A change of power will take place in Washington's Capitol this Tuesday. When the members of the newly elected House of Representatives meet for the first time in November, they will do so with a new majority. In the next two years, Republicans will hold a fairly narrow majority in the first chamber of Congress.
So far, the Democrats have had the say here, most recently by a razor-thin lead. In the Senate, a third of which was newly elected two months ago, the Democrats have retained their majority.
The symbolic and factual effect of a new majority in the House of Representatives (“House” for short) can hardly be underestimated. The Republicans can make life very difficult for the president in the second half of his four-year term, putting him under a lot of political pressure. Joe Biden's nice and - comparatively - easy time, in which his party dominated both chambers of Congress, will end on Tuesday.
Biden's government is made more difficult because Congress has budgetary powers. So every dollar the Democrats want to spend must get Republican approval. Or at least the green light from a number of Republican lawmakers. Although the House mostly votes along partisan lines, there is no party compulsion.
Republicans are likely to anchor their priorities more firmly in future budgets. That's why the Democrats quickly pushed the $1.7 trillion federal budget through the old house before the end of the legislative period.
Biden is also threatened with trouble on other levels. The strongest party in the House of Representatives sets the agenda for the plenary session and committees. In addition, Republicans will nominate all committee chairs in the future. It is quite possible that they will set up special or investigative committees, for example to investigate alleged political indoctrination of the secret services.
Republicans also want to target Hunter Biden, the president's son. The 52-year-old once maintained dubious business relationships, for example with China and a Ukrainian gas company. The former drug-addicted son of the president now works as a painter.
Several Republicans have already announced that they want to open impeachment proceedings against individual Biden cabinet members. Among other things, this should target Alejandor Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security. Republicans accuse him of inactivity on the southern state border with Mexico.
Another candidate for impeachment is Attorney General Merrick Garland, although he has still not filed charges against ex-President Donald Trump. It is extremely unlikely that an impeachment against a Biden minister would be successful. But such a procedure would always cause all sorts of political theater thunder.
It's quite possible that the Republican leadership in the House will have to take such questionable actions even if they don't think much of it. Due to the narrow majority – the Republicans hold 222 of the 435 seats – individual MPs, including strident or right-wing extremists, have considerable leeway.
Kevin McCarthy, who will become Speaker of the House and replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi, has been feeling this for weeks. An influential and prestigious post, the Speaker of the House is constitutionally number three after President and Vice President.
After the midterm elections, which were disappointing for Republicans, McCarthy is dependent on almost every faction member for the roll-call vote in the plenary on Tuesday. If all deputies are present, he needs 218 votes. If only five party members refuse their approval, his long-standing political career goal will shake.
The 57-year-old has every reason to be nervous. In a factional election in November, only 188 Republicans voted for McCarthy, his right-wing challenger Andy Biggs received 31 votes. McCarthy is currently fighting for every faction member. He has already promised the right-wing MP and conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene membership in an important committee.
In recent days, McCarthy has made numerous concessions to the far-right to right-wing wing of his faction. But even that still doesn't guarantee him a majority on Tuesday. He even went so far on Sunday that he wants to allow a vote of no confidence against the speaker.
Accordingly, five members of the House should be able to force such a vote of no confidence. This increases the potential for blackmail by the right-wing deputies. So McCarthy is willing to institutionally weaken the post he has dreamed of for years so that he can climb it.
Is that enough? Even after the concessions, nine Republican lawmakers who left their voting behavior open on Tuesday wrote in a letter expressing their dissatisfaction with McCarthy.
This group wants an individual MP to have the right to request a vote to overthrow the Speaker. It would not be surprising if McCarthy himself bowed to this suggestion. He has long since become a man of concessions.
Changes of position suit the political life of the always tanned man from California, while programmatically he is largely bare. Once a critic of Donald Trump, McCarthy said in 2016 that Trump was "paid by Putin."
Then he pandered to the President. After storming the Capitol, he briefly found critical words, also addressed to Trump, before he visited the ex-president at his home in Mar-a-Lago.
McCarthy has not heard any criticism of Trump since then. While Trump, in turn, regularly scolds numerous leading Republicans ("You are destroying our country"), he spares McCarthy. Should he become the new spokesman, the question would be to what extent Trump is imposing an agenda on him. Because he always acts according to the motto: no service without consideration.
So is McCarthy becoming a Trump puppet? Quite possible, especially since the right-wing extremist wing of the group is strictly loyal to Trump. The danger for McCarthy: a loss of support from moderate Republicans. He could even fail the first ballot today. That would be sensational. The fact that a speaker needs a second round of voting – that was last in 1923.
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