Washington slept on Tuesday without the president of the House of Representatives, the third authority in the country and second in line of succession to the White House. Just eight extremist GOP dissidents, joined by House Democrats, were enough to oust Republican Kevin McCarthy and throw America’s institutions into chaos. There is no precedent for such a situation in two and a half centuries of American democracy, to the point that the next steps to follow are the subject of debate among constitutionalists. A temporary congressman remains in McCarthy’s seat with all parliamentary functions limited until there is a new president. The House is now in recess for a week until Republicans and Democrats agree on how to reactivate the event after a vote that will go down in the history books.
The potential ripple effect of paralysis on Capitol Hill extends beyond the Republican Party, Washington, and even the United States. Not only are all legislative activities or teaching suspended. In mid-November the temporary bipartisan agreement to temporarily fund the federal government reached by McCarthy and the Democrats expires. If Congress doesn’t approve an extension, the Executive would have to shut down for lack of funding, forcing officials to work without pay and neglect most of their functions. For the same reason, military aid to Ukraine, financed by defense funds, is at risk.
McCarthy, the first speaker in history to be impeached after just nine months in office, is only the latest victim of extremism cultivated by the Republican Party since the emergence of the Tea Party faction in 2010, later transferred to the sect of Donald Trump. Populism has engulfed three other leaders of the conservative establishment this decade: Eric Cantor (lost in a primary), John Boehner (resigned before being reprimanded by extremists) and Paul Ryan (left politics unable to unify of the Republicans after the arrival of Trump). Today, despite the electoral decline of Trumpism, the weakness of the Republicans gives the ultras the possibility of having more influence than ever in Washington. Corrosion has reached the heart of power with no other plan than chaos and the personal promotion of a small group that has captured democracy.
The Democrats have no reason to save McCarthy with their votes, a character who, because of his ambition, surrendered to all Trumpist demands to save his position and played a major role in the rehabilitation of Trump after the attack on the Capitol . A deal with the devil ruined his career. But it is important to separate the person from the position. It’s time for responsibility. That Democrats stand idly by in the face of Republican self-destruction is politically understandable until institutions are put at risk. If there was an alternative to McCarthy among the Republicans who had the respect of his opponents, the Democratic voters would not understand their party boycotting him. Once again, the Trumpist contagion has put the United States on the brink of a precipice. The only way out of the abyss is to put institutions before politics.