New congress faces longest election for house speaker since 1860

William Fisher, Online Editor-In-Chief

   This past midterm elections Republicans gained control of the house with a slim majority of 222 seats, with 218 being the number required to be the majority party and pass legislation.

   Then as 2023 started and the new congress began they went to the first order of business, electing a speaker of the house, and ended up taking 15 rounds of voting from January 3rd to January 15th, the most rounds to vote in a speaker since 1860. 

   The issue was with holdouts in the Freedom Caucus, a group within the GOP that refused to vote for the main Republican candidate Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader in the house since 2019, unless their demands were met.

   Andrew Hood, social studies teacher, explained his view on the motivation of the Freedom Caucus. “I think they were trying to change things up right away. They wanted to show that they are more than just a minority voice in the Republican caucus. They wanted to change up the rules of how things are going to happen, how bills are going to be passed into laws, how they’re even going to be debated on the floor.” 

   The action of electing a speaker is typically a formality, with the agreements between the parties members being made prior. “So normally they call order, they take the vote and it’s done the first round. I was surprised that it went this long…I was surprised he didn’t know that he didn’t have the votes prior, that he hadn’t made those deals and concessions or worked it out…that there wasn’t a greater show of solidarity for him,” explained Michele Bonadies, social studies teacher. 

   A variety of concessions had to be made to the Freedom Caucus in the end. “A lot of it was procedural stuff. That they wanted to limit the power of the speaker…the Freedom Caucus felt indeed the speaker had become too powerful and it controlled too much of the flow of legislation and things, and then they also wanted certain provisions to help get more spending cuts,” stated Social Studies Teacher Thomas Kuhn.

   A ban on omnibus bills (a large blanket bill full of a variety of laws which representatives will have to vote for even if they disagree with part of the bill due to it containing something they want), a 72 hour wait period after making bills until they can be voted on, and the ability for just one person in the house to call for the removal of the speaker were all met conditions of the Freedom Caucus. 

   Hood described McCarthy’s condition after these concessions. “It seems like he’s going in as more of a lame duck house speaker, if anything else. Usually the House Speaker dictates a lot of what’s going to be proposed on the floor, what bills are going to be heard, what pork is going to be added to bills, and how we’re going to debate. They have to try to establish house rules before they can actually get the next congressional session into progress, but what McCarthy did concede to the Freedom Caucus and the holdouts was that anyone (just one member of the house) could call a referendum on his speakership at any point.”

   Committee assignments were another concession, with many being given to Freedom Caucus members. “So I think the committee assignments were a big one, and they wanted…concessions on spending, that he would curtail spending.” said Bonadies, also adding that an investigation into President Joe Biden would be launched as a condition met. 

   Kuhn explained the views of the Freedom Caucus, formerly known as the Tea Party. “It started as fiscally conservative members of Congress predominantly…more from the South. And they’re less likely to compromise… because their main concern is debt. They feel that debt’s gotten so out of control because of compromise and bargains…so they want to kind of shake up and change Congress a little bit.”

   Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, was elected in 2006 and previously ran for house speaker in 2015 before dropping out. Hood spoke to his background. “He is from…Orange County, a very conservative part of California, which typically votes mostly Democrat. So he is already a minority in his own state, so I think he is a politician who is used to making concessions, used to compromising, but also used to standing out amongst his state caucus members, because he’s not going to be siding with climate change bills or infrastructure spending bills or education reform bills. He’s mostly a guy who is going to focus on balancing the budgets, cutting spending, and trying to become a fiscal conservative.”