I. Three Calls for Titus
Then I miss a few, the pace is a little too quick for this pen.
A voice from the C-SPAN crew cuts in. A voiceover. A fourth vote is expected. This is the back half of a third failed vote for the election of a Speaker to this the 118th Congress, the House of Representatives.
“Smith of Missouri?”
“Smith of Nebraska?”
“Smith of New Jersey?”
“Smith of Washington?”
I miss a few more, the page turns over.
McCarthy, McCarthy, McCarthy.
The voices of the representatives calling out their votes from the floor are not always loud enough for me to hear them. I’m listening to this by way of the Sirius XM app, their C-SPAN feed. Some of the reps take the opportunity to add some extra lines to their response. Someone is saying something like, “From District 13 and without drama, Jeffries for the third time.” Then there’s another long answer for Jeffries, concluding in something like, “Resolute for Jeffries.”
“Thompson of Mississippi?”
“Titus? … Titus?”
Getting toward the end here. I can’t keep up. Only one rep has switched their vote away from McCarthy through these first three rounds. Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, got 212 votes both the first and the second time, good enough to lead Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, but still falling short of the total he would need to win. To win, Jeffries would somehow need to pick up six more. The magic number, assuming each of the 435 reps casts a vote, is 218. That’s where McCarthy needs to get, likewise.
Preceding each vote, reps are able to nominate a candidate to stand for Speaker of the House. Interestingly, the Speaker does not have to be a sitting member of the House. I missed the full slate of nominees in the first round. Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, nominated McCarthy for this third round. He (Scalise) spoke clearly and forcefully, mentioned the border, mentioned fentanyl. He’s been McCarthy’s lieutenant these past several years. If McCarthy’s bid fails, Scalise might be next in line.
What’s happening right now is a sort of filibuster by way of a refusal to vote for McCarthy. This filibuster is being engineered by twenty or so House Republicans who don’t seem to be on board with McCarthy as Speaker. Per the Constitution, the House cannot officially open for business until a Speaker has been elected.
One missing voter returns, Carter from Georgia. He’s for McCarthy.
After a short, inaudible speech, “Jeffries.”
McCarthy ends the third round with 202 votes. Jeffries once again nets 212. Jim Jordan gets 20 votes, up from 19 in the second round. The holdouts, the rogues are digging in.
II. Popcorn, Blankets, & Alcohol
look at what
for McCarthy. The
former President made
some phone calls, which
had no effect. This
is what’s become of
but let them debate
let’s listen to them
dig & trade & bunker
There is no House Majority
It took them
133 roll calls
to get a Speaker
in 1856, four years
later the country
I have to stay away from opinion. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appear together in a photo op, saying nice things about each other. As Biden attempts to say the word infrastructure using only three syllables.
I’m piqued but it’s hard to find the right tone for covering these proceedings. They don’t need to be made more epic. It’s been great entertainment. That sounds flippant but I assure you I am taking the stalemate seriously. It’s historic, I’m fascinated. I had the ability to tune in right from the start, nearly. I’ve listened to most of the (seven) roll calls. I like hearing the voices. Some are becoming trademark.
I’m following along as the shape of a deal to break the impasse comes into vision. They are carving it up as they go. Thankfully, there have been some spicy speeches mixed in with the usual political blather.
In one nominating speech, Kat Cammack, Republican of Florida, suggested the Democrats were enjoying the show as they kicked back on the other side of the aisle with “popcorn, blankets, and alcohol.” That had the Dems riled up! They shouted and jeered and groaned back in Cammack’s direction. (Later, they would try to have the remark stricken from the record but would not be able to get their wish because the absence of a Speaker means there are no specific rules governing the proceeding, and therefore no basis for striking a comment.)
I gave Scalise a nod for his speech yesterday but I was remiss in not mentioning the fiery barbs lobbed at McCarthy by Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, who suggested that the role of Speaker should, perhaps, not go to a person who wants it so badly. Gaetz went further, suggesting that McCarthy for months had been “selling shares of himself” in return for votes in favor of his Speakership. This elicited some catcalls, some whistles.
