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Drama with the election of the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. Part 1

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The removal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from office has become a real political drama, showing the entire split of the system of power in the United States, especially on its Republican flank. On October 11, a hasty voting for a new speaker began in Congress. At first, there were two candidates for the post: Steve Scalise, a representative of the establishment, and Jim Jordan, a right-wing candidate supported by Trump, and at that time there were still hopes for a quick election in 1-2 days. Republicans were trying to deal with the internal divide over the war in Israel as soon as possible, and as Congress was paralysed and the Senate was not going to reconvene for a week, no substantive action on Israel was taken in Washington, which was not to the advantage of pro-Israel Republican politicians. The White House, for its part, desperately pleaded with Congress for a major military tranche that could be used both in Ukraine and Israel. At the same time, U.S. special forces could have been deployed from Europe to Israel to free American hostages. As in the case of arms, Washington had to choose between Ukraine and Israel, and it favored the latter, which to some extent was even a compromise. On Wall Street, as always, there was panic, not only about a possible oil crisis if the war escalated, but also about the closure of the Suez Canal. The inflationary shock for the West in such a case could be enormous, and against the backdrop of a weak economy would lead to recession in many countries. Pro-Palestinian students at 200 universities immediately organised a nationwide “Day of Resistance” on October 12 against Israel, colonialism and “apartheid.” The street battles between supporters and opponents of Israel were only growing, and coupled with Washington’s paralysis, the country’s division and economic turmoil, threatened America with a major domestic crisis. That’s why the quick election of a speaker could alleviate the situation, even if only slightly. 

On October 11, after a long battle, the Republican establishment confirmed the Speaker’s nominee. Steve Scalise won by a very small margin, 113 votes to 99. Jim Jordan showed a surprisingly strong result and it was obvious that he was helped by Trump’s endorsement. The next step to overcome the crisis was the approval of the entire House of Representatives, and here again the right-wing opposition in the Republican camp had the last word: if 5-7 legislators voted against their speaker time after time, the election would drag on for weeks again. Steve Scalise seemed to be a consensus figure because he was quite right-wing in his views, yet integrated into the establishment. In particular, he had repeatedly exposed Ukraine for corruption in the past, and he would have a harder time arranging secret pacts with Democrats for new tranches. But the problem was that he was battling leukemia, and it was questionable whether he would be able to serve as Speaker. So the apparatus crisis in Congress went nowhere, and there was a growing split within Republicans, with some wanting to support Ukraine and others Israel, and others dreaming of self-dealing with both wars. The Democrats had an equally powerful split with an active wing of supporters of Palestine, demanding to cut off tranches to Israel, which they accuse of war crimes. At the same time, “around the corner” lurked Kevin McCarthy, dreaming of returning to the Speaker’s chair if Scalise could not occupy it.

Overall, McCarthy’s hopes were partially realized, and Steve Scalise, the main Republican candidate, failed to be elected speaker on October 12. There was talk that he might simply withdraw if he could not win a majority of votes, i.e. the coveted 218 congressmen. Republicans were trying to avoid the drama of January with 15 rounds of voting that epitomized the intra-party split, so they wanted to agree on the speaker’s nominee in advance, but at that moment it was not clear who could even theoretically become the speaker. Among the possible candidates was Jim Jordan, the right-wing Republican candidate supported by Trump, who could theoretically win, but only if the Republican establishment agreed to support Jordan. He was however obviously too right-wing for them, and he was also an isolationist who has consistently opposed Ukrainian tranches since May 2022. To create some conditions for compromise, the White House gave small tranches to Israel, and also fictitiously blocked $6 billion of Iranian funds in Qatar, realizing that they could be unblocked at any time. The problem for the Biden administration was that with Congress in a state of paralysis, it was impossible to supplement Ukrainian budgets or give meaningful aid to Israel.Ā 

Already on October 13, Steve Scalise officially withdrew from the fight for the Speaker’s post, and the situation in Congress returned to the original position with the absence of the head of the House of Representatives. This was cheered by the right wing of the Republicans, seeking maximum chaos in Washington to undermine Biden’s policy. A similar strategy was followed by Trump, who sharply began to criticize the White House’s Israel policy, and even demanded Netanyahu to resign – he did not forgive the Israeli politician for supporting Biden, and hit both, increasing the division in the U.S. over Israel. The next day, Republicans with difficulty still approved Jim Jordan as the new speaker nominee, but he was immediately opposed by more than 50 moderate Republicans, and Congress had no choice but to go into the weekend with no clue how to elect a speaker. Expectedly, the first round of voting for a new Speaker ended in a fiasco, with 20 Republicans and all Democrats opposing Jordan’s nomination, even though ideally he could lose no more than 4-5 votes from his fellow Democrats. That was the tricky math of electing a speaker in a Congress where Republicans have only a shaky majority. Any candidate had to consolidate almost all Republicans around him, and it was extremely difficult to do that in the current split. Jordan could well have kept at it and made new rounds of voting time after time, as Kevin McCarthy did. But it is not certain that Jordan would have been elected because he is a right-wing Republican and an isolationist, which is not to the liking of the “moderates” in both parties. It was these “moderates” who came up with an alternative plan, which was to give interim Speaker Patrick McHenry special powers and hastily pass a large military budget of either 10 or 50 billion dollars for tranches to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan at the same time. Then there was the option of McCarthy’s return to the Speaker’s chair, which the latter had transparently hinted at. Anyway these scenarios were also difficult to realize.

Against this backdrop, on October 18, Jim Jordan’s next attempt to become Speaker of Congress ended in complete failure, with even more Republicans opposing him on the second ballot than during the first attempt yesterday, namely 22 legislators. Jordan should be given credit and recognize that as a right-wing Republican, he has learned a lot over the years about fighting the establishment in Washington, so he promised not to give up and go all the way. Nevertheless, at that point, Congress hovered in a state of paralysis. Biden promised 100 million dollars to the Palestinians, because it was impossible to allocate more from the State Department’s budget, and the remaining 100 billion dollars were requested from Congress, which in such a situation could not provide them for objective reasons. The Pentagon also got involved, already reporting a threat to U.S. forces in Iraq due to underfunding. But even in the case of a quickly elected speaker, it was clear that it was unlikely that anything could be passed quickly with the current split in Congress and the complete dysfunction of the U.S. political system, which was getting worse and worse as the elections approached. Complicating matters was the fact that America was once again facing a government shutdown in November, and one could expect the conflicts in Congress to escalate to a new level. And yet, in this critical situation, at least temporarily, American politicians managed to elect a Speaker of the House of Representatives. But the details of the solution to this crisis and what was the compromise in the end, and who emerged victorious from this confrontation, we will tell you in the second part of our article.

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