Two years after a coup attempt, the Republican Party is still held hostage by Donald Trump, writes Yle’s U.S. correspondent Iida Tikka.
Friday night’s vote for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was packed with wild moments that burned into the retinas of Americans watching the circus.
The look on Kevin McCarthy’s face when the Republican leader lost the 14th vote. A Republican representative lunging angrily at Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz when he theatrically voted “present,” causing McCarthy’s victory to fall one vote short.
But the most evocative moment was captured by photographer Chip Somodevilla. Between votes, Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the representatives supporting McCarthy, passed her phone to an anti-McCarthy rebel. The call is in progress on the screen of her smartphone, and the caller is “DT” — that is, Donald Trump.
Exactly two years earlier, the House of Representatives was similarly assembled to finalize a late-night vote. Trump’s orchestrated coup attempt was a failure, and Congress certified the result of the presidential election.
Yet Trump’s influence was still present in this latest vote too. And thanks to McCarthy’s concessions, the Republican Party is back in the former president’s good graces.
As a result, McCarthy is becoming one of the weakest, and possibly most stressed, speakers in the history of the House of Representatives.
The price is high. Not just for McCarthy, but also for the U.S.: At worst, the consequences of the concessions made in the House of Representatives will once again erode the separation of powers in a freewheeling U.S. democracy.
During the week of repeated voting, a group of 20 rebels emerged from within the Republican Party and made a series of demands to Kevin McCarthy in return for their votes.
Ignoring Trump’s admonitions, the rebel bloc voted against McCarthy until they got their way. The demands embodied classic Trumpism.
The Republicans on the extreme right wanted, among other things, the possibility of holding a vote of no confidence in the speaker of the House on the initiative of one representative. In the future, McCarthy will have to walk a very fine line to avoid angering anyone in the House of Representatives — or Mar-a-Lago — or the same circus will start all over again. A bit like during Trump’s presidency, when one secretary and aide after another got the boot.
The rebels also wanted more control over how and which laws are voted on in the House of Representatives and persuaded McCarthy to give this concession as well. McCarthy also promised radical representatives significant committee seats.
McCarthy also agreed to the group’s demands related to the national budget and raising the debt ceiling. The proposals are intended to increase oversight over the use of government funds, but in a radicalized Congress they primarily raise concerns about the kind of budget impasse that could occur over the next two years.
Power is concentrated, with less room for compromise. Moreover, the functioning of the entire country is at risk because of one bureaucratic-sounding measure.
McCarthy gave in on Friday and agreed to reinstate the Holman Rule. Under this rule, the House of Representatives can call for the dismissal or pay cut of certain federal employees.
Normally, Congress only has the power to cut the budget of certain agencies — not to decide how an agency uses its money. Going forward, the House of Representatives can politicize the activities of government agencies if it wishes.
If, for example, radical Republicans don’t want the FBI to investigate the far right or the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate large-scale toxic chemical releases, it’s theoretically possible that they could launch precision attacks against specific units of these agencies.
Legislative power lies with Congress, now gridlocked by extreme Republicans. The power to interpret the law is in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is already politicized. The power to enforce the law lies with the executive branch, which will now have to hold its breath.
Democrats watched the Republican turmoil, and McCarthy’s repeated defeats on the floor of the House, with some bemusement.
After numerous election losses, it’s clear that Trumpism does not have majority support in the U.S. But yet again, Trump gets the last laugh.