Republicans and Democrats have become not just political but rather mental enemies since the 2010s. The fall of 2023 presented an amusing episode of unity between liberals and the most radical conservatives in Congress, when internally the Republican struggle brightly and fully spilled into the public sphere. It began when right-wing Republicans were angered by Speaker McCarthy’s decision, backed by Democrats, to fund government operations for a month and a half without cutting government spending. Matt Gaetz, McCarthy’s main opponent, immediately launched a recall effort. He was well aware that if his scheme succeeded, Congress would lose the Speaker and be forced to vote for a new House leader, but he deliberately targeted his “moderate” opponents, who could always commit treason against Trump. McCarthy was barely confirmed in January 2023 after 15 rounds of votes, a situation that threatened to generate equally difficult debates and conflicts.
It should be understood that the right-wing Republicans had good reasons to hate McCarthy, because he pursued his policies contrary to their ideological and strategic guidelines. For example, he proposed to pass a separate bill by the end of the month to finance Kiev’s needs, to which the well-known neoconservative Lindsey Graham even wanted to combine it with the allocation of funds for securing the southern border of the United States in order to convince his fellow party members to give some tranches to Ukraine. That’s why the isolationists among the Republicans got a boost of courage that allowed them to go to the most extreme measures just to give nothing to Ukraine. It was also a way for Gaitz to advance his career, because after DeSantis, he could become governor of Florida or even secretary of state in the Trump administration, and McCarthy was another obstacle in that path. To gain the honour and fame he needs, Gaetz is now scoring political points by feuding with the establishment and blocking funding for the already unpopular and toxic Ukraine agenda. If successful, he would not only topple McCarthy, but would freeze the entire Congress, throwing Washington into a state of genuine political paralysis amid a host of foreign and domestic problems. With these moves, Gaetz boldly opened Pandora’s Box, seeing in it nothing but benefits and opportunities.
In the end, on October 3rd, right-wing Republicans made history, and for the first time, the House of Representatives voted to recall incumbent Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He was never forgiven for passing a “clean” budget bill without cutting government spending, something even many moderate Republicans had sought. Only eight right-wing lawmakers supported McCarthy’s resignation, but that was enough because almost all Democrats joined them. It became clear that Congress would have an interim acting speaker, which would set in motion the process of voting for a new permanent speaker. Lawmakers who arranged McCarthy’s resignation had originally hoped to make speaker Tom Emmer, the third in the hierarchy of Republicans in the House of Representatives. Tom Emmer is also a member of the establishment, but he might have been more cooperative in the Gaetz plan to avoid repeating McCarthy’s fate and it was clear that reality was unlikely to coincide with their desires. Now the situation of January of this year could repeat itself, and the procedure for selecting the Speaker could drag on for a long time, and the debate over his candidacy would become a real political thriller. This will undoubtedly plunge Congress into total chaos against the backdrop of the fact that the budget issues have not been fully resolved. It should be understood that before his resignation, McCarthy’s decision only prolonged the agony of agreeing on a new budget for a month and a half. The split over the financing of Ukraine has not disappeared, the fate of further tranches is unclear, and the work of Congress is now de facto frozen in the absence of the speaker. This whole situation embodies really well the deepest crisis into which the American political class has been driven.
Not surprisingly, the Republicans in Congress were in complete shock at the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, calling it a “banana republic”. For the first time in American history, a small faction of the right-wing opposition managed to get the leader of Congress recalled. McCarthy himself refused to run for speaker again, and accused his opponents of seeking chaos for the sake of chaos. Matt Gaetz, who arranged McCarthy’s resignation, has been accused of retaliating for the investigation into his own sex scandals that the Speaker launched. McCarthy’s crony Patrick McHenry became acting speaker. He immediately put on a show, ordering Nancy Pelosi to vacate her office, which the interim speaker now wants to occupy. This is already retaliation against Democrats for supporting the campaign to oust McCarthy. Soon the epic process of electing a new speaker began and Republicans consolidated around Steve Scalise, the second in the party hierarchy, because he is both close to the conservative opposition and the establishment. However, there is one thing, which is the fact that Scalise has serious health problems and is fighting a blood cancer. Because of this, it’s not clear if he’ll be able to fulfil the Speaker’s duties with this condition. Matt Gaetz cites a secret deal with Democrats over further funding for Ukraine as the reason for McCarthy’s ouster. Scalise was a more active critic of Kiev against this background, and under him such “agreements” will be more difficult to conclude.
Against this backdrop, Donald Trump intervened in the congressional showdown and added some more confusion to it. He endorsed right-wing Republican nominee Jim Jordan. Jordan was an outsider in the race for Speaker, but with Trump’s endorsement he could gain a decent number of supporters. Trump himself soon showed up at the Capitol to try to appeal to Republicans for unity. This is a real nightmare for Democrats, because they accuse Trump of organising a riot to storm the Capitol, and now he’s quietly showing up there at the invitation of Republicans. Some have even suggested Trump himself could become speaker, but even without that, the election for congressional leader could drag on for a long time. The party establishment was represented by Steve Scalise, the majority leader, but he risked not becoming speaker if at least 5-10 lawmakers voted for Jordan. With Trump’s endorsement, the latter was quite an equal competitor to Scalise. More important was even the fact that they are both longtime critics of Ukraine, accusing Kiev of total corruption. Jordan, moreover, is leading corruption investigations into Hunter Biden’s ties to Ukraine. The final approval of either of them was already guaranteed at the outset to dramatically complicate the White House’s attempts to hammer out new military tranches in Congress. In any case, we were in for another political drama with the election of the Speaker but in reality, only a part of a bigger drama is coming with the U.S. presidential election in 2024 and the fatal transformation of the entire traditional political field in the U.S. This episode is localised, and its outcome can only be congratulated by Matt Gaetz, who seized the moment and took revenge on his longtime opponent in the person of Kevin McCarthy and we’ll tell you how the Speaker’s election went in our next article.