April 24, 2024

Now this centuries-old legislative procedure is suddenly must-see TV. How long can it go on? Who will challenge Kevin McCarthy next?

Here are our answers to some of the internet’s most pressing questions.

Could Trump become Speaker?

On Thursday, a vote was cast not for Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, nor for any other member of Congress, but for Donald Trump, the former US president.

Mr Trump has backed Mr McCarthy for Speaker. But that did not stop dissident Florida congressman Matt Gaetz from casting his symbolic protest ballot for the former president. This left many wondering… can they even do that?

Technically, yes. The Speaker can be anyone in the United States.

However, it is highly unlikely. It has never before happened that anyone aside from a sitting member of the House was voted in as Speaker. Anyway, Mr Trump was nowhere near the 218 votes he would need to win.

Who is Byron Donalds?

Mr Donalds and his Democratic counterpart Hakeem Jeffries made history this week in becoming the first black members of Congress ever nominated for the post of Speaker.

Mr Donalds is a Trump supporter, a staunch opponent of abortion and strident advocate of gun ownership.

The father-of-three, who was raised by a single mother, has previously spoken about how he turned his life around after a drugs arrest as a young man.

The 44-year-old congressman, who has served two years in the House, voted against certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory in 2021.

What happens if nobody wins a majority?

No business can be undertaken within the House – not even the swearing in of new members of Congress – until a Speaker has been chosen.

With Mr McCarthy failing to win a majority, members must keep voting until a winner emerges.

Mr McCarthy has vowed to fight on even if he does not win immediately.

And there is no other obvious candidate who could viably challenge for the speakership – so far, no Republican challenger has got more than 20 votes.

What’s the beef between McCarthy and Gaetz?

Matt Gaetz has been one of the leading forces behind the effort to block Mr McCarthy. Like many of the 20 Republican holdouts, some of his objections are political.

The Florida congressman has called for concessions on the way the House of Representatives operates, he’s reportedly lobbied for a chairmanship on the powerful House Armed Services Committee and called for a special, well-funded panel to investigate the FBI and other government agencies.

With Mr Gaetz, however, the objections to Mr McCarthy seem personal. He has sharply condemned the California congressman for already moving into the Speaker’s office, calling him a “squatter” and labelled him “the biggest alligator” in the Washington swamp.

Some of Mr Gaetz’s animus towards the House Republican leader could stem from his feelings that Mr McCarthy did not sufficiently come to his defence when he was the target of a House ethics probe and justice department investigation into allegations of sex trafficking – an investigation that was dropped last year.

Who is House Clerk Cheryl Johnson?

Ms Johnson, the 117th US House Clerk who has led these proceedings, has become an unlikely celebrity in the political drama paralysing the House. In the House this week, some members have accidentally called her Madam Speaker, instead of Madam Clerk.

Ms Johnson, a New Orleans native with a law degree, was first named clerk in 2018 by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The nomination followed two decades in the House, working as an aide to both Democrats and Republicans.

The little-known position is elected by lawmakers every two years when the House gathers for a new Congress. The job is mostly administrative, with duties like certifying the passage of all bills and resolutions by the chamber.

There are history-making moments too: Ms Johnson was twice tasked with hand-delivering articles of impeachment against Mr Trump.

What does the Speaker do?

If used effectively, the position of Speaker of the House is one of the most powerful in Washington.

Depending on the partisan makeup of Congress, the Speaker can make or break a US president’s agenda, hinder the opposition and spearhead their party’s biggest legislative initiatives.

The Speaker is both traditionally and historically a sitting member of the majority party in the House. But this is not a constitutional requirement.

The Speaker has near-total control over the chamber. They set the House’s legislative agenda, control committee assignments, set the vote and work calendar, and are responsible for keeping their party members unified behind major initiatives.

How is the Speaker elected?

The Speaker of the House is elected by simple majority of the voting members of the House. In this case, that means the Speaker must get 218 votes, or half (plus one) of the 435 elected members of the House.

Although the House has had electronic voting since 1973, the Speaker ballot is traditionally done by roll call. Each representative is called by name, and they say who they are voting for out loud. Votes are then tallied by the House clerk.

Technically, you only need the support of half of the elected members who vote for a candidate by name to succeed. What this means is a Speaker could be elected with fewer than half of the total members if some of them do not show up to vote or they abstain (by calling “present”, rather than the name of a candidate).

A few Republicans have voted “present” so far, making it slightly easier for Mr McCarthy to get a majority – but not enough to make a real difference.


Source bbc.com

By Marianna Brady & Robin Levinson-King

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