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House to Vote on New Speaker -- Why Not an Independent?

congress
Created: 03 October, 2023
5 min read

Photo Credit: Louis Velazquez on Unsplash

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to oust US Rep Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker. It is the first time a speaker has been removed by a House resolution brought forth by a member to remove them.

The question now is, who will replace him? It is conceivable that we could see a repeat of the last Speaker vote, in which it took McCarthy 15 ballots to take the gavel.

The House could avoid a drawn-out partisan fight if they wanted and elect an independent capable of forming “across-the-aisle” coalitions to identify and advance lasting solutions to the nation’s biggest issues.

It won’t happen, but what many voters may not know is it is possible – and it doesn’t even need to be a sitting member of the US House.

Veteran IVN political analyst and former presidential candidate TJ O’Hara pointed out in 2014 that Article I, Section 5, Clause 5 of the US Constitution states: “The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker.” That’s it.

The only constitutional requirement is that members of the House choose an eligible citizen to be Speaker -- and eligibility is not conditioned on being an elected representative. The speaker simply needs a majority vote in the chamber.

O’Hara also noted that “the Constitution is silent with respect to how the Speaker’s role is to be performed. The position is governed by tradition rather than rules.”

The power of the Speaker, as discussed by IVN author David Yee, comes from the factions that are responsible for electing them. This generally means the Speaker, whether it is a Republican or Democrat, is beholden to the establishment of their own party.

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But if an independent, non-member was elected as Speaker by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, they would be free of the type of party loyalty that has prevented Congress and the rest of the government from getting anything meaningful accomplished for the American people.

How Did We Get Here?

Here is a quick recap of what lead to McCarthy being removed from his position:

Republican US Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida offered a motion on Monday to vacate the Speaker’s chair. He was backed by a group of dissatisfied Republicans, most recently angered by McCarthy’s support of a stopgap motion to prevent a government shutdown. 

While McCarthy tweeted for them to “bring it on,” the move represented a serious threat to his speakership. US Rep Bob Good (R), who supported Gaetz’s motion, said the House needed “a speaker, who will fight something, anything besides just staying or becoming speaker.”

Meanwhile, House Rules Chair Tom Cole said Gaetz and the group of Republicans backing him were “willing to plunge this body into chaos and this country into uncertainty for reasons that only they understand.”

McCarthy got no support from Democrats. An effort to table Gaetz’s motion failed as Gaetz and his 10 Republican allies were joined by 207 Democrats to move forward on a House vote to remove the speaker.

It all came down to the margins. Only 8 Republicans were needed to remove McCarthy as Democrats united behind the prospect of removing the GOP leader. The interesting thing is: Just as McCarthy needed Democratic support to avoid a shutdown, Gaetz needed Democratic support to vacate his seat.

The final vote was 216-210 to remove McCarthy. Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina was appointed speaker pro tempore until a majority vote elects a new speaker. The speaker pro tempore has limited authority and can only adjourn or recess the chamber or take Speaker nomination.

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With no clear favorite in the majority party, it is unclear how long or how many ballots it will take to elect a new Speaker of the House.

What It Would Mean to Have an Independent Speaker

The US political process is defined by the “us vs them” struggle for power between the Republican and Democratic Parties, and the fight over who will be the next Speaker is not likely to look any different.

The group of Republicans responsible for McCarthy’s removal want a speaker who will serve the interests of the party and will not work with the other side under any circumstances. But many Democrats want the same for their own speaker.

The party has to come first – which is why the country is where it is at today. Politics is not defined by what is best for voters. It is defined by what benefits the private political corporations in power.

The next speaker vote is not likely to change the status quo, but voters need to know that it doesn’t have to be this way. There are means by which the political environment can be shifted in a way that favors voters and long-standing solutions to the myriad of the US’s problems. 

O’Hara posed some interesting questions to consider if an independent Speaker were elected:

“What if an independent Speaker were to establish nonpartisan rules with respect to how bills reach the floor; rules based upon the alignment of legislation with the best interests of the People rather than the best interests of a Party?”

“What if an independent Speaker were to personally preside over all meaningful debates to assure that the issues were fully and fairly vetted?”

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“What if an independent Speaker were to make all committee and staff appointments within his or her control on a basis of merit and integrity rather than strict Party affiliation and seniority?

“What if an independent Speaker were to use his or her position to demonstrate transparency and bipartisan accord in an effort to establish a standard against which the Senate and Executive Branch could be publicly measured?”

There is no clear indication of who the next Speaker of the House will be, but it is within voters’ power to contact their representative and tell them to support a nominee that will put solutions ahead of partisan politics. 

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