A Time of Indecision in the United States - MRU

30 October, 2023
A Time of Indecision in the United States
Law School
Public Security Academy
Faculty of Public Governance and Business
Faculty of Human and Social Studies

David Schultz, visiting lecturer at Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) and member of the MRU LAB Justice Research Laboratory, professor of political science at Hamline University in the USA, in his article talks about the current political crisis in the US.

These are the times that try America’s soul and shake global confidence in the United States, especially among those in Europe.

The United States is in a crisis moment.  For the first time in American history its House of Representatives voted to remove its Speaker of the House and it took two weeks to replace him. He could be removed again.

Constitutionally, the Speaker in theory is the third most powerful government official in the United States and second in succession to replace the president after the vice-president if he were incapacitated.  In reality, the Speaker is closer to being a prime minister and is only second in authority compared to the president.  Without a speaker, the House of Representatives could not act.  Without the House acting, the entire Congress was unable to pass bills or laws for the president to sign.  Effectively, the legislative functions of the US government were shut down.

But the internal crisis only deepens.  According to US law, Congress and the president were supposed to agree on a budget by October 1, otherwise there would be a partial government closure that would affect many domestic functions.  But an agreement was reached on September 30, to fund the government until November 17. With the selection of a new speaker, a new agreement on funding is needed, but it will not be easy.

The US government needs funding to operate domestically, but it also needs money to perform many of its international functions.  One of the issues that precipitated the Speaker’s crisis was funding to Ukraine.  While more than 60% of the American public supports funding for Ukraine and large majorities of both of the major parties in the United States remain committed in their support, former president Donald Trump opposes it along with a minority of Republicans in Congress.  Most Trump supporters too oppose more funding and want Ukraine to negotiate a settlement.  Additionally, Israel is America’s closest ally in the Middle East, and President Joe Biden has requested funding to help it.  While there is generally strong bipartisan support for Israel, there are progressive factions in the US more sympathetic to the Palestinians.

Yet with the Republican majority in the US House so thin, it only takes four or five votes under the current rules to prevent a budget from being passed or to continue funding Ukraine.  It also only takes a few votes among Republicans to remove the Speaker, and that is what happened a few weeks ago. And now, because of how divided the Republican Party is in the House, that is why it took so long to pick a new Speaker, and he too could be removed.

There is little possibility of a coalition government among Republicans and Democrats in the House.  In a parliamentary system this might be a possibility until new elections are called.  But because of the US Constitution and its structure, as well as the political divide between the two parties, such a grand coalition is not likely.

The story of the US now is polarization is fragmentation. The two major parties are divided on many issues, and so is the public.  Within the Republican Party the divide is not simply between those who support or oppose Trump, but there are also divisions within divisions.  The Democratic Party too is divided between progressive and more moderate wings.  And there is little incentive or impetus among any of these groups to compromise.

It is bad enough that America is internally divided. But the division is also scary across the world.  While America is deadlocked politically, war goes in in Ukraine and Gaza.  NATO allies in Europe no doubt worry what the impasse over Ukraine funding says. Similarly, the potential for an expansion of conflict in the Middle East is there, and no doubt China is looking at all this wondering if the time to act on Taiwan is near.  Enemies of the US may thus look at this crisis as an opportunity to exploit it as it is a moment of vulnerability.

This immediate Speaker crisis has ended for now.  But look to see the US in turmoil at least through the November 2024 elections.