Professors: Split on speaker vote signals difficulty for next two years

Jan. 7—The differences among U.S. House Republicans in reaching a consensus and electing a speaker portend some difficult moments in the years ahead, said two professors of political science in the Valley.

U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was elected House speaker early today in the 15th vote this week. McCarthy inched closer to having the needed votes to become speaker — in the governing body's 12th and 13th votes before the House adjourned until 10 p.m. Friday. The 10 p.m. vote also saw McCarthy fail to secure enough votes. The House nearly voted to adjourn until Monday but that vote failed leading to the final vote.

In a chaotic week, McCarthy finally saw some significant progress on the 12th speaker vote, said Bucknell professor of political science Scott R. Meinke.

"The new set of concessions McCarthy confirmed Friday morning was enough to bring most of his opponents on board," Meinke said.

Those concessions are weakening the authority McCarthy would wield over the Republican majority, and giving more of a voice to the small group of far-right House Republicans in the Freedom Caucus, Meinke said.

"Even with those concessions, McCarthy is a few votes short of what he needs to become speaker," Meinke said. "Because the Republicans barely hold the majority in the House, McCarthy can afford only a few Republican defectors."

If he can convince a few of his most entrenched opponents even to vote "present" rather than for another speaker candidate, McCarthy might be able to make the math work out, Meinke said. If not, Republicans may yet have to turn to a different speaker candidate.

Rule changes are what McCarthy's opponents are seeking because it will give them leverage and the means by which they can more easily stymie the business of the House, said Nick Clark, professor of political science at Susquehanna University.

Looking aheadAll of this suggests great difficulty for Congress in governing over the next two years, Meinke said.

"The fact that a small group of Republicans have pushed this far against the rest of their party suggests that they will be ready to do the same on important legislation, such as the annual bills to fund the government, in order to get what they want," he said.

Assuming the concessions McCarthy has offered are put into effect, the extreme members of the House Republican party will have new institutional power to ensure things go their way, Meinke said.

"These struggles will threaten Congress' ability to clear must-pass bills, and they also foreshadow more internal fights among House Republicans," he said. "For example, some of McCarthy's opponents want strict across-the-board limits on government spending, but those demands will be nonstarters for other Republicans who put a top priority on defense spending."

Clark agreed with Meinke

"The debt ceiling fight is going to be difficult as many of these voices are going to try even harder to stop that vote," he said. "Many of the concessions McCarthy has made in rules changes have empowered individual members."

Clark isn't expecting the House to produce much in the way of legislation over the next two years.

"You are never going to see that under divided government. But I think it will become harder for the House to conduct routine business," he said.