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Voting out of US House Speaker

Kevin McCarthy

A look at whys, whats and hows

Khawar Ayub

For the first time in its 234-year history, the US House of Representatives, voted out its speaker Kevin McCarthy, after a resolution “to vacate the office of the speaker” was approved with a 216-210 vote, setting the stage for an unprecedented contest to replace McCarthy a year before the presidential election. Since the House is almost evenly divided, Democrats joined eight rebel Republicans – many of the same hard-right holdouts who tried to stop him from becoming speaker. The group was led by McCarthy’s chief rival, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who has been critical of the debt deal McCarthy had made with President Joe Biden and of the vote to prevent a government shutdown, which conservatives opposed as they demanded steeper spending cuts.
Removing the speaker launches the House Republicans into chaos heading into a busy fall when Congress will need to fund the government again or risk a mid-November shutdown.
What is the Speaker of the House?
The US Constitution established the role of the Speaker of the House, which oversees the lower chamber of Congress. The Speaker is both traditionally and historically a sitting member of the majority party, though this is not a constitutional requirement.
Therefore, in addition to leading the House of Representatives, they are also leader of the majority party in the chamber.
At a practical level, the Speaker sets the House’s legislative agenda, controls committee assignments, sets the vote and work calendar, and is responsible for keeping their party members unified behind major initiatives.
How is a Speaker chosen?
The House of Representatives functions on a two-year cycle, known as a “session.” The Speaker, whose leadership of the House is mandated under Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution, is elected at the beginning of a new Congress by a majority of the lawmakers in the chamber. The chamber must continue to hold votes until a Speaker is elected because without that person in place, the chamber cannot move on to any other function, including swearing-in members.
The vote for Speaker requires a candidate to receive the support of a majority of the House – 218 votes. The existing leader of the majority party is usually presumed to be the person to assume the speakership.
Why is the Speaker of the House so important?
Wielded effectively, the position of Speaker of the House is one of the most powerful in Washington. Depending on the partisan makeup of Congress, they can make or break a US President’s agenda, stymie opposition and spearhead their party’s biggest legislative initiatives.
A shrewd and effective Speaker will be able to marshal House members behind his/her party’s agenda, and control rebellious lawmakers by doling out incentives or punishments.
What does the Speaker do?
The Speaker of the House is one of the most powerful figures in American politics and is second in line for the presidency, following the Vice-President, in the event of the President being incapable of continuing in office. The Speaker fills three primary roles.
First, (s)he the most visible and authoritative spokesperson for the majority party in the House. The Speaker articulates an agenda and explains legislative action to other Washington officials as well as the public. S(he) oversees House committee assignments and collaborates with the powerful House Rules Committee to structure floor debate.
Second, the Speaker manages business on the floor and navigates legislative rules, structuring House debate in a way that will advantage their legislative priorities. Adherence to strict rules and procedures is necessary to overcome the difficulty of managing a large legislative body like the House of Representatives.
Third, the Speaker oversees everything from accounting to procurement for the House.
While the Speaker sets the overall legislative agenda in the House, it is the House majority leader who schedules specific bills to debated and voted upon in the chamber.
Who can run for Speaker?
Under the US Constitution, the House speaker does not have to be a member of Congress. That is the reason some Republicans have floated the name of former President Donald Trump for the job, even though he is running for President and has said he does not want the job.

The writer is a Sanghar-based educationist.

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