Faculty, students react to the Speakership crisis

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s 2023 Annual Leadership Summit at the Venetian Convention & Expo Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 28, 2023 – Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

This past October 3, the House of Representatives voted to oust Representative Kevin McCarthy from the speakership, leaving the House speakerless amidst a time of political strife.

The ouster, led by Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida, is unprecedented. Eight far-right Republicans broke away from their party to join Democrats to strip McCarthy of the speakership in a 216-210 vote.

Because of the Constitution, the House of Representatives is unable to pass or vote on legislation without a Speaker of the House, meaning that the government is locked down until a new speaker is elected.

“I can’t say that I am the biggest fan of Kevin McCarthy,” History Department Chair Ms. Hannah Turlish said. “However, I do think the ouster was a very foolish decision for those few far-right Republicans who led the charge to get rid of him.”

For three weeks, the Republican conference struggled to settle on an individual to unite around. 

“We are facing an unusual and very specific dynamic in the House of Representatives right now,” History teacher Mr. Timothy Lengel said. “The majority party has two problems. They are a very slim majority, and as a group, they are a particularly fractious conference.” 

The Republican conference held multiple closed-door elections to choose a nominee for the speakership. The first nominee was Majority Leader Steve Scalise.

“The majority party has two problems. They are a very slim majority, and as a group, they are a particularly fractious conference.” 

Mr. Timothy Lengal

However, sixteen Republican representatives refused to vote for Representative Scalise on the House floor. Representative Scalise withdrew, leaving Republicans flustered, rushing to find another candidate.

Some students believe the United States government has larger problems to deal with. 

“I was embarrassed that my country was arguing over who the House’s speaker should be during a time of extreme crisis,” Sixth Former Jack Cimino said. “[Crises like] the southern border, Ukraine, Israel, and the potential government shutdown.”

The second and third nominations, Representative Jim Jordan and the majority whip Representative Tom Emmer, were also unable to unite the Republican conference, leaving Americans across the country wondering if anyone had the votes to attain the speaker’s gavel. 

“I was worried that we were going to be heading into a government shutdown without a speaker,” Fifth Former Mason Wiegand said. 

However, after Representative Emmer withdrew, a new face came to the forefront: far-right conservative Representative Mike Johnson. He managed to gather the votes of all Republicans present to win the speakership on October 25, shocking Americans across the country.

“I fully did not expect Mike Johnson to win the vote,” Ms. Turlish said. “I was a little confused as to why [House Republicans] were rallying around probably the least experienced candidate so far.” 

Mr. Lengel was also surprised at his relative anonymity before his rapid ascension to the most powerful seat in the House of Representatives.

“Frankly, I had never heard of him before,” Mr. Lengel said. “I was not surprised that it was a very conservative member of the House, however.” 

With a new speaker finally elected, Congress can once more function properly. However, it will not be easy for the new Speaker to pass legislation for important issues such as the impending government shutdown and funding for Ukraine and Israel.

“The fundamental dynamic in the House is still unchanged,” Mr. Lengel said. “There is still an extraordinarily weak speaker and a Republican majority that is still as fractious as ever.” 

Ms. Turlish worries about the House of Representatives’ difficulties.

“I’ve been very anxious in these interesting times,” Ms. Turlish said. “There’s so many problems to be solved, and I find it exhausting and I feel a lot of compassion for you young folk. I wish we could have a restoration of the boring decades that came before my forties.” 

“There’s so many problems to be solved, and I find it exhausting and I feel a lot of compassion for you young folk.”

Ms. hannah Turlish

Wiegand believes that the debt ceiling is the most important issue currently facing Congress.

“In truth, it is going to take at least a month to pass the [twelve] bills required [to fund the government],” Wiegand said. “If we focus on other things, we are only going to be in a shutdown for longer.”

Other issues could prove just as important.

“Funding for both Ukraine and Israel [is] vital,” Ms. Turlish said. 

With three hotly debated issues coming to a head, the new Speaker and Congress are going to have a lively next few weeks.

“I think we are gonna have a congressional crisis,” Ms. Turlish said. “I would love to be surprised.”

Cimino echoed a similar statement.

“I would encourage you all to figure out what’s going on.”

Ms. Hannah Turlish

“I hope Congress avoids a government shutdown, but if I were a betting man, I’d say that there’s no chance they avoid one,” Cimino said.

For all of those interviewed, this situation emphasizes the importance of keeping up with the news. 

Mr. Lengel emphasized how important it is to learn about current events and to not just copy the opinions of others, but to form opinions of your own. 

“After all, I am just some guy,” Mr. Lengel said. “Go figure it out for yourself.”

Ms. Turlish agrees.

“Although you all are young people, it’s never too early,” Ms. Turlish said. “I would encourage you all to figure out what’s going on.”