Robin to Gaetz’s Batman, Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert has made it clear she will not support McCarthy. In a speech nominating someone else, Boebert mentioned receiving one of the phone calls from former President Trump. Yet, she suggested that Trump should not be calling her to tell her to vote for McCarthy but instead should call McCarthy to ask that he withdraw because he “does not have the votes.” Enter the catcalls, the whoo-eees, the whistles.
I’m not sure what’s really being argued about or argued over, what’s available for trade, what’s in the offing, what the holdouts think they can gain. There are currently 20 Republicans holding out, voting for someone else. Victoria Spartz, Republican of Indiana, has gone from voting for McCarthy in the first several rounds to voting “present” in the last few. I’m not sure what the effect of a “present” vote is, whether it changes the math, brings the needed number of votes down from 218.
There has been a lot of talk about House Rules. Among the specific demands I have heard is one concerning the so-called “Motion to Vacate.” This is the means by which a Speaker can be removed from the role once elected.
There’s a lot of talk about the Southern Border. Fentanyl is tied thereto. Inflation comes up often. The purchasing power of the dollar. Republicans are talking about the national debt again. Spending. Earmarks! The $1.7 trillion spending bill that passed late last year. With McCarthy’s help? I’m not sure on that. One irritated rep did imply that McCarthy might not have done all he could have done to oppose that bill.
I’m hearing reps bring up gripes about the process by which they are able to add amendments to bills. The notion of germaneness. I haven’t heard Republicans make these complaints in fifteen years. All of a sudden, the conservatives are feeling fiscal again. We need to pay for all of this spending, some are saying. Which means what? I guess it means cutting spending because I haven’t heard anyone suggest taxes need to be raised. So where do the cuts come from? Ukraine perhaps. This could all benefit Russia. The Ukrainians might be in need of some private funding as they continue to battle against the Russian invasion of their country. The oligarchs of the West—Gates, Bezos, Ellison, Page, Zuckerberg, Buffett—might have to step in if the House cuts the funding.
Byron Donalds, Republican of Florida, became known to me only yesterday, when he switched his vote from McCarthy to Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, whom Gaetz and others had nominated as an alternative to McCarthy. Today it was Donalds himself being nominated by a rotating spokesperson for the rogues. Donalds voted for himself today in each of three votes. I don’t know if a member can nominate themselves but they can vote for themselves, which McCarthy and Jeffries have done in each round.
I’m knee deep in this fracas but I need a break. Unlike yesterday, when the House adjourned after going through three rounds of voting, tonight the body will reconvene at 8:00 p.m. (all times eastern). I don’t know what they’ll do when they come back in. That’s what’s so exciting. This is a Senate-style filibuster, a refusal to end debate. We have no cloture. The business of the House is being held in limbo. As a country, we are only now beginning to explore the quirky power that lurks in the Constitutional entity known as the House of Representatives.
The Speaker is third in line to be the President. But it’s more than that. This very House of Representatives could play a massive, deciding role in choosing the next President. I’m not talking about something akin to the illegal attempt to dismiss the Electoral College that some of these same Republicans supported in 2020. If, in an election for President, no candidate secures 270 electoral votes, the House of Representatives votes to choose a President. The implications are profound. Imagine a third-party candidate who receives, say, twenty percent of the electoral votes, who somehow emerges from the House vote with the White House in hand. It could happen. It’s in the Constitution.
III. Cluster Funk.
Cluster Funk done funked me up, in a good way. Decent smoke. Went bong. The grass from SWOP in Ruidoso, New Mexico. I’ve been happy with their weed. Their Duct Tape was good. They’re the folks who gave me a free joint because I happened to walk into their shop at twenty minutes past four in the afternoon, a time held sacred in weed culture, for some perfectly good reason, I have no doubt.
