LEWISBURG, Pa. — Kevin McCarthy was ousted as Speaker of the House by a historic vote Tuesday, which also signified the historic level of dysfunction on Capitol Hill. According to Bucknell University Professor Scott Meinke, political science, the nation has had narrow House majorities and divided parties before, but a divided party with a narrow majority this time led to unprecedented upheaval.
“Part of the reason is that incentives for some Republicans have shifted. Leaders can work with members’ differing policy and reelection needs, but it is a lot tougher to manage a group of members whose goals seem to be about separating themselves from the party for public attention,” says Meinke, author of The Origins and Consequences of Congressional Party Election Agendas (Cambridge University Press, 2023) whose research has focused on House party organizations and participation. “Another factor is that Kevin McCarthy agreed to a series of changes as part of the bargain to become speaker — those changes made it harder for him to lead the Republicans, and one of them even made it easier for his opponents to remove him.”
So what’s next? Meinke sees Republicans taking some time for negotiating over who can take on this tough job, and they have a little breathing room.
“Unlike in January when the House couldn’t function until a speaker was elected, there is now a speaker pro tempore, Patrick McHenry, who can continue under the rules indefinitely,” he says. “There are some figures in the Republican conference like Majority Leader Steve Scalise who might get broad support without attracting so much ire from the far right.”
But to be successful in the Speaker’s role, Meinke says any Republican is going to have to find a way to either work with or work around the set of members who are pursuing their own goals at the expense of the rest of their party. “That’s probably not a task that very many Republicans are eager to take on — especially since the struggles over passing spending bills that led to McCarthy’s ouster are far from over.”