The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion House Republicans put party over country, once again

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks in Las Vegas on Nov. 6. (Bridget Bennett/Bloomberg News)
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The past week has brought yet more alarming evidence of the extremism that has come to define the House Republican caucus.

On one hand, a growing list of Republicans seeks to punish 13 of their colleagues who broke ranks to vote for an infrastructure bill — a bill that a bipartisan group of senators negotiated and that 19 Republican senators joined all 50 Democrats in voting to pass in August. The House Republicans’ chief objection to a bill that addresses long-needed investments in roads, rails and ports is that it gave a win to President Biden. Punishments against GOP members who voted for it could include removing them from their committees.

On the other hand, Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) has encountered no such pushback after posting an anime video that depicts him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and attacking the president. Mr. Gosar claimed, absurdly, that the video symbolized the debate over immigration policy. This is not a joke: A recent Public Religion Research Institute poll shows that 30 percent ofRepublicans believe that violence may be necessary to solve the nation’s problems. One of the 13 Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill, Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.), has described getting threatening messages since his vote. (Mr. Upton’s vote was a service to his constituents: His home state has some of the nation’s worst roads.)

Throughout, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has remained silent, neither defending the 13 Republicans who dared to put country over party nor condemning Mr. Gosar. Mr. McCarthy may calculate that the less he angers the right-wing base, the more likely it is that GOP extremists will accept his rise to the speakership, should Republicans retake the House in next year’s midterm elections.

But to what end? Mr. McCarthy would enter the speakership in perpetual fear of crossing a band of reactionaries who helped drive recent GOP speakers out of office. This is a position not to be coveted but to be pitied. Then again, self-abasement is nothing new for Mr. McCarthy. It took hardly any time following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, in which Mr. McCarthy and his colleagues faced mortal danger, for the Republican leader to trek to Mar-a-Lago and reaffirm his fealty to Mr. Trump.

There are still a few House Republicans who put integrity over partisanship. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has condemned Mr. Trump for his lies about the 2020 election and the Capitol insurrection he spurred. As punishment for her apostasy, House Republicans stripped her of her leadership position. For his part, Mr. Trump told journalist Jonathan Karl it was “common sense” for his supporters to chant “Hang Mike Pence!” about his own vice president during the attack. Mr. Pence’s transgression was refusing to try to overturn a legitimate election result.

Ms. Cheney is vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Subpoenaed to testify and turn over documents, Trump acolytes have spurned the congressional investigators. The goal is to run out the clock; courts may take time to evaluate Mr. Trump’s questionable assertion of executive privilege, at which point House Republicans might be back in the majority. There is little doubt what they would do: shut down the investigation and continue sidelining anyone who dares to act on conscience.