairs of the national security committees. “We cannot let personal politics place the safety and security of the United States at risk.”

It could just take a few days for Republicans to sort themselves out

“This is Congress trying to figure itself out,” Huder said.

The public is getting a full view of the sort of debate that is normally settled behind closed doors. It’s not unusual for party leadership to settle its positions with multiple ballots, deal-making, repetitive nominations and lengthy rounds of votes. This time, however, it’s a spectacle broadcast live by C-SPAN.

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“Parties have an incentive to try to settle their infighting behind closed doors before doing it out there in public,” said Tim LaPira, a political science professor at James Madison University, and despite there still being no speaker after multiple days of votes, LaPira said the situation is “unusual, but not abnormal.”

“Frankly, in recent years, the House of Representatives has done many, many more strange things,” he added.

Democrats have poked fun at the chaos. Rep. Ted Lieu (Calif.) tweeted a photo of himself on Tuesday with a bag of popcorn captioned, “About to go to the House Floor,” and Rep. Veronica Escobar (Texas) tweeted, “Kevin McCarthy lost again and my comms team and I are running out of things to say about it.” Huder described the situation as a party “unraveling.”

“These are some really basic organizational questions that Republicans can’t seem to resolve because their disagreements have gone beyond policy and gone beyond procedure,” Huder said, calling it a “new level of disunity.”

When a contentious caucus becomes a problem

The real problem comes, however, if this cannot get resolved. And it doesn’t bode well for crucial legislation down the line.

LaPira said it signals an uphill fight for McCarthy and House Republicans this Congress on issues like raising the debt ceiling.

“This is absolutely foreshadowing all of that,” LaPira said.

Huder described the situation as “ominous” for routine government functions. “If they want to pass bills as the Republican Party, if they want to kind of eschew bipartisanship and push it away, then this is devastating to most things legislative because they’re showing some really, really big differences on things that are on items that are just must-pass from government funding to the debt ceiling,” he said.

Both LaPira and Huder, however, said this is not yet a crisis.

“Given that there is no impending crisis, I don’t see it as a crisis. I see it as sort of a very fundamental discussion and negotiation in the majority party,” Huder said.

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.