For those of us who have worked in and around Congress for years, last night’s final election of a speaker in the early hours of Saturday was nothing short of an extended Nascar race, particularly if you come to watch the cars crash. The evening had everything from gallows humor to a virtual wrestling match on the floor.
It finished as unpredictably as it began. Kevin McCarthy fell just one vote short of winning as tempers boiled over and the GOP sought an adjournment until Monday. The Democrats then overplayed their hand by gratuitously seeking to prolong the pain by opposing the motion. Then something unexpected happened…
…the holdouts changed their votes.
At midnight on Friday, after twelve hours of grueling deliberations and votes, there was no reason to force the GOP to continue to vote except to enjoy the sport and spectacle of the moment. It was gratuitous and peevish and it produced the opposite effect on the GOP ranks.
It was reminiscent of the scene in True Grit when John Wayne stops Glenn Campbell from spanking Kim Darby — not because she didn’t deserve it but because “you are enjoying it too much.”
The opposition to adjourn clearly was too much for the holdouts watching the glee of the opposition. Popcorn is one thing but prolonging pain is another. The holdouts agreed to vote present to give McCarthy the win.
Some Democrats seemed stunned by the reversal of fortunes with Rep. Dean Phillips (D., Minn.) rising to nominate Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and saying, “I rise to say, ‘Wow.’” Opposing adjournment for fun is like staying too long at a dinner . . . you can get stuck with the check.
The moment seemed to galvanize the GOP and McCarthy and others quickly changed their votes to oppose their own motion and join the Democrats. They then elected McCarthy as the 55th Speaker.
The moment should not be lost on Democrats. It is one thing to prolong the punishment but you cannot enjoy it so much that you supply the missing unifying catalyst for the opposing party.
The 118th Congress is now in place and will reconvene on Monday. Things are likely to now move fast and furious for the new majority. There is likely to be a shortage of popcorn in the beltway.