It’s been two weeks since the U.S. House of Representatives voted to remove Kevin McCarthy from his position as speaker—a historical first. The search for his successor continues.
In a secret ballot vote during a closed-door conference meeting, House Republicans initially nominated Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. But Scalise withdrew from consideration after it became clear that he could not gain the 217 votes necessary to be elected on the House floor. Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan. R-Ohio, received the second-most votes in the conference and is now the leading candidate.
The news media has portrayed all of this in the worst possible light. Politico boasts headlines exclaiming, “Fear and loathing grips the House GOP” and “Trump Watches While His Party Implodes.” The political gossip rag Punchbowl News led its morning newsletter with this evaluation:
Scalise’s blockbuster decision on Thursday night to withdraw his name for consideration as speaker shows once again just how toxic it is inside the House Republican Conference. They’re all but ungovernable. Forget about compromising with Democrats or President Joe Biden. This group of House Republicans won’t even compromise with each other. They’re deeply distrustful of anyone in leadership not named Donald Trump. And they’re unwilling to accept the realities of divided government—or simply governing at all.
This is the same sort of bombastic rhetoric the news media used to characterize the election of McCarthy to the speakership back in January. Writing for the New York Times at the time, Brendan Buck, a former staffer to John Boehner and Paul Ryan, warned that “allowing the process to unravel into chaos” by not electing Kevin McCarthy on the first vote “would diminish the entire body and destroy Americans’ confidence in the new Congress.” He went on, describing the brawl as “a self-serving power play by a small group of Republicans threatens to make a mockery of the institution and further cement the notion that the party is not prepared to lead.”
What establishment types like Buck and the D.C. media bubble still somehow fail to understand is the American people lost their confidence in Congress long ago. According to Gallup, Americans’ confidence in Congress dropped five points from 12 percent to 7 percent from 2021 to 2022, marking an all-time low since Gallup first asked the question in 1973.
Stronger leaders understand that the American people are sick and tired of business as usual. They are looking for bold leadership and systemic change. It is why many members of Congress are standing up in unprecedented ways to change how Washington works.
And it’s working.
Ultimately, Kevin McCarthy was elected on the 15th ballot after negotiating changes to the rules that govern how the House would operate and securing key committee assignments for conservative stalwarts. That meant a more open, inclusive process for the consideration of legislation. The concessions won by conservatives created the conditions under which the slim Republican majority passed H.R.2, the strongest border security legislation in American history, the Limit, Save, Grow Act, a significant overhaul in government spending, and more. It was only when McCarthy and others walked away from this path to success that things went haywire.
Some will claim these conservatives are just making things harder. In a sense, that’s true—and it’s a very good thing. For too long, it has been too easy to do business in Washington and for Washington insiders to serve their own gilded interests. For the last several years, Leadership offices have written mammoth omnibus spending bills in coordination with K Street lobbyists, holding them in secret until the last few days of the year. Then they use their power over the legislative calendar to postpone consideration of those bills until Christmas time and the precipice of a government shutdown and demand that members consent to waiving the standard rules to avoid consequences. This makes it maximally painful for elected officials to put the brakes on things and vie for the interests of their constituents. It’s a play that leaders of both parties have run over and over like clockwork.
The Founders who designed our republican form of democracy did so based on a bedrock truth about human nature: our fallenness. Romans 3:23 teaches us that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The Founders built on that truth and their knowledge of political despotism throughout human history. They created a system in which no person could govern with unchecked, unaccountable power: three separate branches of government, a bicameral legislature, staggered elections, proportionate representation in the House but equal power for each state in the Senate, and more.
That system is in danger of being undermined by those in power. The only option for members who came to Washington to represent citizens who have had enough of it is to take unprecedented action to break the cycle and return to the rules and norms that the Founders devised. That’s what the speaker fight in January was about. It is why McCarthy lost his job, and it will be central in the debate over the next speaker. We should be grateful for those members who are taking back the power of their offices in order to represent the interests of their constituents, no matter how chaotic it may seem.
This piece originally appeared in World Magazine