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The House has a Speaker!

Sudarshan Srinivasan
Staff Writer

In an unprecedented turn of events on October 3, 2023, a coalition of eight House Republicans, led by Representative Matt Gaetz, and joined by Democrats, ousted Kevin McCarthy from his role as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States. This remarkable development marked the first-ever removal of a Speaker in American history. In his place, North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry was appointed as Interim Speaker, entrusted with overseeing the election of a new Speaker. 

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (Photo courtesy of CNN)

This significant turn of events unfolded against the backdrop of a pressing legislative deadline. Congress faces the urgent task of passing a spending bill within the next 30 days to avert a looming government shutdown. However, the absence of a permanent Speaker posed a considerable obstacle to the passage of this crucial legislation. 

As dictated by the United States Constitution, the Speaker of the House plays a central role, responsible for key operations that include administering the oath of office to House Members, granting members permission to speak on the House floor, counting and declaring votes, and, most importantly, passing and signing bills. Furthermore, the Speaker holds the second position in the presidential line of succession, following the Vice President. 

Amidst this political turmoil, the United States finds itself entangled in two major global conflicts: the Ukraine-Russia conflict and the Israel-Palestine war. With American troops recently deployed to both regions, the need for a swift passage of the spending bill became abundantly clear. The failure to do so would not only risk a government shutdown but also jeopardize the lives of American soldiers stationed overseas. 

The removal of Kevin McCarthy has further amplified concerns among voters and journalists about the deep-seated internal power struggle within the Republican party. This factionalism has been simmering since the 2020 election and has resulted in a schism between traditional conservatives and “MAGA Republicans.” The latter, staunch supporters of former President Trump, advocate for protectionist economic policies and emphasize old school conservative values, particularly peace through strength. This division has placed strain on the party’s unity and traditional party lines. 

On October 25, 2023, after four rigorous rounds of voting, the House elected Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson as the new Speaker. Speaker Johnson secured the position with unanimous support from GOP members, amassing 220 votes, while House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries garnered 209 votes. In his acceptance speech, Speaker Johnson eloquently summarized the quintessential principles he believes the nation should unite under, stating, “individual freedom, limited government, the rule of law, peace through strength, fiscal responsibility, free markets, and human dignity” are the principles that have made the United States a great nation. In a surprising and gracious moment in his remarks, Speaker Johnson extended his thanks to former Speaker McCarthy for his service to the nation and acknowledged McCarthy’s role in securing a Republican majority in the House. He also vowed to work closely with Minority Leader, Jeffries, to get things done for the American people.  

Despite Speaker Johnson’s election being celebrated by many traditional conservatives and “MAGA Republicans,” concerns have been raised within the Democratic party and among left-wing commentators due to his past positions. These include his questioning of the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and his opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Within the Democratic party, LGBTQ advocates have expressed their reservations about Speaker Johnson’s victory. Moreover, some journalists from respected organizations, including POLITICO and Axios, have questioned his qualifications, stating that he is the least experienced Speaker in the last 140 years, pointing to his relatively short six years in public office. Many Americans have also taken to social media to express their reservations about Speaker Johnson’s strict adherence to his Christian beliefs. They raise concerns that his strong faith may potentially influence his decision-making, shifting the focus towards religious values rather than evidence-based policymaking. 

It is essential to recognize that Speaker Johnson, despite his strong conservative stance, faces a formidable political landscape. With a Democratic President, Senate, and a razor-thin majority in the House, he will need to collaborate with both Republicans and Democrats and make concessions on issues such as LGBTQ rights and gun reform to pass any legislation. 

Furthermore, Speaker Johnson confronts the pressing threat of a government shutdown during a momentous period in American history, characterized by ongoing conflicts in Israel and Ukraine. To prevent any future crises, he has pledged to work collaboratively with members of both parties. 

In these politically turbulent times, it is imperative for citizens and readers to engage in open and informed dialogue, enabling them to form well-founded opinions based on facts and evidence. This responsibility holds particular significance for college students, who have the power to shape the future through their informed decisions and active participation in the democratic process.  The events surrounding Speaker Johnson’s election and the ongoing divisions within the Republican party serve as an important reminder of the necessity of informed decision-making and active involvement in the democratic process. 

Mike Johnson shakes hands with the former Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy (Photo courtesy of Bloomberg)

In closing, the removal of Speaker McCarthy and the election of Speaker Johnson have profound implications for American governance. These events underscore the enduring importance of critical thinking, open dialogue, and most importantly unity, especially in a time of great political upheaval and uncertainty. 


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