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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  The US House vote was unusual but democratic

The US House vote was unusual but democratic

The ouster of Kevin McCarthy as House speaker was enabled by cross-party voting. But that’s how the system is meant to work. Elected lawmakers represent people, not parties

A few rightist Republicans were angered by the way McCarthy struck a last-minute spending deal with Democrats over the weekend to avert a government shutdown. (AP)Premium
A few rightist Republicans were angered by the way McCarthy struck a last-minute spending deal with Democrats over the weekend to avert a government shutdown. (AP)

It is rare for US Democrats and Republicans to find common ground. And never before has a speaker of the House of Representatives been ousted by a floor vote. Indeed, shock-waves were sent across Washington on Tuesday by Kevin McCarthy being voted out as speaker by the lower chamber of US Congress, where his own party held the balance of power. The vote saw 216 members in favour of the ‘vacate’ motion moved by fellow Republican Matt Gaetz to eject McCarthy from his post and 210 against it. Eight Republicans broke party ranks to vote along with Democrats. While the latter were peeved by McCarthy’s launch of an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden, a Democrat, it’s a sharp comment on divisions within the opposition that McCarthy lost his job instead. A sense of comeuppance on the Hill may be traced to the reading that McCarthy jumped the gun in going after Biden, since no conclusive evidence has yet been found to show the US leader had let his office be misused by his son Hunter Biden for private business gains. So the effort to impeach the President seemed excessive. But politics being what it is, there was much more to it.

As reported, a few rightist Republicans were angered by the way McCarthy struck a last- minute spending deal with Democrats over the weekend to avert a government shutdown, as they had wanted to push for far deeper cuts in expenditure, including in US support for Ukraine. In this telling, the speaker was too soft on the country’s ruling party for their tolerance. This chimes with the view of Donald Trump, who had declared himself in favour of shutting down the administration “if they can’t make an appropriate deal." The influence of America’s former president over its grand old party has turned it all the more fractious. This has been particularly so after the mob attack of 6 January 2021 on the Capitol, for which Trump was accused of incitement. The former president’s rejection of the 2020 White House election result and attempts to reverse it have caused dissonance among Republicans. As it happens, Trump leads the race for his party’s ticket for another shot at the top, thanks to a loyal conservative support base, and party folks who worry about his disposition towards democracy have had to express their misgivings discreetly. As for McCarthy, while he did not complain directly about Trump’s statement, he did have words of reproach for deal-rejecting politicians who he said were out to “burn the whole place down." The irony of the ex-speaker’s approach was that he ended up losing the confidence of House members on both sides of the aisle.

McCarthy’s sudden ouster was disruptive from a governance point of view, as important Congress proceedings may get delayed, support for Ukraine could weaken and the search for a replacement speaker could bare disunity within a party that seems unsure of Trump (whose run-in with the law for alleged business fraud is in the political spotlight too). From the other side of the globe, all this might paint a bleak picture of US democracy. Yet, counter-intuitively, the whip-free autonomy of US politicians revealed by this episode is also a reminder of how representative democracy is actually meant to work. Elected legislators are supposed to represent the electoral district (or constituency) that sent them to Congress, not the political party they’re with. First and foremost, they are accountable to ordinary citizens out there, even those who voted for other candidates. Partisan politics was a super-imposition.

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Published: 04 Oct 2023, 08:27 PM IST
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