By Mary Stockman
As a senior criminal justice and law and justice major with a minor in political science, I am currently spending the semester as a congressional intern in the House of Representatives at the SUNY Washington DC Internship Program. My internship is with Representative Brian Higgins (NY-26) who represents Buffalo and Niagara Falls, and if you know anything about me, I am from Buffalo and represent Buffalo any chance I get.
I had the privilege to witness history last Tuesday. I was in the House gallery when Kevin McCarthy was voted out of his position as speaker of the House. This is a huge deal. No previous speaker in the history of the United States has been ousted by a vote of the whole.
Back in January, the House needed to elect a new speaker because the Republican Party had won the majority in the most recent election. McCarthy (CA-20), who had been the House minority leader when the Democrats were in control, wanted to be speaker of the House, which requires earning. A majority vote among all members of the House would be 218 votes. It took McCarthy 15 rounds to finally achieve the speakership. To finally get enough votes, he had to make some serious concessions to some more far-right Republicans, such as Andy Biggs (AZ-5), Matt Gaetz (FL-1), Bob Good (VA-5) and many more. Some of these concessions include letting the far right help make the rules, enabling for the far right to oust him, making tax increases and new spending easier to block, and some more.
What recently happened that got McCarthy in job trouble — in my opinion, he was always in job trouble — was this continuing resolution that was put in place so that the government would not shut down. In basic terms, a continuing resolution is a temporary spending bill that allows the federal government to remain open long enough for debates to continue over longer-term appropriations. The far-right and more moderate Republicans in the House could not come to an agreement over spending, and so to avoid a shutdown, McCarthy brought up a continuing resolution just hours before midnight, which passed the House, largely with Democratic support, and Senate, then was signed by the president just before midnight, when the shutdown would have occurred.
I can tell you, I did not think that there was going to be a continuing resolution. I thought the government was going to shut down and that is terrifying for an intern, especially because it was looking like this shutdown was going to be a few weeks, during which I would not have been allowed to work. So when this continuing resolution happened, I was very happy, but I also knew that it likely meant McCarthy would lose his job because the far-right Republicans in the House were not pleased that he ignored their wishes and made a deal backed largely by Democrats. On Monday, Gaetz went down to the House floor and filed a motion to vacate, which means he filed to have McCarthy removed from his job. At this point, I was not surprised at all.
On Tuesday when the vacancy was on the schedule, my supervisor let me go to watch, so I went to the House gallery to watch history happen. What was interesting was that there was a vote on an appropriation bill. The thing that was weird was the Democrats of the House were voting by written vote. Normally, they vote by electronic device, so this made the voting for this appropriation bill very long. My thought on this is that we’re all getting on the same page. The appropriation bill passed, and then it moved onto the motion to vacate the speaker position, which Gaetz brought up. Representative Thomas Cole (OK-4) brought up the motion to the table, which means to stop the process of holding the vote that was just brought to the floor. So then it went to a vote. Most Republicans voted in favor of tabling the motion, and most Democrats voted against the motion to table, and then there were some far-right Republicans who voted against the motion to table. The motion failed to pass, so then it went to the debate.
The two main people who were debating were Gaetz, who was very much against the speaker, and then Cole, who was in favor of the speaker. Each of these representatives had other representatives either in favor or against the speaker. Each of these sides got 30 minutes to debate.
To me, this was the crazy part. Most of the people who spoke in favor of the speaker, such as Elise Stefanik, our representative in Plattsburgh, were saying that he was a great guy and that he did what he had to do to make sure that the government stayed open. Then the opposition would say that the speaker may be a good guy, but he is terrible at his job. It was also funny to see republicans attack Gaetz. Throughout the whole debate, there was a lot of outburst from the Republican Party. Most of the time it was when Gaetz would say something that was not factual or when something was hypocritical.
To say the least, this whole debate was a spectacle. After both parties were done debating, it came to the vote on the vacancy. Normally, when they vote, they project the last names of all of the representatives on the wall across the gallery, but for this vote, this did not happen. In this vote, they called out each representative’s last names and they had to stand and say yea or nay. I knew all of the Democrats were going to vote yea, meaning they wanted the speaker position to be vacated. I also knew most Republicans were going to vote nay, to keep McCarthy in his position. In the end, 208 Democrats voted in favor of the speaker position being vacated, 210 Republicans voted for the speaker to keep his position, and 8 Republicans voted in favor of the speaker position being vacated.
The final vote was 218 to 210, and the motion passed. When this happened, the whole chamber went quiet for a few moments. Then, reality set in and it got really loud. I was in a state of shock — I could not believe that I had just witnessed history. The walk back to my office was interesting too, including seeing Representative George Santos in a SpongeBob tie and Gaetz speaking to the press. When I returned to my office, everyone was in shock. We all knew it was coming, but we were able to witness it. I will never forget that. There was a temporary speaker put in place, Representative Patrick McHenry (NC-10), who will only serve until a permanent speaker is selected.
Hopefully, by the time you are reading this, we do have a speaker. But who knows? When there is no elected speaker, nothing can really happen. There are no committees, no hearings, and no bills are going to be passed until there is an elected speaker.
Why is this a problem, you may be asking yourself? The continuing resolution that was passed ends Nov. 17 and if nothing is passed, we are looking at another government shutdown. Also, the worry is that this next speaker race will take a lot more rounds than the last speaker race, which took 15 rounds.
Additionally, with a new international crisis unfolding in Israel and Palestine, Congress is not able to function until there is a new speaker elected, which limits our country’s ability to respond. It is going to be interesting to see what happens next. I will try to keep you all updated when I can. But if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.