Democrats Have Ousted Their Chance at Political Influence in the House

Though the unanimous vote from Democrats alongside the eight far-right Republicans to oust McCarthy in October was far more unified than the GOP, it may not have been the smartest decision in the long term.

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On October 3, an extremely divided House of Representatives voted to oust then-speaker Kevin McCarthy by a vote of 216 to 210, with eight Republicans voting alongside all 208 Democrats of the House in attendance. This movement was led by hard-line Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, who claimed that he wanted McCarthy out because McCarthy was too willing to strike bipartisan deals, and Gaetz wanted someone with a hardcore conservative ideology. However, McCarthy and Gaetz have held a grudge against each other since an ethical investigation in 2021 in which Gaetz was accused of trafficking and having sexual relations with a 17-year-old girl. McCarthy refused to call off the investigation on Gaetz and believes that Gaetz still harbors resentment. On top of that, Gaetz may be trying to cast himself into the spotlight in anticipation of the upcoming 2026 Florida gubernatorial election. This far-right coalition led by Gaetz is a major part of the disarray of a fundamentally broken Republican party. Over the past few years, the GOP has been trending in a downward spiral of extremist lawmakers fighting for power and recognition among the public. The Republican Party has become a race to see who can do or say the most controversial, front-page opinions to get their fanbase riled up alongside them rather than an actual lawmaking group.

Though the unanimous vote from Democrats alongside the eight far-right Republicans to oust McCarthy in October was far more unified than the GOP, it may not have been the smartest decision in the long term. With McCarthy falling out with fellow Republicans, Democratic lawmakers had the opportunity to seize the moment for themselves and secure a certain level of authority over House decisions. Democrats had the leverage to strike a deal with McCarthy to keep him in return for multiple concessions. As McCarthy would have nobody else to go to, his only options would have been to give in or to be ousted.

While it is possible that McCarthy would have either refused to cooperate with Democrats or made promises but not kept them, McCarthy has a history of cutting deals with other lawmakers for mutual benefit. To win the speakership, McCarthy was forced to make key concessions to hard-right Republican lawmakers, which eventually got him elected on the fifteenth vote, but it may have hurt him in the long run. One of the most important concessions he made was allowing only one Republican House member to challenge the speaker and begin the process of speaker removal. This put McCarthy in a position where if he did anything, such as oppose an influential GOP lawmaker, they had the power to begin a vote to remove him. The right-most lawmakers have been practically erupting their party from the inside to try and gain outsize influence and control over American politics. McCarthy was at the beck and call of the furthest-right House members, and this eventually caused his downfall. When Gaetz began the process to remove McCarthy, and McCarthy could see that he didn’t have the same influence or support among his party as he previously did, he should have gone looking for Democratic support. 

Instead of backing McCarthy and trying to gain power from inside the House, the Democrats just sat back and hoped that Republicans tore themselves up from the inside and relied on voters taking that into account when they vote in 2024. Democrats gave up their upper hand and instead gave Gaetz and the Republicans the power to find their own new speaker, who was very likely to be far more extreme than McCarthy. If McCarthy had instead found himself more strongly backed by Democrats than Republicans, he might have felt a sense of debt to the Democrats keeping him in power. This would have encouraged him to cede some policy-making power to Democrats in exchange for continued support. Even if McCarthy refused to put Democratic policies into action, the Democrats would still have had the option of going along with the Republicans trying to remove him.

However, the Democrats chose to add to the congressional disarray and voted to oust McCarthy, and for the next three weeks, the speakerless House voted for four separate extremist speaker nominees after Republicans Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan, and Tom Emmer had all failed to gain enough votes. During this whole process, Democrats once more failed to make moves and put themselves in an upper-hand position. They had the chance to try and gain enough votes to elect a centrist Republican, for which they would only have needed eight moderate Republican votes. Instead, they continued to sit back and let Republicans nominate four different candidates, each more extreme than the next. Finally, Republican Mike Johnson from Louisiana, a hard-line conservative who opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights, won a unanimous Republican vote to become the new Speaker of the House, and Democrats now have reason to be worried.

Johnson will have an unprecedented amount of power when it comes to controlling American affairs. As an outspoken election denier who was able to get 125 House Republicans to support a lawsuit in Texas attempting to overturn President Biden’s wins in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, it seems likely that he will attempt to overturn the results once more if Biden wins reelection in 2024. It would be challenging for Johnson to succeed in overturning 2024 election results, as he would need a majority in both chambers. However, if Republicans maintain their control of the House and overturn two to three Senate seats in 2024, which is a relatively likely outcome, seeing as 23 of the 34 seats up for election in 2024 are currently held by Democrats or Independents, including three in red states and four in swing states, we could see a serious challenge from election-denying congressional Republicans. 

Already, Johnson has a unanimous Republican House vote under his wing, even while being a known election denier. If he gets through both the House and Senate, the vote would go to a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, whose conservative justices and their spouses have five investigations for ethical violations and corrupt schemes; Kavanaugh has also been previously charged with perjury (punishable by impeachment) and sexual assault. No Democrat wants to rely upon this Supreme Court to save democracy from a coalition of extremist election deniers. If this does end up being an outcome of the 2024 election and the election deniers manage to turn over the results successfully, it would mean that any election result that is disliked by a majority of members of Congress could be overturned, effectively bringing an end to the fundamentals of American democracy.

From where we currently are, it’s almost impossible for normal people to have any sort of effect on what happens, other than just getting out and voting. The only way to stop this extremist coalition would be to win the 2024 election and make them try and overturn it. Otherwise, all we can do is just sit and watch.