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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

McCarthy Reflects on Time in Congress, Assesses U.S. Democracy’s Strength

Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, characterized the state of American democracy as dysfunctional yet redeemable at an April 9 event that the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) hosted.

Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94), the executive director of GU Politics and a former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, moderated the conversation, entitled “How Strong Is Our Democracy?” McCarthy, who served in the House from 2007 to 2023 and held the office of speaker from January 2023 to October 2023, resigned from his post in December 2023 after eight dissatisfied members of his party joined with Democrats to oust him from his speakership.

Reflecting on the results of a GU Politics poll in which 81% of respondents reported they think the United States’ democracy is currently under threat, McCarthy said he believes in the innate power of democracy, but that it is inherently flawed as a system of government.

“Democracy itself is still the greatest form of government because we, the people, get involved,” McCarthy said at the event. “But the design of democracy itself is not fast. It’s not overly efficient in certain matters, and there are reasons why people start having a lack of trust.”

McCarthy voted on Jan. 6, 2021 to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, which observers concur was a free and fair process. He said he remains steadfast in his decision on the grounds that the vote would not have tangibly altered the electoral outcome.

“One of the cornerstones of democracy is your ability to question something,” McCarthy said. 

@gupolitics | Former speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy reflected on the stability of American democracy and shared reflections on his time serving as a leader in Congress at an April 9 event at Georgetown University.

McCarthy said congressional dysfunction also weakens public trust in democracy as rising political infighting presents increased legislative roadblocks.

Even if you took people within your own party and you asked them to define what your party stands for, they couldn’t agree and they would fight among themselves,” McCarthy said.

“We don’t have two parties in Congress,” he added. “I think we’ve got like five or six different parties. And if I just had my own party that had eight people not in it, I’d still be speaking.”

In a process rife with factional tensions, legislators elected McCarthy on Jan. 6, 2023 after 15 rounds of voting. Legislators added a rule stipulating that any representative could initiate a vote to call for the speaker to vacate his post at any moment. 

This concession ultimately contributed to McCarthy’s downfall, after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R.-Fla.) instigated a motion for McCarthy to vacate the chair. The public approval rating of Congress sank to its lowest level since 2015 following McCarthy’s removal. 

McCarthy said he accepted the results of the political maneuver, but added he does not believe that a slim percentage of any party should be able to dictate who is able to assume leadership positions in the government.

“But because those eight who partnered all with the Democrat, you see the conference is in disarray because there’s no consequences,”McCarthy said. “There’s no rules.”

After three weeks of dispute, representatives elected Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to replace McCarthy on Oct. 25. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a Gaetz ally, has threatened to call for a motion for Johnson to vacate the chair because she disagrees with his decision to pass bills funding Ukraine in its efforts fighting Russia.

McCarthy, who comes from a family of Democrats, said he did not regret his decision to negotiate with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution Sept. 30 to fund the government to avoid a government shutdown, even though this sowed discontent among the members of his party, who ultimately voted to oust him. 

“Because I kept the government open, I’d do it all over again,” McCarthy said.

“You’ve gotta have compromise,” he added. “It’s just the way that our government is set up,”

McCarthy said although the United States’ democracy is not perfect, the government has the framework upon which to craft a stronger democracy.

“We strive to be a more perfect union,” McCarthy said. “We’re not perfect, but we have an ability to do it. So when something goes wrong, we shouldn’t say the whole system is wrong. We have a system that allows us to correct that.”

“But we should be honest about what’s wrong with the system, and honest about really getting to the bottom of the answer,” McCarthy added. “And if you have a democracy, don’t think it’s just the elected officials who are going to solve the problem — it’s all of us.”

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Catherine Alaimo
Catherine Alaimo, Senior News Editor
Catherine Alaimo is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences from Scottsdale, Ariz., studying psychology with minors in journalism and French. She can perfectly impersonate Anna Delvey from "Inventing Anna." [email protected]
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