Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., on the House floor prior to the vote that removed Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as House speaker.
Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., on the House floor prior to the vote that removed Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as House speaker.

In the room where it happened

From her vantage point in the midst of the U.S. Capitol, Balint recounts chaos in the U.S. House of Representatives brought on by Republican infighting and resulting in the historic ousting of the chamber’s speaker

BRATTLEBORO — When Vermont sent its first female representative to Washington this past year, it was in itself a historic moment.

But U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., has become part of a greater, and more tragic history. She has found herself inside what she calls "a Republican Civil War."

In the House, just days after mustering just enough votes for a last-minute 45-day funding bill that averted a shutdown of the federal government, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was ousted from his leadership position on Oct. 3 by a rebellion of a hard-right, ex-President-Trump-inspired faction within the GOP.

It was the first time ever that a House speaker has been voted out of office, and Balint was - to paraphrase the Broadway hit Hamilton - in the room where it happened.

"I ran for Congress because our democracy is in crisis," Balint later explained in a press statement.

"Since the first week of this session, the House has been led by a speaker whose failure to govern with integrity is actively eroding our democracy," Balint continued. "Kevin McCarthy enables dangerous extremism that has real consequences for Vermonters and working families across the country."

Balint said that McCarthy "sold his speakership to the highest bidder: MAGA extremists - shepherding through their agenda to ban abortion, attack marginalized people, prop up billionaires, and pollute our communities."

"He has shown time and time again that he is not a partner we can trust, breaking every promise he has made over the last nine months," she concluded. "This Congress has urgent work to do. I will continue to fight extremism while working hard on behalf of Vermonters."

It took 15 votes and major compromises with the hard right members of his party for McCarthy to win the speakership in the first place. Balint, who had to sit through that process as well, was angered by McCarthy's brinksmanship - the House came very close to closing the government this time around. She had had enough.

After the debacle, and with no speaker, the House adjourned, and Balint returned to Vermont to spend time with her family.

"I'm waiting to be called back to D.C.," Balint told The Commons on Oct. 6. "So I thought I'd come home and see my kids and my sisters, my wife, and my dog, while I had a chance. Maybe take a hot shower."

What brought on the vote of "no confidence" in the House?

"This is a man who was completely and totally untrustworthy," Balint said. "He broke every promise that he made to us as Democrats. He broke promises to the Senate and to the president. And it was all because he was aiding and abetting the extremist factions in his party."

Balint referred back to Jan. 6, 2021 when, following the defeat of President Donald Trump at the polls, a group of his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol in an armed insurrection that ended with the death of five people, including a police officer.

"The other thing that was critically important for many of us - myself included - is I will never forgive him for what he did in the days and weeks after Jan. 6," Balint said.

As reported in The New York Times, McCarthy told Republicans two days after the attack, "I've had it with this guy" and called the then-president's behavior "atrocious and totally wrong."

"And then, within a few weeks, he was down at Mar-a-Lago kissing Trump's ring," Balint said. "This is a man without principles, and I could not support that."

But it wasn't the Democrats who pulled the plug on McCarthy, she said - it was McCarthy's own party that called for the vote to remove him.

"He did not have the votes to remain speaker without Democrats helping him keep his seat," Balint said.

And she emphasized that - in an "incredibly surprising" show of unity - Democrats voted in a bloc to remove McCarthy. "Not the Blue Dogs. Not the Problem Solvers. Not the new Dems. Not the Progressive Dems. Nobody had confidence in him as a leader."

Balint said that after McCarthy was removed as the speaker, some of the hard-right representatives proposed making Trump his successor, since the top job does not have to go to an actual member of the House.

Some Republicans originally floated the idea of the former president during the 15-vote deadlock that ultimately resulted in McCarthy's ascension to the job by a slim margin.

As of Oct. 6, "Trump's got more votes for speaker than he did back in January,'' Balint said.

"These are not serious people," she observed. "Republicans' own rules say you can't have someone who's been indicted in leadership."

The House Minority Leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., offered McCarthy a power-sharing agreement.

"House Democrats remain committed to a bipartisan path forward," Jeffries wrote, but "we simply need Republican partners willing to break with MAGA extremism, reform the highly partisan House rules that were adopted at the beginning of this Congress, and join us in finding common good for the people."

Balint supports Jeffries' stand.

"Our leader had said to [McCarthy], 'We can talk about a power sharing agreement in this body, because you don't have the votes,'" Balint said. "And he said, 'I'm not interested in that, and I don't need your vote.'

"So there you have it. He didn't need our votes. And he was not willing to talk with us about what any kind of bipartisan power sharing agreement could be - again, because he completely kowtowed to the extremists within his party."

The Democrats did not call the vote, Balint said - Republicans did.

"That's why we've been saying all along: This is a Republican Civil War, and they need to sort it out," she said.

Now the whole country is watching to see what comes next. And what must come next are the yearly appropriations bills that fund the U.S. government.

"We can't negotiate with them over any kind of funding package, which is what is facing us," Balint said. "Essentially, the most immediate concern is this continuing resolution we just passed will run out, right?"

For the Democrats, "we've seen that he has no principles. We've seen that he's willing to break every single promise," she continued. "So why would we stick with him?"

What does Balint see as a possible resolution?

"I will say what I've said for months," she said. "The so-called moderates within the caucus need to be louder."

Such Republicans "cannot just talk with us privately, when the cameras aren't rolling," Balint said. "They need to stand up for their colleagues who are serious about governing."

This News item by Joyce Marcel was written for The Commons.