Bednar breaks down McCarthy's Speaker election: parallels between bullying and lack of decorum

February 5, 2023

The election of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House was historic for the number of voting rounds required, and got his speakership off to a rocky start.  

In an interview with "kid reporter" Lincoln Miller for Scholastic Kids PressJenna Bednar, professor of public policy and political science,  gave an overview of the significance.

"This was unusual in the modern era. For the past 100 years, the Speaker has been elected on the first ballot," Bednar said. "But in the first half of our country’s history, the Speaker elections were much more openly contentious [disputed]. In late 1855 and early 1856, it took 133 rounds of voting for Nathaniel P. Banks to be elected Speaker. Multiple rounds are an indication that the party is divided, and that its membership is not afraid to make that division publicly known."

Miller connected what was seen during McCarthy's election to bullying, asking if that had a role in the process.

"It’s interesting that you would draw a parallel between the current political behavior and the trauma of bullying," Bednar explained. "Politics has always been a world of competing interests and power plays. But on the surface, the conduct has been polite and respectful of the opposition. In recent years, decorum has often been set aside, with politicians being openly disrespectful of one another."

Finally, Miller wondered what this means for Americans going forward, and whether the lack of a Republican vision is dangerous. 

"It seemed clear that Speaker McCarthy wanted the job, so I’d imagine he is feeling pretty good. Compromises within a party are always an issue with Speaker of the House elections. It’s just that this time, the compromise played out in public, with the extreme members showing they weren’t afraid to go against the Speaker," Bednar answered. "Most of the American public is centrist. We’ll see whether this compromise and the resulting shift rightward affect the Republicans’ ability to convey a message that appeals to most Americans."

Read the entirety of Bednar's interview with Scholastic Kids Press.