WASHINGTON – Rest easy, America ... we got this. What others see as dysfunction and chaos, many of Rep. Kevin McCarthy's opponents see as democracy at work.
Some of the roughly 20 Republicans declining to vote for McCarthy as the next House speaker are reveling in the moment, depicting their intransigence as a historic chance to correct the balance of power in Washington and give rank-and-file members more say in shaping legislation.
And while most House members are frustrated with the repeating ballots for speaker, fearing what it may portend for the next two years of Republican control, the lawmakers opposing McCarthy show no signs of giving up. In fact, they appear to be enjoying themselves.
“This is actually, a really beautiful thing," said Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., one of those opposing McCarthy, as the House prepared Thursday to take its ninth vote on who should be the chamber's next speaker.
Boebert said the action on the House floor was the most debate she's seen in her two years in Congress, “and I love it."
Moments earlier, Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., shared her enthusiasm.
“We have had more discussion and debate over the last three days than I have participated in on this floor for the past two years," Rosendale said. “And it's healthy. It absolutely promotes the collegiality that everyone is striving to obtain."
But the vast majority of members-elect — they still can't take the oath of office — are ready to move on. For them, this week's logjam in the House is preventing the chamber from focusing on the kind of kitchen table issues that voters sent them to Washington to solve. Many fear it could be the start of a new normal filled with gridlock and failure to get bills passed.
Republicans who served in the military gathered Wednesday to voice their frustrations. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said there are a variety of missions some of the veterans serving in Congress want to accomplish, from cutting the flow of fentanyl to cutting spending.
“I don't think that the American people care about any of the so-called missions happening this week — rules changes, who gets more power, who serves on what committee. I can't think of one American who gives a damn about any of that," Crenshaw said.
Republicans expected to lead House committees focused on defense and homeland security issued a joint statement saying the impasse was harming national security.
“The Biden administration is going unchecked and there is no oversight of the White House, State Department, Department of Defense, or the intelligence community. We cannot let personal politics place the safety and security of the United States at risk," said the statement from Republican Reps. Michael McCaul of Texas, Mike Rogers of Alabama and Mike Turner of Ohio.
And that was just from the Republican side. Democratic lawmakers were just as unsparing.
“First time in 100 years that there is no Congress because of ambition, or power grabs, or dysfunction,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who will be the chamber’s top-ranking Democrat. “This is not a partisan criticism. Understand this. It’s embarrassing. It’s dysfunction. It’s dangerous. It’s stupid. Those are words that Republican have used to describe what’s going on in the House Republican conference right now.”
McCarthy's opponents are taking the criticism in stride. They keep finding different people to float for speaker as they enthusiastically force one vote after another.
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., said his message to constituents is this: “If you think the challenges to America are maybe even existential, are really bad, this is exactly what you should want to see happen."
The House will be back at it Friday, with Republicans trying to elect their new speaker.
McCarthy's struggle marks the first time in 100 years that no nominee for House speaker could win the gavel on the first vote. Back in 1923, members of the Republican Party's progressive wing agreed to vote for Rep. Frederick Gillett of Massachusetts on the 9th ballot only after GOP leaders agreed to accept various procedural reforms those members favored.
Few seem to have enjoyed this week’s battles over legislative process more than Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. He said the House is working just as it should, pointing to the success that some Republicans had a century ago in generating rule changes through fights over the speakership.
“The idea that we're having multiple rounds of votes on the speaker, it was commonplace in the 19th century," Roy said.
Roy has long complained that lawmakers don't have the chance to amend bills on the House floor, which often leaves them with the choice of voting yes or no on a product put together by a select few legislative leaders. He said changes being sought by the McCarthy holdouts are “all about tools of empowerment” for the rank-and-file in Congress.
“I am open to whatever will give me the power to defend my constituents against this God-forsaken city,” Roy said.
The House Freedom Caucus, which generally is made up of the GOP's most conservative members, has proposed that all legislation on the floor be open to amendment votes. That would dramatically slow the legislative process, possibly requiring the House to spend days or weeks focused on a bill.
The group has demanded that, if amendments are limited to some degree, that any Republican amendment supported by at least 10% of the Republican conference be allowed to be debated and voted upon.
McCarthy opponents also want to restore a House rule that would allow any member to offer a “motion to vacate the chair," a procedure that forces a vote on whether to remove the speaker. They say it promotes accountability. McCarthy, seeking support from some conservatives, countered with a proposal that would allow such a vote with the support of five members.
The low threshold is troubling for some. Giving one lawmaker the power to force a vote on removing the speaker could become a common occurrence, predicted Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.
“How would you like to do this every week?" Bacon said, referring to the voting drama on the House floor. “I think that's the future with a few of these individuals."