Hageman Arrives in Washington, But Remains Congresswoman-Elect for Now
Mired by public drama over the House Speaker election, Hageman was unable to be sworn in Tuesday
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Jan 04, 2023
Congresswoman-elect Harriet Hageman was unable to officially be sworn in on Tuesday, as the Republican conference was thrust into disarray over a contested vote for House Speaker. (Photo via Twitter / NationalFile)
By Jacob Gardenswartz
Special to the Wyoming Truth
WASHINGTON — Congresswoman-elect Harriet Hageman arrived at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday prepared to be sworn in as the newest member of Wyoming’s Congressional delegation. Dressed in her signature “gothic cowgirl” attire and joined by her husband, John Sundahl, and family members, Hageman was set to replace Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who Wyoming voters ousted last year, in the 118th Congress.
Instead, Hageman ended the day how she started it: in procedural limbo, unable to officially take office as the Republican caucus was thrust into chaos amid a contested election for House Speaker.
With the start of a new Congress every two years, the first order of business is always for elected representatives to choose the Speaker of the House, among the most powerful people in American government, who wields significant control over the legislative body and stands second in the presidential line of succession. Without a Speaker, the House is essentially paralyzed, unable to vote on legislation or even swear in newly-elected members.
In every Congress since 1923, the Speaker has been elected by the majority party on the first ballot. Of the 434 House members present on Tuesday — short one after the death of Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) in November — all 212 Democrats voted for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chosen by their caucus as the successor to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.).
But despite holding a four-seat majority, 19 Republicans opted not to support Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the Republicans’ nominee to the post. Instead, they backed a variety of other conservatives, including some not even currently serving in Congress; the Congressional rules don’t require the Speaker to be a sitting member of Congress, though every previous Speaker has been one.
With no individual receiving an outright majority, the GOP conference was thrust into chaos and the House’s work ground to a halt, an historic and no doubt frustrating Washington welcome for Hageman and her family.
A staring contest between McCarthy and opponents
After McCarthy’s loss on the first Speaker vote, the chamber immediately moved to a second ballot, at which time Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — who himself received several votes from McCarthy holdouts on the first ballot — again nominated McCarthy.
“I hope you’ll vote for Kevin McCarthy, and that’s why I nominated him for Speaker of the House,” Jordan concluded in an impassioned speech.
Speaking after him, however, was Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a so-called “Never Kevin” member who nominated Jordan to be the Speaker. “Sometimes, we have to do jobs that we don’t really want to do. And sometimes, we have to do jobs that we are called to do,” Gaetz said, urging his colleagues to back a man who doesn’t want the job.
Democrats, meanwhile, appeared gleeful through it all, highlighting their unity amid the GOP fractures.
“We are unified behind a speaker who will continue that progress despite the chaos on the other side,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said to cheers. “We are all going to support Hakeem Jeffries for Speaker.”
The second ballot only served to help the 19 McCarthy opponents coalesce behind an alternative in Jordan, and the vote again ended without a clear victor. A similar fate befell the third ballot, with McCarthy losing even more GOP defectors to Jordan, though Jordan himself continued to support McCarthy.
Rather than attempt a fourth vote, lawmakers voted to adjourn the session until noon on Wednesday, enabling Republican leaders to sort out their conference behind closed doors. But with both sides hardened in their positions, it remains unclear how exactly the stalemate will end.
And as elected Republicans bickered amongst themselves live on TV for everyone to see, even some officials not known for intra-party criticism voiced their frustrations.
“Everyday we’re delaying, we’re delaying getting the work done of the American people,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who is facing a conservative challenge to her reelection bid. “The people who elected us are being let down.”
Hageman caught in the middle
During her Congressional campaign, Hageman aligned herself with many of the more conservative members of Congress, including Gaetz and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), both of whom traveled to Wyoming last year to stump on Hageman’s behalf. With the two opposing McCarthy, however, Hageman now finds herself treading a thin line.
Nonetheless, the Congresswoman-elect remained steadfast in her support for the Republican leader, backing him on all three ballots. In supporting McCarthy, Hageman aligned herself with the more establishment wing of the GOP, alongside former President Donald Trump, who told Breitbart last week that McCarthy has “worked very hard” and “deserves the shot.”
Hageman’s office declined comment Tuesday on her delayed swearing in and the ongoing Speaker election antics. But the Congresswoman-elect previously went public with her support for McCarthy, joining a group of 53 other “Only Kevins” — representatives who promised not to back alternative Speaker candidates.
“It’s time to move forward with our House majority and not squander it,” Hageman wrote in comments circulated by McCarthy allies. “Kevin has earned this.”
If McCarthy ultimately wins the Speaker’s gavel, Hageman stands to benefit from her loyalty. Still, she’s already facing pushback from some right-wing supporters for her pro-McCarthy stance, both within Wyoming and nationally.
In a video posted on the conservative news site NationalFile on Tuesday morning, Hageman was repeatedly confronted about her continued support of McCarthy as she was walking to the Capitol for the Speaker vote. After initially ignoring the questions, she then brushed them off: “I’m just with my family, hi.”
In Wyoming, Hageman’s GOP primary opponent, state Rep. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne), also criticized the Congresswoman-elect on Tuesday. “Of course Hageman stuck with McCarthy,” he wrote, alleging without evidence that she’s somehow beholden to corporate interests.
One irony in all this: during the past two Congresses, the representative tapped to nominate McCarthy for the speakership was none other than Cheney. As House Republican Conference Chair, Cheney said on Jan. 3, 2021 that there was “no one in this body more responsible for our tremendous new class of Members, our men and women, than our leader, Kevin McCarthy.”
Three days later came the Jan. 6 insurrection, and Cheney’s subsequent turn on McCarthy as he remained aligned with Trump. This past summer, Cheney said McCarthy had been “completely unfaithful to the Constitution.”
“I don’t believe he should be Speaker of the House,” she told ABC.