Particle Policy Revisited – WFIN Local News

Republicans nominated House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to be Speaker of the House when the GOP takes control in January.

But it’s far from clear that McCarthy can achieve the votes to become a speaker. McCarthy has spent the last few days making not-so-subtle promises that could help him become a speaker. McCarthy called on Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to resign or face possible impeachment during a trip to the southern border. McCarthy also pledged that “Republicans will begin each day of Congress for the next year with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. No exceptions.”

Republicans can enact any rule affecting the operation of the House of Representatives when the GOP claims control in January. But the House routinely begins each session with prayer and vows. In fact, House Rule XIV provides “that the order of business of the day shall be as follows: First. Chaplain’s prayer. Second. Diary reading and approval, unless postponed under clause 8 of Rule XX. Third: the pledge of allegiance to the flag.”

Of course, Republicans could change the rule at any time to ensure that the “approval of the journal” doesn’t interrupt the prayer and promise. But that’s pretty minimal.


This underscores McCarthy’s doing whatever it takes to get enough votes to become Speaker. Make promises to release Representatives Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., from the committees. Impeachment allusion to sate right-wing appetites across border. Appeal to religious conservatives.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

It can work. But so far, the math won’t speak for McCarthy when the vote takes place in January. Rep. Ralph Norman, RS.C., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Bob Good, R-Va., are unlikely to endorse McCarthy. That could be enough votes right there to sink McCarthy’s bid for the gavel.

But if not McCarthy, then who?

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.? Elise Stefanik, chairwoman of the Republican Conference of the House of Representatives, RN.Y.? Rep. and new House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn.? Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio? Rep. Patrick McHenry, RN.C.?

It wasn’t long ago that McCarthy was set to succeed former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as speaker. And then former announcer Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., took the job — despite an adamant assertion a few weeks earlier that he didn’t want the gig.

There have been times in the last 15-20 years when the next GOP leader or Speaker of the House should be former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. Cantor lost his elementary school. Former MP Tom Reynolds, RN.Y. was viewed as a potential successor to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Tex., tinkered with a leadership offering a few years ago.

Other names that fell by the wayside: Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., and former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

Which brings us to one of my most enduring theses about Congress. Who enters or exits congressional leadership positions depends on “particle” politics. In other words, infinitesimal, tiny, subatomic political particles decide who emerges as Congress leader. It was hard to imagine McCarthy not becoming a speaker seven years ago. But he did not claim the hammer. It was hard to imagine how Ryan would become a voice artist in 2015. But he did.

Right now, McCarthy is the clear favorite to become Speaker of the House on January 3 next year. But McCarthy is missing the votes – so far. So, does another speaker actually become, by means not yet clarified?



It’s all because of “particle politics”.

A similar phenomenon unfolded on the Democratic side of the aisle as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., succeeded her as party leader.

The rise to Pelosi’s successor has been a parlor game in Washington for years. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and House Majority Representative Jim Clyburn, DS.C. helped Pelosi shape three legs of a stool representing all wings of the House Democratic caucus. In other words, if you pull off one of the legs, the stool will collapse. It was often assumed that once Pelosi goes, all three go. This is what happened when Pelosi and Hoyer retired from leadership roles. Clyburn stays – but with a less prominent leadership position.

But figuring out who would succeed Pelosi was a mystery that lingered for a decade and a half.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
(CBS News/Screenshot)

Pelosi and Hoyer had a rivalry that dates back to the 1960s when they were interned together in the office of the late Sen. Daniel Brewster, D-Md. Pelosi often blocked Hoyer’s offers of leadership. Pelosi confirmed the late Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Penn., as Majority Leader in 2006. But Hoyer prevailed. And Hoyer would never directly challenge Pelosi for the top Democratic spot. Hoyer lacked the votes and would lose. However, over the years, Republicans have privately acknowledged that they feared Hoyer more than Pelosi as speaker. That’s because of Hoyer’s excellent reputation for working across the aisle and not presenting a liberal foil to the GOP.

But that opportunity never came for Hoyer. Or Clyburn, for that matter.

There was even a time many years ago when some factions in the Democratic caucus believed that former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., could pose a threat to Pelosi. The two had a cool relationship for years. Harman never challenged Pelosi.

Nor has Harman been around long enough to outlast Pelosi should the opportunity arise.

Meanwhile, speculation raged for years as Pelosi inaugurated a slew of other Democratic lieutenants seeking to succeed them — but never got the chance due to the speaker’s longevity.

First in line was current Ambassador to Japan and former Chicago Mayor, White House Chief of Staff and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. But after helping Democrats gain control of the House by chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and becoming leader of the Democratic faction in 2006, former President Obama drafted Emanuel as chief of staff.

Then came Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Van Hollen was in the House of Representatives at the time, but eventually moved to the Senate.

Focus reached out to former Rep. Steve Israel, DN.Y. to. Then-Secretary of Health and former MP Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. Rep. Joe Crowley, DN.Y., was in the mix. But Crowley — like Cantor — eventually lost his area code to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y.

Schiff may have been the latest potential Pelosi successor. In fact, Schiff launched a not-so-secret campaign to potentially succeed Pelosi. Several House Democrats told Fox that Schiff would not have launched such an effort had he not had an implicit or explicit blessing from Pelosi. That’s partly because Pelosi and Schiff have always had a special bond. That was demonstrated when Pelosi hired Schiff to serve as lead manager during former President Trump’s first impeachment trial. Schiff heads the Intelligence Committee. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has traditionally been the lead “prosecutor” in such impeachment trials. Not the head of the Intelligence Committee.

However, Schiff ultimately lacked the votes to succeed Pelosi. And House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y., all but closed the deal to succeed Pelosi by acclamation.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gives a television interview in the Capitol on July 26, 2021.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

This is remarkable. Just two hours before Pelosi announced her departure from the leadership, Jeffries didn’t respond to a question from you about whether he had “a plan in the drawer somewhere” to campaign for the top Democratic leadership post.

That’s why “particle politics” matters.

Years ago, when all the focus was on Emanuel or Van Hollen, no one could have foreseen the circumstances that would have Jeffries being the one to succeed Pelosi.


Getting into leadership positions comes down to hard work. A little magic. A bit of luck. And really good timing.

Now Kevin McCarthy grabs the hammer again. Rarely does anyone get a second chance at such an outstanding leadership position as a speaker. But that’s the opportunity that’s now come McCarthy’s direction.

But McCarthy’s fate depends on subatomic, political particles now racing around the political supercollider.


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