With the US Struggle for House Speaker, Will a Crisis in the Taiwan Strait Reemerge?

The third day of the new year began the 118th session of the United States Congress. However, because no candidate for House speaker received the necessary 218 votes after three rounds of voting, Congress was unable to begin work smoothly.

Last November after the midterms, the Republican Party came out ahead, capturing 222 House seats and becoming the majority party. The Democratic Party, formerly the majority, won 213 seats and became the minority. Based on this, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stepped down, to be replaced by a Republican.

After the midterms, many domestic political commentators thought House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy might be able to win the speaker seat. Some political analysts in Taiwan worried that once McCarthy became speaker, tensions in the Taiwan Strait would rise again.

McCarthy openly supported Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and said that if he became speaker, he would be happy to visit Taiwan too. Toward the end of November, John Kirby, representative of the White House National Security Council, said that if the new House speaker wished to visit Taiwan, the U.S. government would not obstruct them.

On Nov. 24, the Foreign and National Defense Committee of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan invited Chen Ming-tong, the director-general of the National Security Bureau; Joseph Wu, the minister of Foreign Affairs; and Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, to report and answer questions. Jang Chyi-lu, People’s Party legislator, asked Chen about his initial assessment of whether McCarthy would visit Taiwan, to which Chen answered that McCarthy declared that he would, if he were elected speaker. However, whether McCarthy will visit Taiwan remains something that “both Taiwan and the U.S. must discuss.”

Three Republican members of the 118th U.S. Congress have been nominated for speaker. California Rep. McCarthy, former House minority leader, was nominated in three rounds of voting, receiving 203 votes in the first and second but losing one vote in the third round. Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs was nominated in the first round, but received only 10 votes. In the second and third rounds, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan respectively received 19 and 20 votes, even though he expressed no interest in the position.

Will McCarthy become speaker?* If he does, will he visit Taiwan? Will President Tsai Ing-wen and the ruling party plan to invite him to boost their campaign for the presidential election next year?

Currently, the fight for House speaker is at a stalemate.* McCarthy’s three losses have increased the uncertainty that he will become speaker. In the three rounds of voting, he fell short of the 218 vote threshold needed by 15 to 16 votes. Still, despite three defeats, he resolutely declared he would not withdraw from the race. He also said that he is closer to being elected and only needs to win over 11 more votes. Moreover, former President Donald Trump also reiterated his support for McCarthy as House speaker.

American mainstream media is reporting that this fight for House speaker is the contest of the century. In 1923, the House voted nine times before they were able to elect a new speaker. Now, since a new speaker has yet to be picked, newly elected members cannot take the oath of office, and Congress cannot operate.

It is worth noting that in the U.S. Congress, the speaker does not necessarily require the majority of votes to get elected, but needs only 218. If representatives do not vote or vote present, the speaker can win will fewer than half of the votes. Former Speaker Pelosi was elected with only 216 votes. Nevertheless, analysts believe the longer the election is drawn out, the less beneficial it will be for McCarthy.

The struggle for House speaker is a domestic matter for the U.S., and Taiwan has no room to meddle in it. However, from the perspective of a potential crisis reemerging in the Taiwan Strait, McCarthy losing the election might not be a bad thing.*

*Editor’s Note: On Jan. 7, 2023, Kevin McCarthy was elected House speaker.

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