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Jayapal: Chaos around House speaker vote signals 'a very difficult two years' ahead

caption: Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the House Progressive Caucus, attends an event at the Capitol in Washington, July 28, 2022.
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Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the House Progressive Caucus, attends an event at the Capitol in Washington, July 28, 2022.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

The U.S. House has, so far, failed to elect a speaker, delaying the work ahead.

Despite wanting Friday off to mark the second anniversary of the January 6 attacks on the Capitol, representatives are headed back to the floor to try yet again to get the job done.

But Washington Democratic Congressmember Pramila Jayapal says the "drama" will "quickly seep out to the rest of the country" even after a speaker is selected.

"The dysfunction of the last two days is currently limited to the House floor," she told KUOW's Paige Browning. "What about when we have to raise the debt ceiling? What about when we have to do government appropriations? These are things that are going to affect every single constituent."

Republican Congressmember Kevin McCarthy of California failed to secure the speakership 11 times by the end of the day Thursday.

Washington Democratic Congressmember Suzan DelBene echoes Jayapal's sentiments. She says, in failing to come together to elect a speaker, Republicans are causing serious problems in the House.

"The dysfunction on the Republican side impacts our ability to govern," DelBene said.

DelBene points out that members can't be sworn without a speaker in place. As a result, they can't perform basic functions of government, like attend security briefings. But DelBene also feels that the chaos could actually help her party in coming years. She's the new head of the Congressional Campaign Committee that will work to get Democrats elected in 2024.

Washington's two Republican House members could not be reached for comment.

"You reap what you sow"

Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, points to the loss of more moderate Republicans who either chose not to run for reelection or who lost their contests to candidates even further to the right — members of McCarthy's own party who are now blocking his rise to speaker.

"You reap what you sow," she says of the chaos on the House floor. "This has been a long time coming. Republicans, including moderate Republicans, allowed extreme MAGA Republicans to get away with some of the worst assaults on the United States Capitol on January 6 [2021]. ... And I think this is another version of the attack on the institutions that allow us to be a functioning democracy. That is very much on the shoulders of these Republicans who have allowed Donald Trump to be the cult figure of the Republican Party."

Two years after the attack on the Capitol, Jayapal says our democracy is fragile, and the struggle to elect a speaker suggests "a very difficult two years" ahead.

Democrats have so far been united in the speaker race, voting for Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York; they lack enough votes to actually put the Democratic leader into the speaker's chair.

McCarthy could strike a deal for some of their 212 votes to get the 218 he needs to win. Jayapal is highly skeptical of that possibility, though.

"If we were to agree to Democratic votes for a Republican speaker without a full agreement, then what happens when that Republican speaker cuts Social Security or Medicare?" she says. "I don't think anybody is looking for this to continue. We want a speaker of the House, but we want a speaker of the House that is going to negotiate in good faith for the American people. And I do worry that the concessions that Kevin McCarthy now appears to be making are going to mean a complete disruption to the work of the United States Congress over the next two years."

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