The Agonizingly Low Stakes of Today’s Vote for House Speaker

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.)

The reason there is so much drama around the question of the House speakership vote today is that it’s an extremely low-stakes contest, at least for everyone other than Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

The Republicans’ itty-bitty House majority will instantly obtain most of the possible advantages for the GOP—a blockade of any Democratic initiatives in the second half of President Biden’s term, control of congressional committees by their most-senior Republican members, and the power to set the House schedule—regardless of who wins today or in the days to come. Whether it is McCarthy or anyone else, the potential advantages for the party pretty much end there.

When your party controls the lower half of one branch of the government, you don’t do much of anything. And when you control that half of a branch by just five votes—a 1.03 percent advantage—you do your best just to hold on. But the speeches you hear today will suggest that there are serious consequences to whether McCarthy or someone else has the profoundly dubious privilege of wielding what will be a feather-light speaker’s gavel. These people are either full of it, or so stricken with Potomac fever that they’re hallucinating.

The arguments have and will center on who can best “stop the Biden-Harris agenda” or some other focus-group-whittled phrase. Voters already did that in November, insofar as Democrats hadn’t already done it to themselves in their own delusional infighting of the previous two years. The rest of the talking points will come down to “messaging,” i.e., talking points about talking points. Who gets to decide which politicized hearings to hold and who gets to go on TV with more-important-sounding titles are matters of little consequence. Voters will continue to correctly understand that these things should mostly be ignored.  

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