The House of Representatives has 435 members. Since membership in that chamber is based on population and Virginia has some 8.6 million residents, the Old Dominion sends 11 representatives there. Three of those, all Republicans, represent the western half of the state. As reported here, the 118th Congress convened on January 3 and reopened the Capitol for the first time since the Covid lockdowns from March 2020.
When the new Congress gaveled into session, the first issue they voted on is still unresolved: choosing a new Speaker of the House, who according to the Constitution is the third-highest official in the country.
For the first time in 100 years, since 1923, choosing a speaker has taken more than one vote. That year it took 9 ballots. As of this morning, the House has had 11 votes but former Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has yet to receive the 218 votes needed to become the next speaker after the departure of the previous Speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Although capturing headlines, the recent multiple ballots for Speaker are not unprecedented. That record belongs to 1855, when it took 133 rounds to settle on a House leader. The 1850s was a decade of crisis, as the US stumbled toward Civil War that broke out in 1861.
Although the three congressmen representing the western half of Virginia are all Republicans, they are coming down on two sides of the Speaker vote.
Rep. Bob Good represents the 5th District that runs from the North Carolina line below Danville up to the outskirts of Richmond and Northern Virginia. That district includes conservative Lynchburg and liberal Charlottesville. Beginning just days after the November 2022 elections, Good has pledged never to support McCarthy for speaker. Originally a group of about five, the opposition has grown to 20 in recent ballots.
From a series of posts on his official Congressional Twitter page, Good has explained some of his reasons for insisting on a speaker other than McCarthy.
“Washington can’t continue to do what it has always done and expect a different outcome. We must change the status quo for the good of the country. As Republicans, we need to unite behind a candidate that can lead the entire conference and produce the transformational change that the American people want.”
“Contrary to what the Establishment elites claim, Kevin McCarthy is not the only person who can be Speaker. We need someone strong who can lead the fight and save the country. For the sake of the American people and the future of our country, Republicans must not settle for Kevin McCarthy.”
“I am not a bought-and-paid-for politician. I was sent to Washington by the great people of Virginia’s 5th District to preserve, protect, and restore our nation and that is exactly what I intend to do. It’s just a matter of time until Kevin McCarthy finally realizes he doesn’t have the 218 votes and he’s not going to get 218 votes.”
In contrast to Rep. Good’s opposition, the other two GOP Congressmen from our region have voted for McCarthy in each of the 11 ballots. Rep. Ben Cline, who won re-election last November by about a 2 to 1 margin, represents the 6th District that runs from the Roanoke Valley up to Winchester. Salem native Rep. Morgan Griffith, who represents the 9th District that goes from the Tennessee/Kentucky line up to around Smith Mountain Lake, won re-election by about a 3 to 1 margin.
The Roanoke Star has reached out to Reps. Cline and Griffith, asking their comments on both the Speaker race and their reasonings for supporting Rep. McCarthy so far. As of publication time, no responses have been received. However, Rep. Cline’s Twitter has a January 4 post: “Every day House Republicans fail to elect a Speaker is one less day we can begin to hold the Biden admin accountable and confront the crises facing our Nation. The American voters sent us here to deliver on a conservative agenda that puts the people first. Let’s get to work.”
No references to the issue could be found on Rep. Griffith’s official Twitter page.
In what many see as presumption, McCarthy reportedly moved his furniture and files into the Speaker of the House suite, even before he secured the 218 voted needed to gain that position. (source) In a remarkable move, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) wrote a letter to the Capitol architect inquiring about this, and asking: “What is the basis in law, House rule, or precedent to allow someone who has placed second in three successive speaker elections to occupy the Speaker of the House Office? How long will he remain there before he is considered a squatter?” (source)
As outlined in this column, democracy is messy, takes time, and requires compromise.
Update 1-9-23: In the early hours of January 7 and on the 15th ballot, Rep. McCarthy eked out a narrow 216-212 win to become the 55th Speaker of the House. The votes from Reps. Cline (VA6) and Griffith (VA9) were among the 216. Of the 20-some recalcitrant Republicans who had earlier opposed McCarthy’s bid, most had flipped to supporting him on Friday after intense negotiations. Finally, six of the earlier “no” votes changed to “present,” which lowered the needed threshold from 218 to 215. Rep. Good (VA5) was among the final six who voted “present.”