Yeah, Dad, I’m still working on The Weed Chronicles. This is Volume Two, wrapped in a heavy shroud of political drama. The two go hand in hand. After all, the Constitution was written on hemp. The plant, according to legend, was among Thomas Jefferson’s favorite crops.
I tasted a little spice in the Cluster Funk, a little citrus. The smoke did not bother my throat. I sat down and started to write about the House in verse form but it wasn’t quite flowing. Once I tried out my old live-blogging tone/delivery, away I went. This nomination saga has felt to me like the World Cup of legislative politics. The Iowa Caucuses. Super Tuesday. A national election, done a different way. President Biden called it embarrassing. I disagree. It’s not embarrassing, not yet. It’s a little messy, a little tedious. But at least they’re following the Constitution this time. As long as there’s an orderly ending, I imagine I will look back upon this process and think, What fun.
Some nights indicas keep me up. Try a sativa instead? The Forest Queen came on slowly but now I’m oddly wired, rangy, peripatetic of mind, picking up that damned phone, thinking about the road.
These sure are nice pens, these Microns. I was hot on these for a while because the ink is fantastic, and available in a wide array of colors. But they’re capped these Microns. Have to live with it. This remains one of the finest green inks on offer anywhere. Minty. Cool. Wintergreen. Spearmint. Clean, clear, smooth, and rich. I have missed this ink. I had reached into the drawer next to the bed in order to retrieve a pen. I could not see which pen I was selecting but this was the one I wanted. Sometimes you just get lucky.
It’s round about midnight. I’m glad I’m putting pen to paper, even if all I’m writing about is politics and weed and pens. I’m content. Classical music very low. What will happen in the House tomorrow? I used to have a blog called “Today in the Senate.” It was a good blog. I don’t know if anyone really read it. One person commented once on a post to say I was doing the country a great service by writing the blog. This was in the days before Twitter. 2005 to 2008 or so. How did that person find their way to that blog? Search, I guess. Sometimes they find me. I live for that.
In the meantime, I get jolted back into politics now and again. I’ve got a writer’s passion for it, when something unusual happens. I was feverishly and sloppily putting pen to paper in a La Quinta Inn in Tucumcari, NM the night of the January 6th failed coup. I was writing down what I heard from the Senate as I slaughtered myself on a box of white wine, raging against the junior senator from Missouri who opposed the certification. It’s impossible for me to write about that day without calling for blood and I don’t want to go there right now, it’s so late. So instead I’ll just be grateful that there were enough decent people in the Capitol that day to prevent its fall to some of the most indecent, least scrupulous people this country has ever produced.
More evidence that indicas don’t actually put me to sleep. Not tonight, anyway. It’s 0:49, why am I not asleep? This makes no sense. I’m all jacked up on politics, echoes of past votes coursing through my veins.
So I’ll open a pouch of something I picked up on the way back through New Mexico, as B and I made our way home from Tucson just before this New Year. What I am unveiling is called Zkittlez Kush. An indica, supposedly. Taking a taste, I am pleasantly energized anew. Brimming. My mind a wild horse galloping across an open landscape somewhere in the West. Nevada, maybe. My first thought was to say New Mexico but we’ve traversed many parts of that state in our various trips to and fro Tucson, and we’ve never seen any wild horses running around out there. We’ve seen antelope, and plenty of horses behind fences. Saw quite a few donkeys on this last trip especially, east of Ruidoso, on our way back through Roswell. There’s a valley east of Ruidoso, the Hondo. A river runs through it, pretty, low country. Lots of pasture replete with horses and cattle and deer. It’s one of the finest pieces of road in the country, hush hush.
The drive out to Tucson just before Christmas was a different story. Even though we left earlier than we had planned, we still drove through part of the Arctic Blast that engulfed much of the country. We woke up to twelve degrees in Oklahoma City, a figure that dropped to two or three degrees as we fought the northerly wind while cutting across the Texas panhandle. We saw cows huddled up in the corners of pastures, stricken and helpless as the traffic of America whisked by. Is it possible that it was somehow warmer near the interstate? It seemed odd that they wanted to be there by the road.
