After four days of chaos and pressure from Trumpist elected officials, the U.S. Congress has its new speaker
Eva Deschamps / January 8, 2023
Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday night, ending a process marked until the end by very strong tensions in the Republican ranks.
By dint of negotiations, the group of Trumpists who were blocking the nomination of the 50-year-old from California finally gave in. They put an end to a mess in Congress, unprecedented in more than 160 years, which foreshadows very agitated debates in the U.S. Congress over the next two years. But not without a last hurrah. The American president immediately congratulated Kevin McCarthy, calling on him to "govern responsibly and in the interest of the American people". "I am willing to work with Republicans whenever possible and voters have made it clear that they expect Republicans to be willing to work with me as well," he said in a statement.
Without control of both houses - which he had since his inauguration in January 2021, albeit with a very slim majority in the Senate - the U.S. president can no longer hope to pass major legislation. But with the Senate in Democratic hands, neither can the Republicans. The Trumpist free electrons kept the suspense going right up to the end of the election, blocking the nominee one last time on the 14th vote, causing a real mess in the chamber. Kevin McCarthy then walked over to the group of Trumpists, as fingers pointed accusingly. Amidst the hubbub, the Clerk of Congress called on the elected officials to remain calm.
All week long, this hard core of conservative elected officials, who accuse the elected official of pandering to the interests of the Washington establishment, took advantage of the very slim Republican majority obtained in the November mid-term elections to play spoilsport. They only took the pressure off after obtaining some important guarantees -- including a procedure to facilitate the removal of the speaker. Finally elected, Kevin McCarthy replaces Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker. "We must get America back on track," he declared just before being sworn in. But the elected official is weakened by this election, which augurs a very difficult mandate.
On the agenda in the coming months will be negotiations on raising the U.S. debt ceiling, funding the federal government and, potentially, releasing additional funds for the war in Ukraine. With their new control of the House, Republicans have also promised to launch a slew of investigations into Joe Biden's handling of the pandemic or the withdrawal from Afghanistan. "It's time to exercise control over the president's policies," said Kevin McCarthy from the floor. But will their inquiries have the same resonance after their divisions are exposed? Facing a hostile but disordered House could prove to be a political boon for Joe Biden, if he confirms his intention to run for re-election in 2024 -- a decision he is expected to announce early this year.
Throughout the speaker nomination process, Joe Biden's party has not failed to denounce the stranglehold of Donald Trump loyalists -- many of whom still refuse to concede defeat in 2020 -- on the Republican Party, two years to the day after the assault on the Capitol. But Democrats, who lost control of the House after the November vote, did not have enough votes to end the paralysis. Marathon negotiation sessions in the galleries adjacent to the chamber, a horde of reporters catching every statement from this group of free electrons... This election has at times seemed interminable. And for good reason, the representatives of the House had no choice but to continue voting until a "speaker" was elected by a simple majority.
A Republican woman voting with her dog under her arm, Democrats sharing a newspaper to pass the time... The cameras of the American parliamentary channel, usually subject to very strict rules on authorized shots, have captured many moments of life of this atypical procedure, to the delight of viewers and social networks. This paralysis of the U.S. Congress has nevertheless had very concrete repercussions: without the "speaker", the third most important figure in American politics after the president and vice-president, the elected officials could not take the oath of office. It was therefore impossible to vote on any bill, to participate in parliamentary committees or to access classified information.