It took 15 votes over four days, but Rep. Kevin McCarthy was finally elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives last Saturday morning. The fiasco highlighted a foreboding political reality in Washington: The Republicans hold a majority in the House, but a slim one. That allowed a group of just 20 hard-right Republicans, such as Reps. Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert, to block McCarthy’s election as speaker for the first 14 rounds of voting.
How long McCarthy will retain the leadership role is an open question. In order to gain the votes needed to become speaker, he had to grant a number of concessions to that group of 20 Republicans. They included lowering the threshold needed to raise a challenge to the speakership—essentially a vote of confidence—so that a single representative can now trigger yet another leadership battle. If Liz Truss’ short tenure as British prime minister was compared to the longevity of a head of lettuce, McCarthy’s time as House speaker might have the shelf life of a banana.
The entire incident was ripe for jokes, of which there were plenty. But joking aside, the process leading to McCarthy’s election could have real and serious negative consequences. The debacle already placed U.S. national security in jeopardy, from delaying the appointment of key staffers to preventing members of Congress from receiving necessary daily defense briefings. But those are short-term issues that are now being resolved. More fundamentally, the drawn-out election process is a bad omen for the functioning of the U.S. government, and for the world in general, over the next two years at least.