Indianz.Com > News > Republicans take power on day of ‘chaos’ on Capitol Hill
U.S. Capitol
Barricades surround the U.S. Capitol as visitors take photos on the opening day of the 118th Congress on January 3, 2023. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Republicans take power on day of ‘chaos’ on Capitol Hill
Tuesday, January 3, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The 118th Congress opened in a most unusual fashion here as Republicans descended into what one Democratic leader derided as “chaos” in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Thanks to the November 2022 election, Republicans control 222 seats in the House. The results, though far from the “red wave” predicted by some pundits, were enough to put the GOP in power for the first time in five years.

But there was little to celebrate on Tuesday as Republicans were unable to unify around their first significant vote of the session: the election of the Speaker of the House. In an unprecedented — yet entirely expected — development, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) failed spectacularly in his bid to secure enough votes to lead the chamber.

In a first round of balloting, McCarthy lost the support of 19 Republicans. Ten of them instead voted for Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), whose Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act became law during the 115th Congress, when the GOP had control of the chamber. The federal statute is named in memory of Ashlynne Mike, an 11-year-old girl who went missing and was murdered on the Navajo Nation in 2016.

The unusual results spoke to the “chaos on the other side” — as Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California), the vice chair of Democrats in the House and highest-ranking Latino in Congress, said after the initial vote.

A second round of balloting did not go any better for McCarthy, an otherwise powerful lawmaker whose spouse belongs to a group calling itself the Northern Cherokee Nation. Again he lost 19 votes, all of them this time to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who was nominated by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), one of the steadfast opponents of McCarthy becoming Speaker.

The outcome was even more notable because Jordan had nominated McCarthy to be Speaker of the House. Yet even he was unable to convince Republican holdouts to support the Californian after an impassioned speech on the floor of the chamber.

In fact, during his nominating speech, Jordan addressed some of the concerns that anti-McCarthy Republicans have voiced about the operations of the House. He took a big swipe at the new $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package that provides advanced appropriations for the Indian Health Service for the first time, a significant milestone for the trust and treaty obligations of the United States.

“We can never, ever let a bill like the one that passed 12 days ago — $1.7 trillion in spending — we can never, ever let that kind of legislation pass again,” Jordan said to applause and a standing ovation from fellow Republicans. Even McCarthy stood up and clapped.

Meanwhile, all Democrats stayed united in support of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York), who is making history as the first African American to lead a party caucus in either chamber of Congress.

Among those who cast their historic ballots for Jeffries was Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska), who is Yup’ik. She is now serving her first full term in the House after becoming the first Native person from Alaska to represent the state in Congress.

Also lining up to support Jeffries was Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), a citizen of Ho-Chunk Nation and the only other tribal citizen on the Democratic side of the chamber.

As for Republicans in the House, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, has been joined by a newcomer from his home state. Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, was in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday after winning election in Oklahoma’s 2nd congressional district last November.

But that’s where the unity ended for the Native Republicans. As Cole, who is serving his tenth term in the House, consistently supported McCarthy during the first, second and third rounds of balloting for the Speaker’s position on the opening day of the 118th Congress, Brecheen kept voting for Jordan.

“We can’t keep doing this,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said as he nominated Jordan before the third round during a speech in which he again laid out complaints about the way legislation — including appropriations measures and national defense packages — are considered in the chamber.

The third round saw the number of defections against McCarthy grow to 20, a sign of the steadfast opposition to his leadership.

As afternoon turned into evening, the House was still searching for ways to make it past the Speaker’s impasse. It took a motion by Cole, who is set to become chair of the powerful House Committee on Rules, to adjourn the chaotic first session.

The opening day’s divisions stood in contrast to the bold promises McCarthy has been making since Republicans knew they were taking control of the chamber. In public pronouncements on, McCarthy said the “era of one-party rule in Washington is over.” And on social media, he warned: “Accountability is coming.”

McCarthy is indeed eyeing significant changes to the appropriations process, based on complaints within his own party. During a speech on the House floor two days before Christmas, he criticized the 4,000-page omnibus that is bringing historic levels of funding to Indian Country as a “train wreck.”

“The country is tired of it,” McCarthy said on December 23. H.R.2617, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2023, cleared its final hurdle in the 117th Congress on the same day and it was signed into law by President Joe Biden on December 29.

McCarthy attempted to blame Democrats for the failure of Congress to enact appropriations bills on time even though the legislative body of the U.S. government has been unable to do so for more than a decade regardless of party control. Jordan, in nominating McCarthy to be Speaker before the second round of balloting, voiced the same complaint about the process of funding federal agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Yet both House Republicans did not mention that their GOP colleagues in the U.S. Senate — most notably, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Republican leader in the other chamber — helped ensure the omnibus became law before the conclusion of the prior session of Congress.

Native Congress
Five tribal citizens are serving in the U.S House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate during the 118th Congress. From top left, clockwise: Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska), Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma) and Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-Oklahoma). Screenshot from NBC News livestream on Youtube on January 2, 2023.

Fr the 118th Congress, Democrats remain in power in the Senate, having secured 51 seats during the November 2022 election. Following the outcome of the votes, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona) left the party to become an Independent, though she will still be part of the Democratic majority caucus.

And despite his party being in the minority, a Republican is making history of his own in the chamber. Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, was sworn in on Tuesday as the first Native person in the Senate in nearly two decades. Mullin, incidentally, also opposed the $1.7 trillion omnibus, which he said was a Democratic bill.

The House of Representatives will return at 12pm Eastern on Wednesday.