I’m flagging now. Going back into the past, that drive, there and back. Always a trial, always a test. In search of a way to do it better. There ain’t but ten ways to Tucson, Madame Speaker, and it looks like we’re going to try every one.
One last slug of whiskey. Haven’t used this pen in a while. Haven’t been home for this many consecutive days in so long that this feels like some sort of vacation, an afterlife, a computer program, a simulation. Is any of this even real? Who could think this up? Where am I going with this, and why?
IV. Holdouts No More.
Very early morning, January 6th, 2023, two years since the siege. A Speaker still has not been elected. They went five rounds yesterday. Nothing of substance has changed. Jeffries still received all 212 Democratic votes, every round. McCarthy hung around 200, 201. Boebert went from voting for and/or nominating Byron Donalds to voting for and/or nominating Kevin Hern, Republican of Oklahoma. Because his first name is Kevin? Representative Don Buck, Republican of Colorado, began to miss votes, apparently because he is traveling for a medical procedure. He had been a McCarthy vote(r).
There are headlines indicating progress toward a deal overnight. We shall see. A deal with who, how many? Of 21 holdouts, McCarthy needs support from at least 17. Or maybe even 18 if Buck is not voting. McCarthy can afford to lose only three. Gaetz, Boebert, and Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, seem the least likely to cast a vote for him.
Later that day, in Illinois…
Though some of the votes shifted in McCarthy’s favor, the 13th vote produced the same result as the rest. I haircut my dad. Ted in Lieu of Jeffries.
Speech, “Kevin McCarthy,” applause. I did not hear what she said. Something about calling out the rest of the conference? She looked serious, no smile, something on her mind.
This is either going to be the best or the worst Congress ever. They’ve made themselves into a sports team. We’re going to live and die with these people.
In fact, a string of five votes for Jeffries before
“Murphy? … Murphy?”
Here I am with my dad and Hugo the Dog watching a freaking replay of the 12th vote from earlier today. The fourteenth vote is coming up in a little while.
Applause, whoops, hoots and hollers. The cheers were for Ralph Norman, Republican of South Carolina, one of the original holdouts, as he cast his vote now in favor of McCarthy. The roll call continues. Ocasio-Cortez, Ogles, Omar. About half an hour ago, I burned a northern lights haze pinner.
Cheers, applause, another holdout throwing in with McCarthy.
There’s a little anxiety upfront, almost every time I smoke. Especially if it’s sativa. This is what I call the bite, the edge. Just gotta get through it. Find a quiet place, let it ride, then find the chillness of the high on the other side. That’s where I am now, on this couch, in my parents’ house, watching The House.
I’m drinking lots of water and a little beer. My dad is reading newspapers. He seems alert. I believe the rhythm of the roll call is somehow therapeutic. I’m surprised he’s this into it.
Matt Rosendale, Republican of Montana, says, “Kevin….” And he hangs onto it, milks the moment, before finishing his vote with the last name, “Hern!”
Grumbles and groans from his fellow Republicans. The rogues really did start to vote for Kevin Hern because his first name is Kevin.
A burst of applause, an uproar, hoots and hollers. Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, had been amongst the most vocal of the holdouts.
“Salazar? … Salazar?”
“Sánchez? … Sánchez?”
The haze is alright. I recall nothing about taste. Not harsh. The bud was a little dry. It was one of my older holdings; that was the last of it.
It’s fairly nice outside. Mild. Clear. The geese out on the water.
She answers, “McCarthy.”
Cheers, hoots, and hollers. She had been the one voting “present.” Going later in the alphabet, when the outcome of the vote has already been decided, provides one with a bit of flexibility. She knows her vote isn’t going to matter either way, so she demurs. It’s a little cheeky, a little bit of poker face.
