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Congressional Chaos: What Is Happening in the House of Representatives?

Distinguished Professor of History Allan J. Lichtman answers our question of the week

To the Point: Congressional ChoasTo the Point provides insights from AU faculty experts on timely questions covering current events, politics, business, culture, science, health, sports, and more. Each week we ask one professor just one critical question about what’s on our minds.

In January 2023, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy finally became Speaker of the House after 15 rounds of voting. But in October, he was ousted by his party. Then Rep. Jim Jordan came up short in several very contentious rounds of voting to replace McCarthy.  

But that’s not it. As of the writing of this article, there are currently nine GOP candidates in the running for Speaker, with no clear winner and no clear way out of the conflict. 

We turned to Allan J. Lichtman to help explain this historic chaos in Congress. Lichtman is an American University Distinguished Professor of History and the author of 11 books including The Case for Impeachment (Dey Street Books, 2017). He appears on Lichtman Live every Thursday at 7 p.m. EST at @allanlichtmanyoutube. Here he shares some strong words about what he thinks this situation illustrates about the current state of affairs in our House of Representatives. 

On Tuesday, October 3, 2023, the House of Representatives voted 216 to 210 to remove Kevin McCarthy from his position as House speaker. McCarthy was the first speaker in history to be ousted in the middle of a congressional term. Why is the GOP in such a state of chaos?  

The Republican disfunction is on display in the GOP’s multi-week failure to agree on a replacement for ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Republican malaise transcends Trump and will endure after he passes from the political scene. The problem for the party is that it has long abandoned the principles that it has claimed to represent.

  • Respect for the Constitution and American Traditions. A majority of House Republicans voted to subvert the Constitution and America’s tradition of the peaceful transfer of power by voting to overturn certified 2020 electoral votes for Joe Biden that had withstood court challenges. Republican leaders across the nation joined in the effort to upend Biden’s election for no purpose other than to remain in power. Of nine current GOP speaker candidates, only two voted to certify the 2020 election. 

  • Personal Morality and Responsibility. Republicans excoriated Bill Clinton for moral failings that they said disqualified him from holding public office. However, they whitewashed the more serious transgressions of Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, Donald Trump, Clarence Thomas, and others.

  • Free Enterprise. In support of their business donors, Republicans have abandoned market principles. They have backed protective tariffs, business subsidies, special tax breaks, and crackdowns on unions.

  • Limited Government. Republican President George W. Bush built the largest, most intrusive bureaucracy in US history through the Department of Homeland Security, bolstered by surveillance legislation such as the Patriot Act. Current Republican proposals for a nationwide abortion ban would result in the greatest intrusion on the American’s personal lives in the history of the country.

  • States’ Rights. Republicans backed national prohibition which overturned the laws on alcoholic beverages in about half the states. Today, the GOP’s proposed national abortion ban would overturn the abortion rights laws in a majority of states.

  • Fiscal Responsibility. Republicans decry government deficits when out of power, but when in power, revert to their own brand of deficit spending. Since the end of World War II, the federal debt as a percent of Gross Domestic Product has expanded more significantly under Republican than Democratic administrations.

  • Law and Order. The worst transgressions of law and order have occurred under Republican presidents. Four conservative Republican administrations, that of Warren Harding, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump, all wove webs of illegality that entangled officials at the highest levels of the federal government.  

A party without principle cannot govern effectively in a democracy. This simple truth explains both the chaos in Congress and GOP efforts to undermine the long-standing norms of America’s democratic order. 

About Professor Allan J. Lichtman

Professor Lichtman received his PhD from Harvard University in 1973 with a specialty in modern American history and quantitative methods. He became an Assistant Professor of History at American University in 1973 and a Full Professor in 1980, and a Distinguished Professor in 2011. He received the Scholar/Teacher of the year award for 1992-93. He has published 11 books and several hundred popular and scholarly articles. He has lectured in the US and internationally and provided commentary for major US and foreign networks and leading newspapers and magazines across the world. He has been an expert witness in some 100 civil and voting rights cases. His book, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction. His co-authored book with Richard Breitman, FDR and the Jews, won the National Jewish Book Award Prize in American Jewish History and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times book prize in history. His book, The Case for Impeachment, was a national independent bookstore bestseller. Lichtman's prediction system, the Keys to the White House, has correctly predicted the outcomes of all US presidential elections since 1984. He was listed by as # 85 among 100 most influential geopolitical experts in the world and received the lifetime achievement award from Who's Who. 

The opinions expressed in this interview are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of American University.