Why this former Paul Ryan aide fears House speaker vote could become a 'fight unprecedented in modern times'

Why this former Paul Ryan aide fears House speaker vote could become a 'fight unprecedented in modern times'
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On Tuesday, January 3, 2023, a new Republican majority will take over the U.S. House of Representatives. Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York has already been chosen as House minority leader, but it remains to be seen which Republican will become House speaker. Although Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California is hoping to be chosen for that position, a group of far-right MAGA Republicans dubbed the “Never Kevin” caucus has so far refused to support him.

In a guest op-ed/essay published by the New York Times on January 2, conservative communications consultant Brendan Buck emphasizes that if McCarthy fails in his bid to become House speaker, it will be an historic event. Buck has a lot of experience with House Republicans, having worked as a communications aide for the last two Republican House speakers: John Boehner and Paul Ryan.

“Opening day in the House of Representatives is typically marked by the usual pageantry and the fleeting promise that this Congress will work better than the last,” Buck explains. “That hope could be immediately dashed this year if the House fails to elect a speaker on the first ballot and descends into a floor fight unprecedented in modern times. A small band of Republican misfits has vowed to vote against Kevin McCarthy, the party’s nominee for speaker. With a razor-thin majority, just five Republicans voting against him could deny Mr. McCarthy the gavel. This would be no small event. The House last failed to elect a speaker on the first ballot in 1923, and it’s only happened once since the Civil War.”

READ MORE:Kevin McCarthy supporters 'strike back' against far-right 'Never Kevin' Republicans: report

Far-right “Never Kevin” Republicans who believe that McCarthy isn’t MAGA enough range from Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado to Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona to Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. But one far-right MAGA Republican who is supporting McCarthy is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. And there has been considerable tension between Greene and Boebert over McCarthy.

Buck argues that if the process of choosing a House speaker is allowed to “unravel into chaos” on January 3, it will “diminish the entire body and destroy Americans’ confidence in the new Congress.”

“A failed vote would badly weaken Mr. McCarthy or whoever the new speaker will be,” Buck writes. “The House is a majoritarian institution, and a speaker’s power is ultimately derived from the ability to produce the 218 minimum votes needed to do business. If Republicans are unable to muster the votes for a speaker, it will make very clear from the outset they cannot be counted on to fulfill the body’s basic responsibilities, such as funding the government and preventing a credit default by lifting the debt ceiling, both of which will be required this year.”

The communications consultant adds, “Should Mr. McCarthy come up short on the first ballot, it could take several more votes — and days — until we have a new speaker. But no matter who emerges as the top House Republican, the prolonged spectacle would leave the Republican majority hopelessly damaged from the start, along with the institution of the House itself.”

READ MORE: Republicans withholding speakership support from Kevin McCarthy cite 'past and ongoing GOP failures'

Buck points out that the House “cannot function until a speaker is elected and sworn in,” adding that “the immediate order of business” if McCarthy fails on a first vote “would be to simply vote again.”

“The last time the first vote failed, 100 years ago, it required nine ballots over three days to name a speaker,” Buck notes. “In 1856, the speakership wasn’t resolved until the 133rd ballot…. The dissident (House) members believe a weak speaker would make them more powerful. In truth, it would benefit no one.”

READ MORE: 'We’re on defense': Mitch McConnell juggles priorities after getting 'blindsided' by Kevin McCarthy

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