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Political Tug-of-War: McCarthy's Struggle to Lead Amidst Conflicting Agendas

Executive Summary: Navigating conflicting agendas in politics can present a significant challenge for leaders. This is demonstrated by the recent election of Kevin McCarthy as the Speaker of the US House. The Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republican members of the US House, has applied pressure for a more conservative agenda, which can lead to difficulties in governance. The historical context of political tension and impasse in the US Congress is given to reflect on the difficulty of resolving conflicts peacefully and the path-dependency of human nature. Also, it describes the Freedom Caucus, including its goals, background, and past influence on the Republican leadership to provide a general understanding of the group.



Political affairs are an integral part of human relationships. When peaceful means of negotiation and dialogue fail, it can lead to violent struggles between adversaries. When politics turn violent, a Leviathan, as suggested by Hobbes, emerges to restrain the war and create a new social contract to monopolize violence, thereby ensuring that members of society can live in peace, despite their differences in thinking. This cyclical development is eternal, due to the path-dependency of human nature.


It is believed that the first Athenian statesman to lay the foundation for democracy was Solon (638 – c. 558 BC) with the concept of "Isonomia" (equality before the law). Although his attempts at constitutional reform to improve the declining archaic Athens failed, they paved the way for Cleisthenes and Pericles to foster Athenian democracy during the Golden Age later. As orated later in Pericles' Funeral Oration, the greatness of Athens lay in Isonomia: "If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences...if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbour for doing what he likes..."


Democracy is a form of government that allows for equal citizen judgment. In this system, there is no belief in a special status of lordship that grants some individuals more legitimate rights over others, whether by means of lineage or divinity, except by the consent of all members of society. As a result, it is one of the most difficult political systems, particularly when power is equally distributed and there is no final authority to make a verdict to resolve conflicts.


Democracy can sometimes lead to difficulties in governance, and thus it requires maturity, serenity, and sobriety for conflicts to be resolved peacefully. This often takes time.


In the 128 times that the US House has elected a Speaker since 1789, the 118th Congress was the fifth longest process, with 15 ballots, after the 34th Congress (1855-1857; 133 ballots), the 31st Congress (1849-1851; 63 ballots), the 36th Congress (1859-1861; 44 ballots), and the 16th Congress (1819-1821; 22 ballots). The impasse in the election of Speakers during the 34th and 36th Congresses was due to the division between pro- and anti-slavery positions, which ultimately led to the US Civil War between 1861 and 1865.


It seems, therefore, that when there is political tension in the US, it may manifest itself in the form of a prolonged or contentious election of the Speaker of the US House.


As we know, after negotiating with the Freedom Caucus, Kevin McCarthy was able to gather 216 votes from the GOP to defeat Democrat Hakeem Jeffries' 212 votes. It should be noted that due to the "absentia" vote from six GOP MPs (Andy Biggs, Lauren Boebert, Eli Crane, Matt Gaetz, Bob Good, and Matt Rosendate), the required majority of votes was reduced, enabling McCarthy to win the election.



Source: VoteView


Among the vote pattern by Herrell, she is one of the most conservative in GOP amidst partisanship. She used to be a member of the Freedom Caucus. Source: VoteView.


The Freedom Caucus, also known as the House Freedom Caucus, is a group of conservative Republican members of the United States House of Representatives. Formed in January 2015, it brings together a coalition of conservatives and members of the Tea Party movement with the goal of influencing the Republican leadership to take a more right-wing stance on policy issues.


While Tea Party groups have protested various policies and legislation, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, also known as the Stimulus or the Recovery Act), cap and trade environmental regulations, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, also known as Obamacare), they have also been vocal in their opposition to perceived attacks by the federal government on their rights under the First, Second, Fourth, and Tenth Amendments of the Constitution.


The Freedom Caucus has been applying pressure for negotiations over McCarthy since the midterm election. The narrower win of the GOP in the House election, instead of the previously expected "red wave," has given the Freedom Caucus more leverage in negotiations. In practice, the Freedom Caucus acts as an independent party within the GOP, creating a situation similar to a "confidence and supply agreement" in a virtual hung parliament in the US Congress.


As a result of the "confidence and supply agreement" strategy employed by the Freedom Caucus, we will likely see a more conservative agenda pushed in the US Congress. This ultimatum for increased influence can also be enforced through the threat of a government shutdown, resulting from political impasses on proposed appropriation bills.


Furthermore, it has been noted that McCarthy has consented to allow the Freedom Caucus a seat on the Committee on Rules, or the Rules Committee. The committee is responsible for the rules under which bills will be presented to the House of Representatives and is often considered one of the most powerful committees, as it influences the introduction and process of legislation through the House. Reports indicate that the 12-page package agreement includes new rules that would significantly cut the federal government budget next year, establish several new panels to investigate Republican priorities, raise the vote threshold needed to approve tax increases from a simple majority to a supermajority, and lower the threshold needed to force a vote of no confidence in the speaker.


It remains uncertain at this stage how much the Freedom Caucus agenda will impact geopolitical issues such as financial support for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. Another potential agenda on the table is investigating technology companies for collusion with the Biden Administration to suppress conservative views, as reported in the "Twitter files" released by Elon Musk.



 

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