Though he spoke in a calm, measured tone, it wasn’t hard to detect a sense of frustration in U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz’s voice last week regarding what had become a marathon exercise to choose the next speaker of the U.S. House.
“We need to get busy. There is so much to do. We’ve now lost four days,” said Bentz Friday, Jan. 5.
Bentz, a Republican who represents Oregon’s sprawling Second Congressional District, made his observations as representatives continued to battle it out whether U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, would become speaker. The fight over the speaker position began Tuesday, Jan. 3.
The issue was finally settled early Saturday on the 15th vote for speaker, giving the job to McCarthy. The political drama was historic – no candidate for speaker needed more than one ballot vote to secure the slot since 1923.
The Republican internecine struggle put key pieces of the government machinery into a holding pattern, as McCarthy supporters negotiated and delivered concessions to legislators opposed to his bid.
For Bentz, about to start his second term, the political fight proved exasperating on several levels, including the fact no representative could be sworn in until the speaker was selected.
“The IRS won’t even talk to my office. There is damage occurring as a result of this delay,” said Bentz.
Bentz, who voted for McCarthy on all the ballots, said the California congressman was the best choice. McCarthy campaigned for Bentz in his two election bids for the House.
“He is the most experienced person for that job,” said Bentz.
The speaker is the presiding officer of the House, the leader of their majority party and the administrative chief of the institution.
The speaker sets the House’s legislative schedule and controls key committee assignments.
At least initially, a core group of about 20 hardline Republican lawmakers proved to be enough to block McCarthy’s bid and Bentz said he felt their “priorities were misplaced.”
“Their priority should be the American people,” said Bentz.
Bentz said he found the opposition to McCarthy confusing.
“It’s odd because I think McCarthy is going in the same direction everyone else is,” he said.
Bentz labeled the conflict between McCarthy and the Republican dissidents as a “personality issue.”
“We should not be focused on personalities but how to fix a whole bunch of things wrong in America,” said Bentz.
Bentz said frustration isn’t a new sentiment in Washington, D.C.
“This is a challenging place. So, it takes someone who knows this space to work within it and he (McCarthy) does,” he said.
Bentz said it would have been a mistake to choose someone other than McCarthy.
“Why would we turn this incredibly challenging situation over to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing?” said Bentz.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
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