When I wrote yesterday’s installment, I expected a bit more of a fight between Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy. It took 15 ballots to elect McCarthy to the speakership but only one to fire him nine months later. McCarthy is the only Speaker of the House in history to ever be removed.
The other pop culture quote that comes to mind is a clip from “Seinfeld” in which a restaurant owner tells Jerry, “That’s not going to be good for business.”
Jerry replies, “That’s not going to be good for anybody.”
And that’s where we are as a nation. This mess isn’t going to be good for anybody.
I said from the beginning that McCarthy was a bad choice for Speaker of the House, and sure, it’s fun to watch the Republican Party melt down, but think about who came out on top: Matt Gaetz and the raucous caucus.
That’s not going to be good for anybody.
In case you missed it, here’s what went down. When we last checked in, Matt Gaetz had submitted a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair. Since then, McCarthy made a failed attempt to table the motion and avoid a vote. The measure failed by 208-218 with Democrats joining the Republican rebels.
“House Democrats remain willing to find common ground on an enlightened path forward. Unfortunately, our extreme Republican colleagues have shown no willingness to do the same,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a statement. “It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War. Given their unwillingness to break from MAGA extremism in an authentic and comprehensive manner, House Democratic leadership will vote yes on the pending Republican Motion to Vacate the Chair.”
So the vote went forward. Democrats again joined eight Republicans in the anti-McCarthy minority to remove the Speaker 216-210. In case, you are wondering, the three Republicans to switch their votes were Cory Mills (R-Fla.), Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio).
If you like irony there’s plenty to go around. For example, the Republican rebels, who claim to be “the conservatives,” won in their (shall we say) insurrection against the House leadership because the liberals joined their cause. From the flip side, House Democrats just helped to elevate the shrill, radical Republican minority faction’s clout within the party. As they say, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”
Additional irony can be found in the fact that McCarthy, who prostrated himself before Donald Trump after January 6 and did his best to protect The Former Guy from investigation and impeachment, was left to twist in the wind. When MAGA came for McCarthy, Trump didn’t lift a finger to protect his henchman. As Jon Meacham said, “It’s like if you sold your soul and the check bounced.”
There is logic to the Democratic strategy. As Napoleon said, “Never interfere with an enemy in the process of destroying himself.” And in this case, the Democrats are giving the Republicans a helping hand in destroying themselves.
But while handing Matt Gaetz a victory might help Democrats in the short term, it probably won’t be good for the country.
It might well turn out to be a bad thing for Democrats in the long term as well. 2016 seems like an eternity ago but Democrats would do well to remember the cautionary tale of how a presidential candidate worked to ensure the nomination of her weakest and most incompetent rival. The plan worked too well when the buffoon not only won the nomination from the opposing party but went on to defeat the Democratic candidate and fundamentally change American politics for years to come.
As Paul Harvey might say, “You already know the rest of the story.”
The current story is still unfolding, however. The House is not conducting business for the rest of the week as Republicans try to figure out who they can trick into replacing McCarthy (because who would take the job willingly?).
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who is not the “give me liberty or give me death” guy, has become the interim Speaker. If you see a guy on television with a bow tie, that’s him. McHenry is an ally of McCarthy so the odds that he will be elected Speaker are pretty low at this point, although he has not ruled out a run. We do know that McCarthy won’t run again.
Instead, most of the names being floated for Speaker are a lot worse than a guy who wears a bow tie. I’m hearing names like Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Chip Roy (R-Texas), Steve Scalise (R-La.), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and even Donald Trump (RINO, Mar-a-Lago). Democrats are holding out hope that Hakeem Jeffries will become speaker, but this won’t happen before 2025.
I’m doubtful that Jim Jordan could get enough support from moderate Republicans. The same really goes for most of the possibilities, none of whom are moderates, because of the very narrow margin of the Republican majority. For his part, Donald Trump is probably too busy with his presidential campaign and court cases to take on the role of speaker. [Insert eye-roll emoji here.]
I’m predicting a difficult path for any potential speaker. McCarthy’s downfall illustrates the reason why.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was McCarthy crossing the aisle to use Democratic votes to keep the government open. This angered Gaetz and the kamikaze caucus and led to Gaetz filing his motion to vacate the speaker’s chair. Gaetz could do this unilaterally because McCarthy was forced to water down House rules that had previously required more votes to file the motion in order to get the job in the first place. He was hanging by a thread from day one.
It was McCarthy’s bipartisanship that set the stage for his demise, but his partisanship sealed his fate. Democrats complain that McCarthy was not trustworthy, a point of view that seems to unite all sides, and that he was just as radical as his Republican enemies.
Adam Schiff seemed to speak for most Democrats when he told The Hill, “This is someone who voted to overturn the election. This is someone who reneged on the budget deal with the President. This is someone who betrays his word on pretty much a daily basis. That’s not someone we have to trust to run one of the most important institutions in the country.”
Democrats now have the opportunity to play kingmaker if no Republican can unify the majority caucus. The Democratic minority will have to play its cards carefully, but it might be possible to build a bipartisan coalition for a moderate Speaker and marginalize Gaetz and the MAGA radicals. The big question is whether any Republican will seek to cross the aisle and face the fury of Fox News and Republican primary voters.
A Speaker with bipartisan backing could help to break the log jam and actually get positive things done in Congress. The budget impasse could be resolved, aid to Ukraine could be continued, and dare I say it, we might even get an immigration bill that includes both enhanced border security and reform for the system.
If moderate Republicans play their cards right, McCarthy’s ouster might be an opportunity to clean up their own house. It seems that Gaetz’s move has angered much of the party, likely making the Florida man surpass Ted Cruz as the most disliked congressional Republican.
But in Congress, votes reign supreme. And Republicans are going to have to deal with Gaetz and the others unless they can peel off a few Democrat votes.
It’s a problem of Overton’s window. As Republicans move to the right to mollify the inaccurately-described “conservatives,” they lose votes from both Republicans and moderate Democrats in the middle. With most of the party unwilling to court Democrats, the party lurches further to the right.
Maybe expelling Gaetz is still on the table. There is still a pending ethics investigation of Gaetz for sexual misconduct and “illicit,” to quote the New York Post, drug use. The country would automatically become a better place if Matt Gaetz was kicked out of Congress.
Meanwhile, Gaetz and his cohorts are like the proverbial dog that caught the car. They had no plan for success and now they have no plan to move forward. For the kamikaze caucus, the chaos and the spotlight are the goals.
And it can be understood if Democrats want to revel in the chaos that Gaetz is causing. They know that a Republican Party in shambles makes it more likely that President Biden will win re-election and Democrats will emerge with majorities in Congress.
It can be understood, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for the country.