Opinion: Weak leadership and overt partisanship plague new Speaker Kevin McCarthy

Zachariah Rush, Opinions Writer

Art by Ray Marquez Alarcon / The Runner

Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s longstanding political goal to become Speaker of the House of Representatives came to fruition on Jan. 7, after the longest vote for the speakership since 1859. McCarthy’s inability to effectively whip up votes from the far-right House Freedom Caucus and his outright refusal to cross the aisle for Democratic support hinted at the emergence of similar decisions made during his first month with the gavel. 

McCarthy’s path to the speakership became prominent when the Republican Party won control of the House of Representatives in the 2022 election. Still, the slim ten-vote majority acquired led to a congressional battle within the party at the opening of the 118th Congress.  

The typically procedural vote to name a speaker at the beginning of a new meeting of Congress became a fight between McCarthy and 20 far-right members of the House Freedom Caucus. This was not resolved until a fifteenth ballot—after McCarthy made extensive concessions to the most fringe members of Congress. 

Controversy surrounding falsehoods in Rep. George Santos’ background and political payback in removing three influential Democrats from key congressional committees defined the first month in power for the new Speaker.  

Santos’ controversy began before he was sworn into office, as several scandals became known surrounding the validity of his self-reported schooling, work experience, finances, religion, and background. Although there have been calls for Santos to resign, McCarthy is standing behind the freshman representative. 

According to a Jan. 12 article from CNN, McCarthy said, “The voters of his district have elected him. He is seated. He is part of the Republican conference.” 

McCarthy used his newfound congressional power to remove three influential Democratic lawmakers – Reps. Ilhan Omar, Adam Schiff, and Eric Swalwell – from the powerful House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees. This decision has been viewed as an act of political payback for the removal of As Speaker of the House, McCarthy is the face of the Republican Party, but his struggle to control party members shows his poor leadership. The power conceded to the House Freedom Caucus to acquire the gavel had yet to be agreed to by an incoming speaker in a century.  

McCarthy’s willingness to give up so much of the power that the position offers in order to hold the title he had been chasing since 2016 was an act of desperation and shows the lack of political power he holds compared to previous speakers. 

McCarthy’s absence of power in his new role is exacerbated by the Republican Party’s slim majority, which has led to his continuing support for morally questionable members of his caucus. The ongoing circus of falsehoods from Santos has taken over Capitol Hill. Questions have been raised surrounding the validity of every aspect of his life, including education and career records, the source of campaign finances, his self-reported Jewish background, and statements about his mother’s apparent death during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  

According to a Dec. 29 article from The Washington Post, “it was revealed that he lied about his business experience, education, and family ancestry, Santos is now facing questions about what appear to be conflicting accounts of his mother’s death.” 

Santos has not told the truth about any aspect of his life, and therefore the constituents of New York’s 3rd congressional district elected a fictional character crafted by a conman. He should resign from Congress, and if he refuses, then it is McCarthy’s responsibility as Speaker to actively campaign for his expulsion. 

Removing Democratic lawmakers from influential committees is an overt act of political payback and an egregious misuse of power by the Speaker. Omar, Schiff, and Swalwell are some of the most influential Democrats in the House of Representatives, so McCarthy took this opportunity to get retribution for the removal from committees of far-right Republican members during the 117th Congress.  

McCarthy’s decision to oust leading members of the opposition from positions of power continues his previous refusal to ask for Democratic support seen in the speakership vote debacle. McCarthy has no plans to work across party lines and plans to use every ounce of power he holds to damage the Democratic Party’s credibility ahead of the 2024 Presidential election. 

McCarthy remains extremely popular in his home district, which includes the CSU Bakersfield campus, and has consistently won re-election by over 25% margins. Despite the rocky path to the speakership, McCarthy is supported by many Republican voters.  

According to a Jan. 14 article from The Hill, a poll “showed 59 percent of Republicans approve of McCarthy being elected Speaker.”  

McCarthy’s favorability among Republicans is an example of the increasingly partisan divide that continues to widen in the United States. In addition, the speakership vote circus put McCarthy’s weak leadership on display for the country to see as he proved from day one that he did not have control over his party. In previous years of congressional politics, this would have meant the end of McCarthy’s speakership bid, as was shown during his failed attempt to gain the position in 2016. 

Politics has become a game of team sports where supporters root for the people on their side, no matter the circumstance. No longer are elected representatives held accountable by their party. The continuous array of falsehoods surrounding Santos make him a strong contender for the biggest liar in an occupation historically populated with liars. Still, McCarthy refuses to punish a member of his party for fear of losing a seat in a tight majority. 

The first month of McCarthy’s tenure as Speaker began with controversy not seen in the halls of Congress since 1923. The following weeks of partisan payback and poor leadership from the new Speaker did nothing to show that this controversy would end while he holds the gavel. McCarthy has chased the speakership position for over seven years, but if his first month in power indicates his future in the role, then he is destined for failure.  

McCarthy is the highest-ranking politician to ever rise from the city of Bakersfield, and the people of his hometown deserve to receive the amenities that result from their direct representative leading the lower chamber of the United States Congress. The Speaker should focus less on partisan leadership, and instead on the constituents that directly elected him.