Jan 4, 2023 - Podcasts

Chaos of historic proportions in the House

After three rounds of voting on Tuesday, there is still no speaker of the House. Republicans are at a stalemate but will try again Wednesday afternoon as Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy fights for the top spot.

  • Plus, China reels from a COVID surge.

Guests: Axios' Stef Kight, Mike Allen and Han Chen.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s January 4th and it’s Wednesday!

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re following: China reels from a COVID surge. But first: chaos in the House…and the mutiny against McCarthy. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

JIM JORDAN: I hope you'll vote for Kevin McCarthy and that's why I'm proud to nominate him for Speaker of the House.

MATT GAETZ: Maybe the right person for the job of Speaker of the House isn't someone who wants it so bad.

CHIP ROY: This is not personal. It's not. This is about the future of the country.

CHERYL JOHNSON: A speaker has not been elected. The House stands adjourned until noon tomorrow.

NIALA: Sounds from the U.S. House convening for the 118th Congress yesterday. But, after three rounds of voting on Tuesday, there's still no speaker of the House. Republicans are at a stalemate and this afternoon they'll try again as California Republican Kevin McCarthy still fights for the top spot.

Axios’ Stef Kite has been covering this from Capitol Hill and is here with the latest. Hey Stef.

STEF KIGHT: Hi, Niala.

NIALA: So at the last tally, 20 Republicans refused to vote for Kevin McCarthy. You were on the hill yesterday, what was the mood like?

STEF: You know, there is definitely some frustration you could sense from Republicans. Definitely a determination from those who were opposed to McCarthy, that they were going to try to get their way. And interestingly, you know, when you looked at the Democratic side of the chamber, there was quite a lot of laughter and some light mockery. People seemed to be having a pretty good time, as they continued to cast their own votes for Hakeem Jefferies over and over and over again.

NIALA: What do we know about the GOP members who were unwilling to vote for Kevin McCarthy?

STEF: You know, these are really the far right flank of the Republican party and really are looking for more power. That's what this really all comes down to, is they are looking to assert their power to gain spots on the key committees. They're trying to show that they don't just wanna go along with, you know, what the rest of the Republican party wants. They really are trying to signal that they are pushing for the things that they think are most important, and really it does boil down to being a sort of power grab.

NIALA: Axios’ Stef Kight. Thanks Stef.

STEF: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: Turning now to Axios co-founder and AM author Mike Allen for some context.

Mike, the longest speaker election in American history was in 1856, and it took two months and 133 ballots to get to a speaker of the House. How big of a deal is what we saw unfold yesterday? And do we expect this is gonna take months?

MIKE ALLEN: Well, Niala I guess we're three down 130 to go. But, Niala this is obviously, in a seminal moment in the history of the House, but look at what it means for the Republican party. The Republicans won the House majority, like it was narrow, which is why Kevin McCarthy is in this problem. But they won and these rebels won too. Just about everything that they've asked for, Kevin McCarthy has given them. Like one person on the team McCarthy told me, they're like the dog that caught the car, like they don’t have a plan.

NIALA: Meanwhile, Democrats have been standing united, all voting for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. What does this say about the two parties at this point?

MIKE: Niala, that is a very smart question because what this shows is that the newly minority democratic caucus has gotten a real lesson in the power of unity. So this is a very diverse caucus and yet they stuck together. And what one very smart Democrat pointed out to me is that this will really help the House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, because their extremes are less likely to undermine him because they saw what happened when Republicans did that.

NIALA: Mike, yesterday felt like a huge procedural mess. But why does this matter for Americans outside the Beltway?

MIKE: It matters for Americans because half of one third of our government, right, the House part of the legislative branch isn't functioning. There aren't committees, members aren't officially sworn in, they're not doing the people's business. It shows to America in a more vivid way than usual, just how broken the system is. And that's why I say this is such an historic moment for the Republican party because we knew that it was fractured. But, now we see it in a new way. I think that the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said it best, he was talking about these rebels and their lack of a strategy for actually pulling something off, and he says these guys couldn't play tic-tac-toe.

NIALA: So, Mike, where does this leave us?

MIKE: One way to look at this is an extension of what happened again and again in midterm races, and that is that Republicans who had bowed to Trump, which of course include Kevin McCarthy, underperformed again and again. Now this is gonna be the beginning of the hunt for Republican leaders who can take the party past the Trump era.

NIALA: Axios’ Mike Allen. Thanks, Mike.

MIKE: Niala, have the best day.

NIALA: In a moment - an update on Covid-19 and China.

China reels from a COVID surge

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I'm Niala Boodhoo.

A huge wave of Covid cases strained hospitals in China over the holidays, after the country abruptly ended its zero-Covid policy last month. And a growing list of countries, including the U.S. have put in place mandatory covid screening for visitors from China. Here to catch us up on what this means for China and for the rest of the world is Axios’ Han Chen. Hi Han.

HAN CHEN: Hi, Niala.

NIALA: Han, the last month has been pretty tough for China in terms of Covid, what are you hearing about how things look on the ground there right now?

HAN: Right. So, what I've been hearing is that this is absolutely the worst wave to ever hit China over the past three years. We know this because back in 2020 there were, you know, images of trickling out from Wuhan and later parts of China. At that point, it was kind of strained, but not at the level anywhere near what it looks like right now. I mean, to give you example, I've seen footage online on Twitter of hospitals, not only treating people on the floor inside hospitals but they've recently moved out to the streets, in front of the hospital, around the hospital. And there were basically, patients, on the stretchers, on gurneys. And they were being treated on the streets in the cold winter, and that's unprecedented.

NIALA: Han, can you remind us why China is in the situation now? Because what you just described sounds like where the rest of the world was at the beginning of the pandemic.

HAN: Right, what happened in China is because of the zero-Covid policy, and because people were locked up in their home for so long, for so many years, they've lost their natural immunity to a lot of viruses. And, I think as China opened up and abruptly scrapped its zero-Covid policies the world actually looked at it in confusion because you know, it is way too fast, their reversal policies, and they actually took a lot of Chinese themselves, by surprise.

NIALA: So what is the outlook for people who have been waiting to go back and visit their families in China and they haven't been able to do that for the past three years because of all of these lockdowns?

HAN: Right. So we know that China, starting on January 8th, are removing the quarantine requirements for all incoming travelers. China is also easing the restrictions on the flights. China has actually drastically cut the number of flights over the past few years, but they're beginning to actually ease that, so I think the tickets are gonna be much easier to get. And it's gonna be much cheaper. But I would say that some people will decide to put it on hold just wait for the peak to pass a little bit. I think that will be a smart choice for, for a lot of people.

NIALA: So as China's opening up, as I mentioned, other countries are adding restrictions on China. How has Beijing responded to that?

HAN: So, a foreign ministry spokesperson came out on Tuesday saying that Beijing will look at corresponding measures to counter some of those restrictions that have been imposed on Chinese travelers.

NIALA: So, Han as we think of the Chinese New Year approaching the idea that hundreds of millions of people may be traveling within China and then even outside of China. What are you watching for next?

HAN: I think a lot of health experts are trying to understand whether the, what people are getting in China are going to mutate into new and potentially more dangerous strains in the coming weeks. And I think, you know, as we've seen from Delta to Omicron. Omicron was much more infectious, but less severe than Delta. So, in China's case right now, there are a lot of cases, but there are people who are mostly reporting moderate to, uh, mild symptoms. So right now they're still trying to understand what the virus in China is.

NIALA: Han Chen is on Axios’ World Desk. Thanks for being with us, Han.

HAN: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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