It was a day that showed the Republicans’ inability to govern
Even before the messy, public smackdown of Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as House speaker unfolded, the prime takeaway was that a small group extreme Republican right-wingers won the day – and not only this skirmish.
In effect, Republicans were voting for who could be the biggest, baddest bully to stand up to Joe Biden and Democrats, not for someone who could guide even a conservative course for legislation. That made it more akin to a Republican state primary for candidates rather than a general election about who should represent Americans.
Indeed, it was a day that showed the Republicans’ inability to govern.
Though the outcome remains in doubt through three ballots, the chances for McCarthy started out worse than even preliminary counts had suggested and got worse from there in repeated votes. McCarthy seems to want his committed opponents simply to tire and give up – or to move behind closed doors to seek a compromise.
While the struggle for speaker continues today, nothing on the Republican agenda of challenging Democrats can get done. Of course, they have no legislation they seek, just obstruction, so it was a day of delay for any attacks on the administration, on the FBI or on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
This being about politics, there was an overabundance of hype about the personalities involved in this rare leadership drama rather than on any policies at risk, and on the ceremonial aspects turned into a procedural morass.
Sure, it was an embarrassing vote of no confidence in McCarthy, who has lusted after this job, even trading internal rules and political favors in his attempt to gain the required minimum vote. But McCarthy could not win support for the honor from within his own party, even with the backing of Donald Trump.
The talking heads called the Rightist Rebellion “chaos,” but it seems anything but that. However odd the specific complaints, this was a deliberate, measured attack on expectations to assure that they will be dictating a lot of what happens in Congress over the next two years.
The Irony: It’s an Election
Ironically, it came down to an election with the voters a bunch of congressmen who are steeped in the MAGA tea of outcome denial. Only elections in which they win are recognized.
But what played out in Congress yesterday was just like recent parliamentary revolutions that we have seen create and re-create governments in Britain, Israel and elsewhere where small factions with extreme views form coalitions to decide on the direction for the nation.
The weirdest part of the dispute was that the complaints about McCarthy were vague and diffuse. What they seemed to share was that McCarthy is not sufficiently obstructionist, not sharp-tongued enough in his ability to yell at Democrats, as if that is the point of government.
This Is a group that that believes its members were sent to Congress with the single mission of saying No to anything Biden or Democrats propose, but it is difficult to recognize what part of the Biden administration or legislation that McCarthy is perceived as supporting.
Democrats certainly have not recognized McCarthy as a working partner.
Apparently, all Republicans in Congress think it is wise to remove metal detectors from the doors to the House chamber because that happened on Day One.
If the rightist fringe could make the speaker choice problematic, it is a guarantee that the drive for leverage will affect the full buffet of policies that make up the Republican agenda. Even had McCarthy survived, he would have the threat of expulsion raised daily.
An Impossible Job
It is an impossible way to operate in a split Congress where threading the needle for passage of legislation requires either ultimate authority or excellent abilities at persuasion. McCarthy showed he had neither; Democrat Nancy Pelosi and her leadership showed the relative opposite.
What makes that strange is that our recent elections showed that, as a nation, American voters want something quite different from endless MAGA replays of election theft, preferring bipartisanship and problem-solving over the sharp partisanship and evidence-free election turmoil.
By that standard, if there were a McCarthy challenge, one might have expected the pressure to be more open to compromise rather than less. Indeed, in the past, Republican speakers have had to turn to Democrats for help in passing particular bills that their own extreme caucus would not support.
On CNN, former Republican Rep. Charlie Dent seemed correct in saying any new speaker “will be subject to the whims and the never-ending leveraging of a small group of members who want to wield power. You’re going to have this group on the far right that is going to continue to push the leadership to go further right on issues.”
The pre-vote caucus meeting reportedly got ugly with Republicans calling one another names and plenty of swearing overheard in the hallways outside the meeting room. Others willing to talk with reporters said several of the complaints about McCarthy were petty and personal.
The day proved to be all about the petty. Too bad it actually matters to the rest of us.
IMAGE AT TOP: USDA photo by Tayna E. Flores