February 6, 2023

GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California became speaker of the House last week, in large part by agreeing to new rules that will give more power to the rank and file but weaken his position.

The wrangling, which put internal GOP divisions on full display, contrasts starkly with the tight ship run by former Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi. For many, the disorder has fueled concerns that the House is headed for two years of dysfunction – including a possible government shutdown and a debt ceiling standoff that could potentially damage the U.S. economy. 

Why We Wrote This

Some House Republicans contend that a weak speaker is a good thing – giving members more say on legislation. But there’s a fine line between a more democratic process and dysfunction.

But a number of Republicans say the impassioned negotiations have in fact opened the way for the House to be run more democratically. That may look messy, but it will allow more representatives to shape legislation and investigations – including by restoring more power to committees. And that’s a win for the American people, they argue. 

“It really is about institutional change,” said freshman Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, who was among the Republican holdouts. “Had we not had these discussions, this wouldn’t be possible.”

Whether Speaker McCarthy is able to get better results remains to be seen. The first test will come with tonight’s vote on the rules package outlining how the GOP will run the House.

GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California became Speaker of the House last week, in large part by agreeing to new rules that will give more power to the rank and file, while weakening his own position. 

The wrangling, which put internal GOP divisions on full display, contrasts starkly with the tight ship run by former Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi. For many, the disorder has fueled concerns that the House is headed for two years of dysfunction – including a possible government shutdown and a debt ceiling standoff that could potentially damage the U.S. economy. Democratic Rep. Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts quipped to ABC’s Boston affiliate that Mr. McCarthy “put the inmates in charge of the asylum and he’s put himself in a straitjacket.”

But a number of Republicans contend that the impassioned negotiations have in fact opened the way for the House to be run more democratically. That may look messy at times, but ultimately it will allow more members to shape the laws that come out of Congress – and that’s a win for the American people, they argue. 

Why We Wrote This

Some House Republicans contend that a weak speaker is a good thing – giving members more say on legislation. But there’s a fine line between a more democratic process and dysfunction.

“What all of us have been witnessing in Pelosi’s House has been one person dictating everything. … Those days are over, and that’s a good thing,” says Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican on the powerful Appropriations Committee. “Dictatorships are more efficient,” he continues, but with democracy, “you get much better results.”

Whether Speaker McCarthy is indeed able to get better results remains to be seen. The first test will be a vote tonight on the rules package that will outline how the GOP will run the House. Amid rising polarization in recent years, previous speakers – both Democrats and Republicans – have also promised a more democratic style of governance only to backpedal quickly when some members took advantage of the opportunity to throw sand in the gears. 


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