The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The only agenda that unifies the Republican Party is revenge

The top House Republicans, Steve Scalise, Elise Stefanik and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, during a “Fox & Friends” interview on Friday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Pay no attention to the House Republicans’ substance-free “Commitment to America.” The actual GOP plan, if the party takes control of the lower chamber in January, is a campaign of performative revenge.

Ginned-up investigations, cruel attacks on the marginalized, even a concocted impeachment of President Biden — that’s what the nation has to look forward to if Republicans win the House. Those are the only things the party agrees on, except fealty to Donald Trump and an all-consuming desire for power.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the man who would be speaker, made a big deal Friday of releasing the “Commitment.” Even by the standards of political fig leaves, the document doesn’t do much to mask the lack of a Republican plan for governing. He promises “an economy that’s strong” and “a nation that’s safe” and “a future that’s built on freedom” and “a government that’s accountable.” He left out “Mom” and “apple pie,” which I suppose were deemed too specific.

The most concrete pledge McCarthy made was to undo something that was never done in the first place. He said that in its first piece of legislation, a House GOP majority would “repeal” what he has called “Democrats’ new army of 87,000 IRS agents.” But the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August will fund only a few hundred IRS enforcement “agents.” Almost all of the hires will be auditors, administrators and clerical personnel needed to rebuild a workforce sorely depleted by attrition and budget cuts — and to replace employees as they retire over the next 10 years.

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And anyway, how would House Republicans accomplish this “repeal” without 60 votes in the Senate and Biden’s signature? They couldn’t.

What they actually could, and surely would, do is put on a show of faux-populist anger and resentment.

A Republican majority would disband the select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, ending its important work. Perhaps the Senate could try to take up the baton if Democrats retain control there. But it might be that the Justice Department is left on its own to finish writing the definitive story of what happened on that awful day and why.

McCarthy and his committee chairs would also quickly launch a series of show-trial investigations. Think Benghazi after Benghazi after Benghazi.

As The Post reported this month: “House Republicans have so far pledged to investigate President Biden’s son Hunter’s business dealings and art sales, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the Biden administration’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of the novel coronavirus, coronavirus-related school closures, [and] the administration’s deliberations over weapons sales to Ukraine.” There are fair questions to be asked about many of these issues. But does anyone trust House Republicans to pose them or to pursue substance over supposed scandal?

A McCarthy-led House would likely summon Attorney General Merrick Garland to the witness chair early and often, especially after the search and seizure of classified documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. McCarthy has already tweeted a warning to Garland to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar.”

We could also reliably expect a lot of sturm und drang over immigration — legislation to finish Trump’s border wall, for example, or to curtail the rights of asylum seekers. This, again, would be largely for show, since Biden could veto anything egregious. But immigrant-bashing plays well with the GOP base.

On culture-war issues, how far the House would try to go under McCarthy would depend on how vulnerable he feels to the far-right wing of his caucus. Opinion polls indicate, for example, that any attempt to pass a nationwide abortion ban would hurt the GOP among independent voters. But if enough House Republicans want to barrel down that road, McCarthy might be compelled to go along.

A House GOP majority would indeed be likely, however, to nationalize the party’s cruelty against transgender Americans, especially trans students and their parents. The House would be following the lead of Republican governors such as Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, who recently issued a directive requiring schools to restrict students’ use of bathrooms and locker rooms by their “biological sex” and even forbidding the use of new names or pronouns without parental permission.

One thing the House can do on its own, without the Senate, is impeachment. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that there is “a lot of pressure on Republicans” to vote to impeach Biden. She gave no hint of what, exactly, he would be impeached for. But would the stated reason even matter?

McCarthy doesn’t seem at all eager to go there. But if he does become speaker, he will have less control over the political future of his members — and thus less power — than Trump has. If voters keep the House in Democratic hands, they’ll be doing McCarthy a kindness.