“Trone? … Trone?”
I wonder if there’s something about listening to all of these roll-call votes that does something to the mind. Triggers something in our democratic DNA.
It’s just a theory. In any case, the call is meditative, hypnotic, somehow pleasant, even soothing.
Stoppage time. The reading clerk will now call the names of the members who did not first answer.
“Buck? … Buck?”
No answer. Try the next name.
He says something I can’t quite hear. I believe he concludes his speech by saying, “…I’m not bitter about it. Kevin McCarthy.”
Cheers, applause. Another holdout relents. Representative Keith Self, a Republican from Texas, blows a kiss down toward the front row, presumably for McCarthy.
Then there’s a pause. Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, one of the most staunch and most-right wing of all the holdouts, a man whose bizarre and arguably extreme opinions have made him infamous, is gritting his teeth. He is mustering the resolve to say what he is going to say.
And then he books it, up the aisle, around the back, out of view of the goddamned cameras. But many cheers, several pats on his back as he left.
“Hunt? … Hunt?”
Another short speech I cannot quite hear. Andrew Ogles, Republican of Tennessee. He says something like, “On behalf of my colleagues who have been negotiating… McCarthy,”
Cheers, applause, the cameras cut to a shot of McCarthy. But there are three votes for Hern and four for Jordan in this twelfth round, so the election fails again.
“Trone? … Trone?”
What is up with Trone?
Come to the Well, ye who hath not yet voted, for this is ye final chance.
In all, McCarthy picked up 14 holdout votes in that round. He is close but no cigar. It’s Republicans versus Republicans for control of the 118th Congress. But on the bright side, George Santos, Republican of New York, man of lies and mystery, has thankfully ditched the light blue sweater vest he had been wearing. He had to’ve been burning up in that thing. He’s got cold blood, maybe. You’d have to, to claim your grandparents fled the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, when no such thing happened, when in fact he is not even Jewish! The latest word is that he had previously been under investigation in Brazil for writing bad checks. Things get curioser and curiouser!
I’m just glad we’ve got these votes to watch. I’m glad the news is not on. This is the fucking news! And there are no commercials. History, as it’s being made, is free!
Now the camera shows Elijah Crane, Republican of Arizona, newly elected, a younger guy, one of the holdouts. He is surrounded by his fellow Republicans. They are lobbying him, giving him the hard sell. Man, he is really getting worked. But no one is making a pitch to Gaetz and Boebert, who are sitting together but otherwise alone. This is between the 12th and 13th round of votes.
The lobbying, however, did not come to fruition in round 13 because Crane voted for Jim Jordan, again.
Now on tap, the fourteenth round of votes to elect a speaker. Because the process remains unresolved, this is the most important vote yet. My dad rips off a tremendous sneeze, like a rocket being fired. I jump, Hugo jumps. Jeepers.
V. Fifteen and Final.
Round 14 came and went. It failed. The Republican caucus nearly exploded. There was some sort of misunderstanding, Gaetz and Boebert were in the middle of it, their fellow Republicans surrounding them like a pack of wild, pissed-off jackals. Was there some sort of double cross? Gaetz had waited to cast his vote until the end. They were working him. He voted for Jordan and the Republican establishment went apeshit.
McCarthy was up there working Gaetz and when Gaetz voted for Jordan, McCarthy ran back down to the front, almost choking up it appeared. He thought he was going to win the Speakership in Round 14. He did not, and then chaos took over the chamber for about twenty minutes. There was a motion to adjourn. The motion looked like it might pass. Members were down at the desk with red tickets and green tickets. I don’t know what the hell was going on. Then Republicans who had voted to adjourn started to undo their votes. Maybe that’s what the tickets were for, some way to manually change a previously cast electronic vote.
A flood of Republicans down at the desk, suddenly voting against adjournment. There would be a fifteenth round of voting, and it would result in Kevin McCarthy being elected to the Speakership. It would put an end to things, for now.