After six ballots, California Republican Kevin McCarthy is no closer to his goal of becoming the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives than he was when voting started.
If anything, he’s just a little further away. On Wednesday one member who had given him her support, Indiana Republican Victoria Spartz — who aspires to the nomination for the U.S. senate seat now held by GOPer Mike Braun — switched her vote to “present.”
As negotiations seeking to find ways to bridge the gap between those who back McCarthy and the collection of members becoming known as the “Never Kevin Caucus” continued, hopes were high Thursday before balloting began that some defections to McCarthy’s side might be possible.
McCarthy has reportedly said he’s willing to drop the threshold of members needed to offer a motion to vacate the chair — the American version of the “vote of no confidence” used to bring down governments in Britain that have lost the support of a majority of Parliament — from five to one.
That’s a major concession that, at least in theory, weakens the power of the speaker. Which, after all, is the admitted goal of several of the most vocal and most visible members of the anti-McCarthy block.
House members committed to McCarthy would be wise to consider, tactically and strategically, the merits of such a move — perhaps by studying the reforms enacted at the insistence of the freshman who came crashing onto Capitol Hill in huge numbers after the 1974 election.
The Watergate class, as they became known, came into office intent on making big changes, and not just to the presidency. They had it in mind to remake the Congress as well, breaking the power of the speaker and the elected leadership so that more members had more of a say in what went on.
This ultimately led to what political scientist Christopher Deering (under whom I studied at The George Washington University) termed in his book “Committees in Congress“ the era of government by subcommittee.
These new members forced changes within the Democratic Caucus that shifted power from the elected leadership and committee chairmen to the subcommittees and their leaders.
It created a system that was diffuse, open, and one in which members were free to pursue their individual interests rather than remain focused on what leadership — meaning the speaker and the majority leader — decided was important.
It lasted from the mid-70s until 1995 when the first in 40 years GOP-majority led by Speaker Newt Gingrich and Majority Leader Dick Armey pulled the authority over the legislative agenda back into the inner circle to fulfill the promises made in the Contract with America.
While there are a few members on the back bench who will never vote for McCarthy, the ones who say as a matter of principle they want the rank and file to have more influence on the business of the House might do well to consider the -re-empowerment of the subcommittees as their major ask.
It’s something to which McCarthy and his allies — if they are smart — can and should agree.
It’s the kind of reform that gives publicity-seeking status seekers the platform they crave while pushing the chamber back toward the kind of “regular order” most members say they want and which former GOP congressional leaders like Armey say is vital to the success of the party and the long-term health of the institution.
A former UPI senior political writer and U.S. News and World Report columnist, Peter Roff is a senior fellow at several public policy organizations including the Trans-Atlantic Leadership Network. Contact him at RoffColumns AT gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter and TruthSocial @TheRoffDraft.
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