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International 10 Jan, 2023 Follow News


By Michael Jarvis, UK Correspondent

Cayman and the rest of the world watched in sheer amazement as the process of selecting the new Speaker of the United States House of Representatives descended into a political spectacle. It was quite unlike the generally smooth transition of power at all levels that Cayman is accustomed to.

The stalemate was finally resolved on January 6th, the anniversary of the 2021 failed insurrection against the US Congress which added another dimension to an event that will be indelibly inked in US political history.

It took a full five days, including 15 rounds of voting, and even scuffles among Republicans for them to reluctantly install one of their number, Kevin McCarthy, to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi as 55th House Speaker - and the third most powerful person in the US government system.

It was the largest number of voting attempts to select a Speaker since 1923 and the longest Speakership election in 160 years. Ultimately, the hard-right faction of the Republicans dug their heels in and forced McCarthy to concede on many key points effectively weakening his power as Speaker.

The scale of the polarisation within the party became evident when even interventions by ex-president Donald Trump in an attempt to sway obstructive at least and ambivalent at best rightwing Republicans to back McCarthy’s nomination, were largely ignored.

It’s also noteworthy that Mr McCarthy’s controversy-laden elevation to Speaker came at the end of a particularly fractious selection process and contrasted with a sombre ceremony to mark the anniversary of the January 6th 2021 attack on the US Capitol by a riotous Trump-supporting mob seeking to block the swearing-in of Democrat Joe Biden as President of the United States.

Some analysts have suggested that Mr Trump had a vested interest in ensuring that Kevin McCarthy, whom he is said to not particularly favour, was elevated to Speaker.

Mr McCarthy had previously said that the controversial ex-president ‘bears responsibility’ for the January 6th insurrection but was later reported to have backtracked claiming that Mr Trump had no prior knowledge of it.

The extent of the behind-the-scenes wheeling, dealing - and scuffling - to secure California congressman McCarthy’s accession to the Speaker’s chair, is likely to become apparent during his tenure and will be demonstrated in what limitations he might have imposed on himself.

Among the main areas being closely watched are how he handles matters relating to former president Trump including his personal tax affairs and attempts to hold him responsible for the January 6th 2021 insurrection.

A future of a series of Trump-era policies especially on immigration, membership of key committees in the now Republican-controlled House of Representatives, changes to debating rules, and the Biden government’s spending plans post-pandemic and leading into the 2024 presidential elections are among the polarising issues he will also have to navigate.

As he starts his own ‘McCarthy era’, both Speaker Kevin McCarthy and US politics in general may well have paid a high price to get his name on the Speaker’s nameplate.

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