Today was supposed to be when Kevin McCarthy achieved his dream of becoming Speaker of the House, second in line for the presidency (an admittedly scary thought). He'd already had his stuff moved into the Speaker's office.
But McCarthy not only failed to be elected speaker by the new Republican House majority on the first vote, losing 19 members of his own party when he could only afford to lose four, McCarthy went down in flames on the second and third votes also, with 20 defectors on the third vote.
So it was a day of Republican chaos in the House of Representatives today. Naturally avid Democrats like me watched and listened to the proceedings with glee.
Often Democratic politics is described as being akin to herding cats. But at least someone is trying to do the herding. With House Republicans, it'd difficult to tell who is attempting to bring order to the task of choosing a speaker, which hasn't required more than one vote since 1923.
Tomorrow the House will reconvene and try again to choose a speaker. Knowledgeable political commentators I heard today are split on whether it will be McCarthy. It should be, since McCarthy has been the House minority leader and about 90% of House Republicans backed him in the three votes today.
But that other 10% may dig in their heels, refusing to vote for McCarthy no matter how many votes are taken over many days. While ordinarily I'd view this possibility as entertaining political theatrics, the reasons that a small House Republican minority may topple McCarthy's political ambitions are worrisome.
McCarthy has been doing his best to negotiate with that 10%, attempting to give them juicy committee assignments, modify House rules to their liking, and such. However, the problem for McCarthy is that this group is aptly nicknamed the Chaos Caucus.
Meaning, they aren't interested in achieving more political power so they can enact legislation in accord with their conservative values. That was what the Freedom Caucus wanted, and the even older Tea Party Caucus wanted.
When was the last time you heard House Republicans talk about doing away with Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, and substituting a conservative alternative? It's been quite a while. These days most House Republicans are only interested in stopping Democrats from achieving their goals, not passing GOP legislation.
McCarthy apparently thought that after he lost the first vote for speaker today, his support would increase when it became apparent that since the vast majority of House Republicans favored him, the 10% who didn't would realize that McCarthy was the only viable GOP candidate to be Speaker of the House.
Not unreasonable to think that, since generally politicians want their party to succeed and are willing to sacrifice some of their own desires to advance the cause of their party.
Yet while McCarthy may well be able to cobble together enough votes tomorrow to become speaker, it's just as likely, if not more so, that the Chaos Caucus opposing him will stand firm -- since they aren't interesting in achieving legislative goals, but rather in demolishing traditional institutions and creating havoc.
Free-floating anger has replaced political strategizing in their social-media-obsessed minds. If the Republican House Chaos Caucus members can grandstand their way to pleasing their extreme right-wing base, they've succeeded, even if what they're doing harms the country and the interests of their constituents.
So even though I'd find it entertaining if the recalcitrant 10% prevents Republicans from electing a House speaker for days, or even longer, along with other political observers I'm worried about what this means for must-pass legislation in 2023.
Notably, the need to increase our nation's debt ceiling, which is basically just a commitment to pay for spending already incurred by Congress. Democrats should have done away with the debt ceiling entirely when they had the chance, since it's akin to the Electoral College: something no other country has, and the United States shouldn't have either.
Long ago, the debt ceiling was raised routinely on a bipartisan basis, the best way to do it. More recently, the debt ceiling has gotten mired in partisan politics, a less good way to do it, since raising the ceiling was held hostage to policy demands.
But as bad as that has been, with stock market crashes and worries about our nation's willingness to pay its bills and make bond interest payments, hostage taking at least involves negotiations: you give me this, and I'll give you that.
The 20 Republican House members who voted against McCarthy are right-wing extremists who would be equally willing to vote against raising the debt limit. They include Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and Scott Perry.
If the House Republicans refuse to pass legislation with the aid of Democratic votes, the Chaos Caucus will have an effective veto over must-pass bills such as such as that raising the debt ceiling. This could be disastrous.
So as much as I like to see House Republicans in disarray, they need to get their act together in a semblance of "array" for the good of our country.
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