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UPDATE: On Wednesday, October 25, Louisiana Representative Mike Johnson was elected Speaker of the House, ending the unprecedented three-week stretch without a leader in the U.S. House of Representatives.
I figured at this point it would be old news, but somehow a new Speaker of the House still has not been chosen after a full three weeks of deliberation. So that makes the news current (if not a little tired), and unfortunately, we still must talk about it because of its implication for a number of policy issues like the Farm Bill, which expired September 30 without reauthorization, and international concerns like wars in Ukraine and Palestine.
The news also represents a rift in the Republican Party that’s been building since 2020, which could spell trouble for Republicans in next year’s presidential election.
Here’s a quick-fire summary of the past month on Capitol Hill: the government almost shutdown but didn’t (Congress passed a temporary extension on the annual budget that goes until November 17), the Farm Bill expired (and probably won’t be reauthorized for several months), and Kevin McCarthy, former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, was ousted in a 216-210 vote. The eight House Republicans who voted against McCarthy cited his passage of the federal budget extension as the final straw.
Since then, the House has voted three times to elect a new Speaker. As of October 24, it has yet to choose a new one.
With the House effectively frozen, matters like the Farm Bill and the soon-to-expire spending extension can’t move forward. This is problematic for a variety of reasons; namely, essential programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program could lose funding. In late September, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack warned of a “rural fallout” if this were to happen (rural people rely on SNAP and many other benefits from the annual federal budget and the Farm Bill). Three weeks later, this fallout remains a threat.
Israeli forces striking against Palestine after an attack by the Palestinian resistance group Hamas in early October are relying on U.S. funding to retaliate, support that could be interrupted by the dysfunction in the House (although the majority of Americans support a ceasefire to stop thousands of Palestinian civilian deaths, according to a Data for Progress poll). Aid to Ukraine amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict could also be halted by the neverending Speaker vote.
What’s notable about all of this chaos is that it’s being driven by a level of internal conflict that has not been seen within the Republican party in many years.
September’s almost-government shutdown was due to the foot-dragging of a handful of Republicans unwilling to compromise on the 2024 federal budget, and now the Speaker of the House debacle is once again due to Republican disagreements. This marks a departure from the state of the Republican Party just five years ago, when most backed former-President Donald Trump and were unified in their goal to maintain control of Congress. Now, with their former leader facing over 90 felony counts in four criminal cases, Republicans seem to have fallen out of unity (despite Trump’s position as the Republican front-runner for the 2024 presidential election).
Democrats, on the other hand, are more unified than they have been in years, controlling both the Senate and the presidency. Most Democrats are backing President Joe Biden, who is the Democratic front-runner for next year’s presidential election. Republicans certainly aren’t helping themselves with the drawn-out negotiations over Speaker of the House, and this “endless loop of chaos…threatens to define the party’s brand heading into [the 2024 presidential] election,” wrote Lisa Lerer and Michael C. Bender in the New York Times. A threat indeed, and one we’ll see unfold sooner than we’re probably all ready for – the first Republican and Democratic presidential caucuses begin in Iowa on January 15, 2024.