Mexico City – It took one-hundred years, but the newly elected Republican majority proved emphatically that the deep divisions in the country were not just red versus blue, Republicans versus Democrats, but even Republicans against Republicans, as they failed to elected a Speaker of the House of Representatives after the first three ballots. For all of us in the cheap seats watching from afar, they proved something else even more certainly, and that is that they are crippled and unable to govern effectively, given their ideological and programmatic divisions. The circus has come to town in DC, and for all of us admission is free, but we’ll pay dearly, as the country is stalled and being pushed backwards.
Here’s how it works in the House of Representatives. The party with the majority elects the Speaker of the House in opening a new two-year session of its side of Congress. All those recently elected or re-elected are then sworn into office, including making an oath to support the Constitution, which seems a stretch for some these days given January 6th. Importantly, they then approve the rules under which they will operate during the term, which whether you like California Congressman and longtime minority leader Kevin McCarthy or not, this is where the nut cutting is happening in the negotiations for votes. The Speaker needs 218 votes to win, and the Republicans only have a tiny four-vote majority, which is where the leverage for the far-right radicals supposedly lies. In the three votes so far, McCarthy has not passed 202, with between 19 and 20 holdouts not joining the rest of their caucus. In 1923, the last time there was such a stalemate, it took nine votes for a speaker to be chosen. It has been since the end of the Civil War since a Speaker could not be settled. The Republicans have gone backwards to make history, seemingly unable to move forward.
For the country and all of us watching, there’s no win of any kind on the horizon. McCarthy has already given the rump group everything but the kitchen sink, and they are holding out for that as well. He’s demanded resignations of immigration officials and flown to the border to gawk. He’s promised partisan hearings. He’s conceded a rule change that earlier Republican speakers refused to abide that would allow them to use the budget process to defund programs and lower salaries of government officials that they opposed, which frankly is a mockery of the division of powers and any semblance of normal government. Reportedly, the dissidents want to allow any rouge member to freelance in that way. This is wild and crazy stuff, guaranteeing chaos over the next couple of years, whoever the becomes Speaker.
I’ve got nothing good to say about Kevin McCarthy. He stands for nothing and blows each way with the wind. Unfortunately, when I read that the alternative to McCarthy might be to elevate the current #2 in the House, Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, my blood runs cold, and I’m ready to campaign for McCarthy, knowing Scalise’s record from the Louisiana legislature to Congress would make him worse on all counts.