This possibility is being discussed as a long shot on the order of the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series again in less than 100 years. It certainly seems unlikely, but it may not actually be that long a shot.
As the numbers stack up today, the Democrats will have a very narrow nine-seat majority in the House of Representatives when the 117th Congress convenes next month. In the ordinary course of things, the Democrats wouldn’t expect to have trouble electing the new Speaker of the House. And in spite of internal dissent, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) remains the front-runner for the position, which she held from 2007 to 2011 and again from 2019 to now.
But as The Hill reports, there is active discussion on Capitol Hill, on both sides of the aisle, of a non-negligible possibility: that if the Democrats in the House don’t have all their members present for the leadership vote, the new Speaker could actually be Pelosi’s fellow Californian, Republican Kevin McCarthy. (H/t: American Thinker)
The key factor isn’t the one that immediately springs to mind; i.e., the dozen or more votes Pelosi might lose among the Democrats if there’s an attempt to unseat her, as there was in January 2019. It’s true that opposition to Pelosi’s continued leadership is still there, especially from the “democratic socialist” squad, which has grown in size from four to seven with the 2020 election. Defections by the squad contingent – Ocasio-Cortez, et al. – with only a few more Democrats could potentially knock Pelosi out. (The Hill’s reporters point out that three moderate Democrats “are already on record saying they don’t intend to vote for Pelosi on Jan. 3: Reps. Conor Lamb (Pa.), Jared Golden (Maine) and Elissa Slotkin (Mich.).”)
But that insurgency would throw the Democrats into a faceoff, without resulting in a Republican Speaker. No, the “Speaker McCarthy” scenario could come about if the Republicans have a majority of members present for a leadership vote.
The key factor in that regard is that the Democrats’ “proxy voting” protocol, enacted for the 116th (current) Congress, expires with it. They won’t be able to vote unless they are present.
The Hill notes: “[L]awmakers must be present on the House floor to cast their vote for Speaker, precluding the option for members to vote remotely, as many have done throughout the pandemic.
“Democrats could face a dilemma on Jan. 3,” The Hill continues, “in which Pelosi locks up the Democratic support to remain Speaker, but coronavirus concerns — illnesses, quarantines or otherwise — prevent a sufficient number of them from being in the Capitol to log their votes.”
Says The Hill, “In the Democrats’ nightmare scenario, the math could tilt so far in the Republicans’ favor that it yields a GOP Speaker.”
Quoting Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), the article goes on: “Let’s say, just theoretically, we had six or eight people out with Covid and the Republicans have none. They probably could elect [Kevin] McCarthy.”
The requirement to be present for the vote can’t be altered before the Speaker is elected. The leadership vote must come first, before any votes on how the chamber will conduct business – or on anything else. The Speaker holds key levers of control over what gets brought to the floor and when (and how).
This reality would affect a vote relating to the outcome of the presidential election, among other consequences. There’s a lot riding on the Democrats’ narrow majority in January. The Hill, again, recounts what could be bad news for Democrats: “Lawmakers were reminded of their vulnerability this week, when five more members of the House tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of infected lawmakers to at least 35 since the pandemic hit the U.S. roughly a year ago.”
And Democrats have been taking maximum advantage of the proxy voting option they won’t have for the leadership vote: “On Dec. 18, for example, nearly 90 Democrats voted by proxy.”
Most of the 90 aren’t ill with COVID-19, of course (or with anything else, for that matter). But The Hill notes this: “Complicating the math, several Democrats have ongoing health concerns unrelated to the coronavirus that have kept them from the Capitol for much of the year. A handful of COVID-19 cases on top of that, some fear, could sink Pelosi’s prospects.”
According to Thomas Lifson at American Thinker, Monday “on Fox and Friends, Rep. Elise Stefanik [R-NY], a very level-headed Republican House member, was taking seriously the possibility that Dems could lose the speakership.”
A “Speaker McCarthy” scenario, in which McCarthy presided over a Democratic-majority House, would be, shall we say, something else altogether in these contentious times. It doesn’t sound like much fun for anyone. It is undoubtedly a long shot, and there’s even the obvious question whether, if presented with the COVID-19 opportunity, the House Republicans would take it. Regardless, it would be perfectly in character for this insolent disease to take yet another swipe at hitherto imperturbable institutions and arrangements.