By Eva Szilardi-Tierney
After 15 rounds of voting, Kevin McCarthy was, at last, elected Speaker of the House of Representatives on January 7.
His victory came after a protracted battle among House Republicans. A small but determined cohort of hardline conservatives took advantage of the slim Republican majority to squeeze out a few concessions aimed at weakening the Speaker role.
Though their efforts were successful – it is now possible for just one member to call a vote to oust the Speaker, for one – they left both sides of the aisle frustrated, and started the 118th Congress on rather shaky footing.
Of particular concern for House Democrats is the ability of the Congress to carry out business under a speakership which Valley Congressman Brad Sherman called “fragile.”
“My standards for this Republican-led Congress are low: Please don’t shut down the government, and don’t default on America’s debt,” Sherman said in an interview with Valley News Group.
Sherman’s doubts came just as the 118th Congress completed its first week in session. The legislative session commenced with further questions about other promises McCarthy and GOP leadership may have made to conservative lawmakers in the lead-up to the Speaker vote. Such questions also peppered debate over the House rules package (ultimately adopted on January 9) and Republican committee assignments, indicating that there may be further reverberations from McCarthy’s election.
Unease over the country’s looming debt ceiling also featured heavily in House proceedings as Republicans vowed that they would not raise the debt limit without a dramatic cut in government spending. If not raised before its expected breach this summer, the debt ceiling and related funding issues could spur a government shutdown.
Congressman Sherman echoed these concerns: “McCarthy may feel he needs to go right up to the edge – or over it – this summer when we have to raise the debt limit – or see the U.S. default.”
As for how Democrats will respond to Republican disunity and potential gridlock, Sherman remained optimistic and promised that Democrats will strive to “keep the government open and operational, and hold the line against Republican extremism and chaos.”
“I hope it becomes clear that the chaos we saw from the Speaker vote saga is a direct result of Republicans normalizing and enabling far-right extremists at the expense of the American people. It was only a matter of time until it caught up to them.” Sherman stated.
Thursday marks the first deadline for the debt ceiling as the U.S. hits its initial spending limit and the Treasury Department enacts extra measures to make payments. How the ensuing talks unfold will be a litmus test for the hard deadline discussions expected to happen in June, and for Republican unity in general.
All of this adds up to a less-than-promising start for the new Congress, but, Rep. Sherman urges his constituents to keep their faith in the Democrat-controlled Senate and in President Biden, and to keep a close eye on House Republicans.
“As you watch Republicans in the House pass extreme legislation, rest assured it will die in the Senate. What progress we make as a country will come mostly from executive action.” Sherman said.