Newly elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) launched his tenure leading the lower chamber of the 118th Congress by challenging colleagues in both political parties to work together to do the will of the American people expressed in the November 2022 midterm election.
“You know, if the son of a fireman and the grandchild of immigrants can rise to the highest position in the most important legislative body in our country, and if my colleague, Hakeem Jeffries, with his life story can rise to lead his party, then opportunity and democracy still thrive in America,” McCarthy said, drawing sustained applause from both sides of the chamber.
McCarthy was referring to the fact he is a third-generation descendant of Irish immigrants to America and to the success Jeffries achieved despite growing up in a poverty and crime-stricken neighborhood of New York.
But while both men paid tribute to America as a land of opportunity for all, McCarthy and Jeffries both spoke strongly worded promises to fight for their respective conferences’ policy agendas in what promises to be a Congress marked by heated debate, ideological conflict, and partisan political jockeying for the 2024 presidential and congressional campaigns.
In his introduction of McCarthy as the new speaker, Jeffries delivered an especially partisan celebration of the former speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), calling the 117th Congress one of “accomplishment, not ambiguity” and her “the iconic, the heroic, the legendary, the Speaker Emerita, Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi.”
Jeffries predicted that “she will go down in history as the greatest speaker of all time,” and he added that “throughout her time in Congress, she has been a legendary legislator, a fabulous facilitator, and a no-nonsense negotiator.”
The Democratic leader then launched into a defense of President Joe Biden and the Democratic majorities that controlled the Senate and the House following the 2020 presidential election.
“During the last two years, House Democrats, in partnership with President Joe Biden and our Democratic colleagues in the Senate, have [been] hard at work on behalf of the American people, getting big things done.
“We passed the American Rescue Plan, saved the economy from a deep recession, put shots in arms, money in pockets, and kids back in school. We passed the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act to create millions of good-paying jobs, fix our crumbling bridges, roads, our airports, our sewer and water systems, our mass transportation systems, and ensure high-speed internet access in every single community,” Jeffries said.
He referenced House passage of “gun safety legislation for the first time in 30 years,” and passage of the “Inflation Reduction Act to strike a blow against the climate crisis and set our planet on a sustainable trajectory forward, lower energy costs.” He also noted a multitude of other Democratic programs he claimed strengthened under his party’s leadership of the 117th Congress.
“It was one of the most consequential congresses in American history, President Biden gets the job done and the D in Democrat stands for Deliver,” he continued in a peroration that sounded more like a campaign stump speech than a solemn transition of power from one Congress to the next.
McCarthy Makes His Remarks
McCarthy’s tone in his following remarks was jocular at the outset, remarking, “Well, that was easy, huh. I never thought we’d get up here,” referring to the fact his election came after the most ballots cast by the House since 1859 when 44 were needed to name a new speaker.
He also warned Jeffries, saying, “Hakeem, I got to warn you, two years ago, I got 100 percent of the vote from my conference,” an acknowledgment that being the minority leader of either party in the House requires decision-making that often costs support and produces conflict throughout the tenure.
McCarthy launched his duties as speaker as the leader of a new majority party in the House and having agreed to a host of reforms sought by the populist conservative dissidents who opposed him for 14 rounds before his success on the 15th.
Those reforms, including one that enables a single member of the House to move for a new election of a speaker, significantly reduce the power of the speaker and greatly heighten the importance of the negotiating skills McCarthy displayed during the four days that produced his victory.
“I promise that our debates will be passionate, but they will never be personal. That’s my commitment to you,” McCarthy said, addressing the Democratic side of the chamber.
“Tonight, I want to talk directly to the American people. As speaker of the House, my ultimate responsibility is not to my party, my conference, or even our Congress. My responsibility, our responsibility, is to our country,” McCarthy said.
“Two months ago, you voted for a new direction for our country. You embraced our commitment to America. And now, we’re going to keep our commitment to you,” he said. “It’s a commitment for an economy that is strong, where you can fill up your tank with gas and feed your family, where paychecks grow and not shrink.
“It’s a commitment for a nation that is safe, where communities are protected, law enforcement is respected, and criminals are prosecuted. It’s a commitment to a future of freedom, where our children come first and are taught to dream big because in America dreams can still come true.
“It is a commitment to a government that is held accountable, where the people get the answers they want, need, and deserve. Our system is built on checks and balances and it’s time for us to provide some checks and some balance to the president’s policies.”
From there, McCarthy said that Republicans “commit to stop the wasteful Washington spending, to lower the price of groceries, gas, cars, housing, and stop the rising national debt. We pledge to cut the regulatory burden, lower energy costs for families, and create good-paying jobs for workers by unleashing reliable, abundant American-made energy.”
Republicans in the chamber gave McCarthy’s latter promise a standing ovation. But the biggest applause for McCarthy came next when he declared “I know it’s late, but when we come back Monday, the first bill on our agenda will be the repeal of funding for 87,000 new IRS agents.”
He also promised the Republican majority will address “woke indoctrination in our schools.”
Regarding China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), McCarthy said, “We will create a bipartisan Select Committee on China to investigate how to bring back the hundreds of thousands of jobs that went to China, and then we will win this economic competition.”
McCarthy added: “Speaking of committees, we will hold the swamp accountable, from the withdrawal from Afghanistan to the origins of COVID and to the weaponization of the FBI. Let me be very clear, we will use the power of the purse and the power of the subpoena to get the job done.”
Following McCarthy’s remarks, the respective leaders of the two parties in the House were officially recognized, as were Clerk of the House Cheryl Johnston and her staff, and various other administrative officials.
The House then adjourned until Monday, with the first item of business on the agenda being the adoption of the 55-page package of dramatically reformed rules agreed to by McCarthy in his negotiations with the 20 dissidents who used the election of the speaker to gain the most significant changes in the way the House operates in decades.
It will be the first of what will surely be a new era of debate and deliberation in the “People’s House” of the American constitutional republic.