LISTEN LIVE: Loading...

Advertisement

 

This Republican Party is a long time coming

US Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to U.S. Representative Marjorie Tayor Greene (R-GA) on the floor of the US House of Representatives at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 4, 2023. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)
US Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to U.S. Representative Marjorie Tayor Greene (R-GA) on the floor of the US House of Representatives at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 4, 2023. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

You have to love the irony. The Republican obstructionists who have been railing against the corrupt internal politics of Washington this week have spent all of their negotiating efforts extorting procedural perks from Rep. Kevin McCarthy that are as irrelevant as they are incomprehensible to the voters the insurgents claim to champion.

In exchange for supporting the California Republican for Speaker of the House are the rebels demanding a pledge that completing the wall on the Southern border will be the first item on his policy agenda? Or a promise that no gun control bill will ever get out of committee? Or a commitment that the decimation of Obamacare will be his top priority?

No. The 20 GOP agitators who have brought the House to a standstill are not interested in policy. This small band of hostage takers, instead, is commemorating the second anniversary of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by demanding more personal power for themselves in a chamber for which they and their supporters have only shown only contempt.

For his part, McCarthy abandoned what was once Republican orthodoxy: never negotiate with terrorists. He agreed to lower from five to one the number of members required to force a vote ousting the Speaker. He agreed to put more members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus on the Rules Committee, which controls the flow of legislation to the floor. He vowed to name to leadership such fringe members as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — a Georgia congresswoman stripped of all her committee assignments in 2021 because of her well-documented history of trafficking in racism, antisemitism and ugly conspiracy theories targeting Democrats.

U.S. Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert (R-CO) (L) and Rep.-elect Matt Gaetz (R-FL) walk to the House Chamber during the third day of elections for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 05, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert (R-CO) (L) and Rep.-elect Matt Gaetz (R-FL) walk to the House Chamber during the third day of elections for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 05, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

In capitulating to the self-aggrandizing demands of these wingnuts McCarthy has insured that his much-desired but increasingly unlikely speakership would be as brief as it would be ineffectual.

Why would any rational Republican vote for such spineless candidate? After failing 11 consecutive times (so far) to secure the 218 votes he needs to claim the gavel, McCarthy could succeed in his vanity project only by further stripping the speakership of its power and its purpose.

Freshman Republican Congressman John James of Michigan could not have been more wrong when he compared the speakership fight this week to the leadership contest of 1856. It took two months and 133 ballots to put Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts in the Speaker’s chair in that fraught period before the Civil War when the nation was riven by the issue of slavery.

This small band of hostage takers, instead, is commemorating the second anniversary of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by demanding more personal power for themselves ...

No such defining issue divides the chamber at the start of the 118th Congress. Disarray and dysfunction do. At stake is no legislative agenda, no policy priorities, no unified vision to advance the needs of the nation. Just a handful of extremists holding hostage the people’s House for no purpose beyond their plainly joyful embrace of anarchy and media exposure.

There is nothing Shakespearean about this stalemate beyond the obvious — three days of rollcalls and Republican anti-establishment rhetoric raging against “Washington politicians” and “the swamp” have amounted to a lot of “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

That a band of nihilists could so stymie the mechanics of government says everything about the havoc Donald Trump has wreaked on the Republican Party. All but two of the House agitators embraced the “big lie” that Joe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election. Some 140 House Republicans voted against certifying the Electoral College results, even after the U.S. Capitol had been ransacked by violent insurrectionists on Jan. 6, 2021.

Violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (John Minchillo/AP)
Violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (John Minchillo/AP)

The House dissidents have no more interest in governance than Trump did, but the destructive force he unleashed threatens to consume the former president, as well. Far from embracing Trump’s call to support McCarthy, Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert taunted him instead, urging him to convince his candidate to withdraw.

For all his complicity in this relentless chaos, the disorder in the GOP predates Trump by at least four decades. Yes, the Tea Party candidates elected to the House in 2010 promised to block legislation, not to write it. Their purpose was to thwart President Obama at every turn. But, even earlier, in 1984, a young Georgia congressman named Newt Gingrich led just as unruly a crew of right-wingers in open revolt against what — in an echo of the histrionics we heard on the floor this week — he called Democratic tyranny.

It was hilarious to hear Gingrich on Fox News this week denounce the latest batch of insurgents for the showboating tactics he perfected 10 years before he became House Speaker himself in 1994.

Gingrich was among the first to recognize the power of performative politics. In 1984, after the close of the chamber’s business, he and his allies hijacked the C-Span cameras then trained on the podium on the House floor to denounce Democrats for being anti-American and “blind to communism.” In response, Massachusetts’ own, Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. insisted that C-Span sweep the floor every few minutes to show those watching at home that the chamber was empty.

The darling of the new right U.S. Rep Newt Gingrich, R. Ga., spoke to a joint caucus of the House and Senate GOP at the Quorum on February 12, 1985. (Denver Post via Getty Images)
The darling of the new right U.S. Rep Newt Gingrich, R. Ga., spoke to a joint caucus of the House and Senate GOP at the Quorum on February 12, 1985. (Denver Post via Getty Images)

O’Neill personally took to the floor to lambast Gingrich. “You deliberately stood in that well before an empty House, and challenged these people, and challenged their patriotism, and it is the lowest thing that I’ve ever seen in my 32 years in Congress,” he said, earning a rebuke for his lack of comity from the chair occupied at the time by his Massachusetts colleague and close friend Massachusetts Congressman Joe Moakley.

As Gingrich knew it would, the confrontation made news. “The number one fact about the news media is they love fights,” he said. “You have to give them confrontations. When you give them confrontations, you get attention.”

Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan of Ohio are the natural successors to that self-important young disrupter from Georgia.

Had voters turned this week from the chaos on Capitol Hill to the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue they would have witnessed a contrasting take on the role of the federal government. At the White House yesterday, President Biden proposed an immigration package modified after consultations with Republicans from the more ambitious plan he offered on his first day in office.

The day before, Biden was in Kentucky with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell highlighting funding for a bridge over the Ohio River that connects Covington to Cincinnati, funding contained in an infrastructure bill passed in a bipartisan fashion by the Biden team.

Said McConnell: “We all know these are really partisan times. But I always feel no matter who gets elected once it’s all over, we ought to look for things we can agree on and try to do those even while we have big differences on other things.”

Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, the voice of reason. Who would have imagined?

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter.

Related:

Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
Eileen McNamara is an emerita professor of journalism at Brandeis University. The author of a biography of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, she won a Pulitzer Prize as a columnist for The Boston Globe.

More…

Advertisement

 
Play
Listen Live
/00:00
Close