We’re seeing plenty of retribution politics even in the first day after the ouster of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House.
Weirdly, the revenge is being leveled at Democrats, who had no love for an opposition leader who repeatedly shunned the chance to include them, as well as the small group of Republican extremist congress members who insisted that McCarthy was too forgiving to those very same Democrats.
Multiple analyses pointed to a House considered “ungovernable” by its slim Republican majority.
To be clear, McCarthy lost his speakership because he couldn’t reach the majority number of necessary votes from within his Republican caucus, not because Democrats who lacked incentives didn’t save him. Indeed, McCarthy and allies have continued to kick sand at Democratic policies and aspirations for the House agenda.
The blowback was taking immediate shape in pettiness, like kicking former Speaker Nancy Pelosi from a hidden meeting office and other such niceties. But the signs were clear that any new speaker candidates will have to subscribe to a series of other ways of withholding anything that looks like cooperation from Democrats.
But the question quickly will turn demonstrably more serious: Will any would-be new Republican Speaker bring an up-and-down vote on continuing aid to Ukraine to the floor? Will any bill introduced by Democrats be allowed to advance? Will we see new attempts to punish Democrats by limiting participation on House committees or in attempts to expel members? There was early talk of dropping Democrats from congressional overseas trips.
The Bigger Dangers
At the same time, the clock already is ticking down on the 45-day deadline imposed by a short-term continuing resolution for government funding.
With the continuing insistence of the right-wing rebel group prepared to block adoption of a budget, the only hope for a resolution that will avoid a government shutdown remains a bipartisan compromise along the lines of what came from the Senate. That was why McCarthy signed on to his own version of the same compromise — triggering his own vote of no confidence and his possible disappearance from the Congress altogether.
In the first days after the earthquake that was McCarthy’s political assassination was complete chaos about how Republicans will recover, how they will view shutdown deadlines and how and who will be doing any negotiations with the rest of government leaders about what to do.
Indeed, a help-wanted ad for Speaker might outline the impossible cross-demands:
Republicans seek Speaker candidates who will agree with anyone with an opinion, no matter how loony or irrelevant, and will pursue a minority agenda that reflects only the most extreme views on government spending in a split government. Candidates must be able to deliver adherence in votes that seem virtually guaranteed to fail to hit passage in the House, Senate and White House. Experience not necessary, TV presence preferred. Donald Trump endorsement a must.
Of course, any reasonable, politically effective Speaker candidate would be someone willing to turn to Democrats to pass needed compromise legislation that otherwise faces denial by the hostage-taking Freedom Caucus. That, in turn, guarantees that the same candidate will face the same problems that McCarthy found — and possibly the same punishing fate. Going the other direction, kowtowing to the most right-wing members, proved to be an abyss without bottom — as well as a thick application of unreality to getting anything done in government.
The day-after Republican House is a world in which overuse of the term “trust” means agreement with the individual congress member offering the critique of candidates.
For McCarthy, “trust” seemed a series of promises without regard to pragmatism, and the inevitable clash of agendas that were never reconcilable. It is what fueled a public image of wanting the title more than earning the ability to get things through Congress.
For most Republicans in the House, “trust” meant backing their guy, making rebel Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and mates the breakers of political trust. Of course, previously House Republicans thought former Rep. Liz Cheney broke “trust” by criticizing Donald Trump.
In Freedom Caucus terms, “trust” means shutting the government unless non-military spending is immediately cut by 30 percent, the border shut, aid to Ukraine ended, Joe Biden impeached along with any number of his administration leaders and punishing the Justice Department and FBI — and state counterparts — for prosecuting Trump on 91 felony counts and more civil cases.
Among Democrats, “trust” means sticking to a budget deal struck with the White House in June to avoid falling off the federal debt cliff. With House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, “trust” means keeping an open dialogue and figuring out together the shape of bipartisan solutions where they are possible, and arranging for straight votes on issues where they don’t.
Among Senate Republicans, loss of such trust in McCarthy is spawning open worry about how all this will affect a widespread and growing perception that Republicans are incapable of governing — a theme that will spill over into next year’s elections.
“McCarthy’s ouster is dramatic evidence, if redundant, about the state of the modern GOP,” said Politico in the ouster aftermath. “The House GOP now resembles a failed state. The party elects leaders with no capacity to lead members who have no interest in being led.”
In place of trusted leadership, we have a House that reflects “politics of contempt” that belies Republican claims that they know what they are doing.