US politics has been plunged into a fresh crisis after politicians failed to agree on the speaker of the House of Representatives.
Senior Republican Kevin McCarthy had failed to win a majority in six successive votes by Wednesday. A group of 19, and then 20, ultra right wing Republicans united against him.
It is a sign of fractures in a Republican party dominated by unashamed racists and supporters of former president Donald Trump. Republicans narrowly wrested control of the House in mid-term elections last November, but they are now squabbling among themselves. While McCarthy is a bigot who supported Trump, some Republican members of congress don’t think he’s right wing enough.
This is the first time since 1923 that the House has failed to choose a leader in the first round of voting. Such was the chaos of Tuesday’s votes that Democrat candidate Hakeem Jeffries received more votes than McCarthy despite representing the minority party.
The chaos is a symptom of the deeper crisis facing US political institutions—once held up as models of liberal democracy. The last two years saw the far right assault of the Capitol, Trump’s denials of the presidential election result and Republicans continued belief in a “stolen election”.
One poll in the run-up to the mid-terms found that 52 percent thought US democracy was working “not at all” or “not too well”.
The House speaker is more than just a ceremonial title—it’s a top position in US politics and second in line to the presidency behind the vice president.
The Congress members will have to continue voting until they elect a speaker. The impasse is delaying the day-to-day work of the Congress. Hundreds of members are yet to be sworn in and no legislative work has been completed.
McCarthy is vowing to go toe-to-toe with the 20-strong dissidents until he secures enough votes to begin as Speaker. “I’m staying until we win, he declared shortly after his second defeat, and before his third. “I know the path.”
Representative Matt Gaetz, who sits on the ultra right wing of the party, declared that he was “prepared for an extended battle that I will ultimately win.” And Lauren Boebert, a fellow conservative Republican said, “We haven’t heard anything new from McCarthy. So I guess we’ll just keep doing this.”
The anti-McCarthy group is demanding he vows to balance the federal budget, bring on severe austerity and increase spending powers for the House.
McCarthy has reportedly already conceded to one of their central demands. He has allegedly agreed to revive the “Holman rule”—which allows representatives to make laws that cut federal programmes, fire federal workers or slash their pay.
He is not without allies. Former president Donald Trump tweeted out his emphatic endorsement of McCarthy on Wednesday. “Some really good conversations took place last night, and it’s now time for all our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN,” he said.
But unless he can mop up the final few votes, people are likely to look to his deputy, Steve Scalise from Louisiana.
The crisis could spell the beginning of a tumultuous four years as deep divisions within the Republicans intensify. A majority of just nine hands a lot of power to a small group of hardliners.
While the Democrats point to the Republicans’ crimes, they’ve failed to deliver for ordinary people. This is at a time of deepening economic crisis, a war in Ukraine that drags on, and the continuing Covid-crisis that is quietly snatching lives. Real hope lies with working class people’s struggles outside.
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