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Math and History of the Speaker’s Election

By Congressman Tom McClintock

Two irresistible forces are converging to create the impasse over the election of a House speaker. One is simple math. The other is the weight of history.

Republicans are only in the majority if they vote as a majority. In a House divided between 222 Republicans and 212 Democrats, any five Republican dissidents can forfeit that majority at any time and on any issue.

The single most important issue is the election of the Speaker, which determines the agenda of the entire House. The Republican majority met in November and voted 188 to 31 for Kevin McCarthy. That is an 85 percent blow-out. But under the new doctrine propounded by the dissidents, no Republican can be elected Speaker of the House without receiving 98 percent of the Republican vote. That is a practical impossibility.

Ironically, the dissidents are conservatives. Yet out of 222 members, it would not be hard to find five of the most liberal Republicans who would be willing, for the reward of the Speakers office and all its prerogatives, to enter into a power-sharing arrangement with the Democrats. It happened in California in 1995 and is already being discussed openly here.

Churchill once said that “Democracy is the occasional necessity of deferring to the opinions of others.” Never has that been more necessary than in the question of electing a speaker.

And that brings us to the weight of history bearing down on us. The fate of Rome warns that even the strongest civilizations cannot survive the debasement of their currency, the disintegration of their constitutional principles and the collapse of their borders. Like it or not, despite our imperfections and peccadillos, the 222 House Republicans are all that stand between our country and such a fate. The momentous question the dissenters must face is whether they are willing to forfeit the Republican majority and guarantee another two years down the road we are on.

Is McCarthy conservative enough? A legislative leader is not a free agent. A legislative leader must represent the entire membership of their party. They can never be as conservative as conservatives would like or as liberal as liberals would like. There is a limit to how far a legislative leader can push his caucus. But while John Boehner and Paul Ryan almost always pushed the conference to the left –

McCarthy has always tried to push the conference to the right. While Paul Ryan worked to actively undermine the policies of the Trump Administration, Kevin McCarthy always backed them. And whatever you think about Trump personally, his policies worked.

Within the Republican conference, House Republicans must heed Lincoln’s plea that “We are friends, not enemies. We must never be enemies.” We need to avoid harsh words and threats and recriminations among ourselves. That is an indulgence we cannot afford.

And outside the Republican conference, we cannot succumb to the temptation of disunity. We should treat our deliberations with the same sobriety and seriousness as the American Founders did the Constitutional Convention. Once the passionate differences among the Founders were hashed out, Benjamin Franklin’s concluded their proceedings with these words, “I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections, would with me, doubt a little of his own infallibility and to make manifest our unanimity.”