The rebels in the US House of Representatives remain steadfast. Despite many concessions, they have already ridiculed their party colleague Kevin McCarthy eleven times in the election as Speaker of the Chamber of Congress. "A certain amount of opposition was foreseeable," says political scientist Philipp Adorf in an interview with ntv.de. But this type of resistance also comes as a surprise to the party researcher. The problem for McCarthy: Most of the rebels belong to the so-called Freedom Caucus and cannot be negotiated with, as Adorf emphasizes. The rebels seem to enjoy chaos, dysfunction and the possibility of bringing down a member of the Washington establishment. If the Republicans want to prevent a permanent standstill in the US Congress, there may only be two nuclear options in the end.
ntv.de: Does the election drama in Washington surprise you?
Philipp Adorf: A certain opposition to Kevin McCarthy was foreseeable. Since the election in November, he has had to fight for his potential status as speaker with the relatively narrow majority of only five Republicans. It had become apparent that half a dozen or a few more MPs would refuse to support him. But the assumption was that he could eventually convince her by making certain concessions. Especially in the two weeks before the vote, McCarthy approached these rebels strongly. He is not ideologically rigid either. McCarthy wants the post. He says he's entitled to it.
One could therefore foresee that for the first time in 100 years the Speaker of the House of Representatives would not be determined in the first ballot. But that there are still 20 rebels after eleven ballots is a little surprising.
Most of the rebels belong to the so-called Freedom Caucus. What does he want?
The Freedom Caucus has existed since early 2015, which is about eight years. This is an internal Republican faction, but it's not entirely clear who is included and who isn't because membership is not publicized. It is believed that there could be 30 to 50 Republicans in the House of Representatives. Ideologically, it has its roots in the Tea Party movement, which emerged in 2010. They are against a strong state and in favor of a reduction in government spending, i.e. a "small government". The Freedom Caucus pursues these goals uncompromisingly, almost blackmailing: If you don't listen to us, we won't agree to certain things or spending. He has already made life difficult for a Republican speaker in the House of Representatives: John Boehner. He finally resigned in September 2015 due to the quarrels.
Was there a reason for this or was Boehner just punished like that?
The Freedom Caucus' argument was actually: We have a Republican majority. Only laws supported solely by Republican votes may be passed. However, Boehner had passed several laws with the votes of the Democrats or prevented a shutdown in this way. That didn't please the Freedom Caucus. At some point, Boehner gave up, resigned from his post and from Congress.
So you can't negotiate with the Freedom Caucus?
That's the way it is. The Freedom Caucus sees its principles as so important and fundamental that they cannot be abandoned. McCarthy has already made numerous concessions where one could say: That should be enough. He has offered congressmen a much easier time removing him from the speaker's post and has also supported ultra-conservative legislation in the past, knowing that that is the majority position of the Republican Party. But the members of the Freedom Caucus who are voting against him appear primarily to demonstrate their power and take down someone belonging to the Washington establishment. You can also hear that in some speeches in which it is said that "Washington is broken". One Republican congressman spoke of addressing the quagmire trampling on the American people.
That sounds like Donald Trump.
Some members of the Freedom Caucus copied their style of politics from him. They seem to enjoy this dysfunction, this chaos that has been created in Washington. Like Trump, they just want to attack the system somehow. Some exasperated Republicans have already asked: What do you even want? There was no concrete answer to that. They really are against McCarthy on principle. Not because he stands for any particular policy or for too much cooperation, but simply for the Washington establishment.
It's going to be difficult. He could still offer senior posts on committees. But of course you have to keep in mind that other Republicans who are currently voting for him are also interested. How is he going to sell that to them? Finally, there's this small Republican majority of five in Congress. But six or seven defectors have already declared: No matter what happens, we will not vote for McCarthy.
And then? It has to be elected before there is a speaker. Nothing happens for so long.
The Freedom Caucus or the right-wing fringe of the Republican Party don't have a big problem with that. In the past, they also forced the shutdown.
Is that the plan, standstill?
Quite possible. One argument for the shutdown back then was that when the government apparatus closes, the people will see that Washington is not that important and that we don't need it at all. Even now it's being said to some extent that it doesn't have to be bad if you can't work for two, three weeks or even longer, swear in MPs or debate bills. However, only sworn MPs receive their salaries during this time. Maybe that increases the pressure.
Without a speaker, they can't be sworn in?
That's the process: first the spokesman is elected, then comes the rest. That has always worked without any problems for the past 100 years.
The US Constitution does not provide for new elections. Do you still see an alternative to standing still?
The U.S. Constitution has few stipulations regarding the choice of speaker. MEPs could change the procedure and agree that a relative majority is enough to win. But that would be difficult because the Democratic candidate Hakeem Jeffries has received the most votes in previous elections. But maybe you can go to the rebels and say: If you keep voting for any third candidate, they'll end up electing a Democrat! Or the more moderate Republicans try to find a compromise candidate with the Democrats. It could also be someone from outside. It's not like the Speaker of the House has to come from the middle of Congress.
That sounds like nuclear options.
Yes. I think the Republicans will do everything they can to somehow get McCarthy or some other congressman through. But potentially that would be a way to put pressure on the rebels: you're not happy with McCarthy? Then you have to live with an even more moderate Republican or even Democrat. But that will be the very last option.
Christian Herrmann spoke to Philipp Adorf