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Kevin McCarthy Makes History by Turning the US House of Representatives into a Spaghetti Western!
The US may have asserted their independence all the way back in 1776, but on the 3rd of October, 2023 House Republicans adopted a British approach to governance.
Kevin McCarthy has proven the most effective tool for introducing British government in the United States since Britain’s General Montgomery in 1775, which is no mean feat. America’s second experiment in ‘McCarthyism’ came to an end last week, as ideological radicals condemned his loyalty to American conservatism and blacklisted him. In one swift vote the latest US house speaker was out on his gavel.
But how does the American experiment in politics now echo Britain, and what does a Parliamentary approach in the US Congress imply about the state of wider American politics? We dig in/down/out!
McCarthy had already suffered the embarrassment of being the first speaker in modern times to fail an initial election to the position. In fact, he didn’t just banana skid his first election to the position, he skidded 14 more times, suffering loss after loss until he finally broke through. Even worse, he secured that victory by grovelling a tiny bit on Fox News to the soon to be fired Tucker Carlson. He begged Carlson and fellow ‘racists for the shock value’ radicals within his party to give in and elect him. But even that didn’t work. So he settled for a nifty little voting trick. They voted for ‘No One’ and so lowered the threshold required. And Bob was his uncle!
His current ‘Not No One’ decapitation traces straight back to the deal he made for those ‘No One’ votes. Following unwritten deal after unwritten deal to scrounge votes from the Republican radicals, he most notably gave in to their final demand - a rule change allowing just a single Republican to call for his removal. And guess what… This is a uniquely Republican dysfunction. Of course much vilified former Democratic Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, made sure her own rules required a majority of her party to file a motion to remove her. Turns out this is a much better foundation to prevent the House from crumbling.
It does slightly beg a question or two about why anyone would ever invoke the rule - and why the Republicans would vote their own Speaker out in the middle of a term. It had never happened before. Why now?
In inimitable MAGA fashion with a side of through-the-looking-glass-reasoning of so many politicos today, they blamed it on the treacherous nature of the Democratic Party. Those Democrats just refused to support er….their… main political rivals and the man who had just forced through an unfounded impeachment inquiry on their highest ranking member. Of course, it was the Democrats fault. Both the conservative and liberal media cried, " the Democrats should have “put the country first” and kept McCarthy in place. Even Kevin McCarthy has adopted this line of reasoning. Apparently unable to understand a Republican majority in the House means he technically, and this is a shock, shouldn’t need to rely on Democrats for power. Unpack that one at your leisure!
What British outside observers may be thinking is… didn’t the same thing happen to Theresa May? Boris Johnson? Liz Truss? A head of lettuce? Oh no… actually the head of lettuce survived. Why should we even bother to note that the Speaker (de facto leader) of America’s House of Representatives, significantly less important than the British Prime Minister, was demoted? Why do we care that a leader not named Donald Trump in the Republican Party lost his job?
The simple answer: its a first in American politics. But drill a little bit deeper and that isn’t necessarily true either. In 2015, a similar rebellion threatened then Republican House Speaker John Boehner, but Boehner, with a much greater majority than McCarthy in 2015, quashed it. Never the less he unexpectedly resigned a few months later. As a result, we could easily say that an American House Speaker has been defeated by their own party before McCarthy. No, what makes McCarthy’s removal significant is something else, something deeper and more rotten about America’s recent politics.
Since 2008 Republicans have increasingly shifted their position from the Party of “Starve the Beast” to the party of absolute obstructionism. Famously upon Barrack Obama’s historic election in 2008, Republican strategy changed, aimed at doing whatever they could to prevent the Democratic President from doing anything. Meaning Barrack could finally get a family holiday. Yea, Hawaii!
For a year they failed to bamboozle Obama, due to his filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and control of the House. But, Ted Kennedy’s death in 2009 put paid to that and in 2010’s midterm election campaigning Mitch McConnell, the leading Republican figure and head of the Senate Minority, famously said that his one and only goal was “to make the President a 1-term President”. Ouch.
This was followed by two radical events in American Politics. The first occurred in 2013 when the new House Majority Republicans led a Federal Government shutdown in order to force President Obama into austerity measures and budget cuts. It was the first US Government shutdown in more than 15 years, and was practically the first major action of the Republican Party after 4 years in the wilderness following their massive losses in 2008. Finally they had a strategy to crack their one-term President strategy - or so they thought.
Following this the sucker punched him with the 2015 showdown over Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee, Merrick Garland. McConnell, now the Senate Majority Leader since the 2014 midterms, refused to replace the deceased leading Conservative Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, leaving the position open for over a year rather than consider Garland. So poor old Merrick spent all his time in the waiting room rather than on the bench - experiencing presumably the tardiest job interview in town.
The shift in the Republican Party seems to have somehow gotten worse. What was once the radical wing of the Party, the Tea-Party, whom McCarthy had led, is now the Party mainstream and the new Radicals are “MAGA” led by Florida Congressman, embodiment of the sunshine state and ‘off-with-his-head’ shouter, Matt Gaetz. The radicals are ever more obstructionist, and for Gaetz, the greatest betrayal of McCarthy is that he worked with the Democrats at all. Of course Gaetz worked with 208 Democrats to give McCarthy the boot, but for a man accused of all sorts, what’s the harm in a little hypocrisy.
The real consequence and shock around McCarthy’s removal is that it happened because he did the one thing American politics has apparently been built upon, he reached across the aisle relying on a bare minimum of bipartisanship to avert a 4th government shutdown in 10 years. Actually there was no bipartisanship at all. He made no deal with Democrats (or did he?) he just put the continuing resolution up for a vote and dared them not to support it. Gaetz’s accusation? That McCarthy made a secret deal with the Dems to pass further funding for Ukraine and fight Russia. So he had to go.
In a dare all chuck of the dice McCarthy dared the Dems a second time. Don’t support me in the Speakership vote and beware the consequences was his game. This time there was little whisper of a secret deal. This time the Dems let him fall on his sword and any deals, secret or not, died with him. The present and future of American politics has two parties so diametrically opposed they can’t even agree on opposing the Russian war - imagine telling that to the first McCarthyites. Quite an origin story nightmare on Capital Grounds First Street!
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