It has been an interesting week for U.S. democracy. In the last fourteen days, U.S. lawmakers have averted a government shutdown. Currently, the Biden administration is discussing how it wants to address a surprise attack in Israel from the terrorist organization Hamas.
All of this, and the U.S. House of Representatives does not have a Speaker to assist. A Speaker of the House has not been ousted in America’s history. So, what happened?
In order to answer this, we must examine the U.S. budget, which is passed by the Congress every year. Congress must pass all federal funding budgets, which are typically valid for a certain length of time. This process is often done yearly. Congress can also pass short-term funding bills, typically called continuing resolutions or CR, which will fund the government for anywhere between a week and a couple months. If a funding bill expires and a new one is not put in place, the government is not being funded. This means the government cannot pay its employees or maintain any federally-controlled lands, although essential employees can continue to work; such a time is often referred to as a government shutdown.
On Sept. 29, the House of Representatives passed a CR with broad bipartisan support. However, some Republicans, among them Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), had promised to introduce a motion to vacate the office of now-former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) if a CR passed.
Removal of the Speaker
On Oct. 2, Gaetz filed his promised motion to vacate. When the motion came to a vote, all Democrats joined eight Republicans in voting to remove McCarthy. Those eight Republicans were Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Tim Burchett (Tenn.), Elijah Crane (Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Bob Good (Va.), Nancy Mace (S.C.) and Matthew M. Rosendale (Mont.).
After the motion to vacate succeeded, Gaetz claimed, “Kevin McCarthy is a creature of the swamp. He has risen to power by collecting special interest money and redistributing that money in exchange for favors. We are breaking the fever now.”
The successful vote means that the House is currently lacking an elected speaker. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) has been named interim speaker while the search takes place.
This leaves the Republican party with a leadership crisis. The Republican margin in the House is currently five votes, which means that five Republicans can defeat any measure if all Democrats oppose it. As such, this leaves radical Republicans with an outsized influence.
Many Republicans are furious with Gaetz, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for Gaetz’s removal from the Republican conference. Joseph Postell, professor of political science at Hillsdale College, said that these legislators sought to gain outside media influence. Postell told the Washington Post that “[House Republicans] are no longer incentivized to bargain with one another. They are incentivized to remain in conflict.”
What will become of the Republican Party in 2024 and beyond is yet to be seen. But this episode will give us a picture of how Republicans choose to address a leadership crisis, and may show us how they will choose to handle Donald Trump. House Republicans are trying to show America that they can effectively govern in the leadup to the 2024 election; in the days to come, we will see Republicans try to govern their own.