When Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is one of the adults in the room, and when the room in question is the chamber of the House of Representatives, we are seriously in trouble.
This week, however, Greene actually appeared to perform a constructive role, urging her fellow clown-car passengers to end their tantrum and vote for Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as House speaker. If she can sound like the voice of reason, relatively speaking, then what does that say about the incoming GOP majority? And what does it say about the ability of our government to function for the next two years?
On one level, Democrats can sit back and luxuriate in schadenfreude. House Republicans were nothing but obstructionist when they were in the minority, reflexively opposing everything Democrats tried to do. Former speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) faced ideological differences within her caucus and had a razor-thin majority to work with, but she kept moderates and progressives together in passing major legislation.
Republicans, by contrast, can’t even get themselves organized. “We’re still stuck at the starting block,” Rep.-elect John James (R-Mich.) said Thursday, in the seventh speech nominating McCarthy for speaker. James’s speech was followed by the seventh vote for the speakership, in which McCarthy once again fell short. Same on the eighth vote ... and ninth vote.
It hardly matters, at this point, whether McCarthy eventually wins the speaker’s gavel or not. The “never Kevin” rebels who oppose him have made it painfully apparent that no one will be able to impose and enforce the kind of discipline that Pelosi maintained on the Democratic side.
As we have seen this week, any handful of House Republicans can band together to torpedo anything the leadership wants to do — assuming Democrats are united in opposition. When it comes to the GOP’s political agenda, that is no great loss. The new majority is likely to try to pass legislation on hot-button issues such as immigration that has no chance of getting through the Senate (which remains under Democratic control) or being signed into law by President Biden.
counterpointKevin McCarthy’s long climb, and the ingrates he left behind
Perhaps the biggest priority for House Republicans is staging committee hearings to investigate the Biden administration, and that will happen no matter who ends up being speaker. The incoming committee chairs — such as Rep.-elect Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who will head Judiciary — are raring to go. All they need is to have the “-elect” removed from their titles by having some speaker, any speaker, swear them in.
But there are things the House simply must do — and that any speaker will struggle to get done. Sometime this year, the federal debt ceiling will have to be raised (or eliminated) so that the government does not default, which would be an economic catastrophe. Most Republicans had no problem raising the ceiling when Donald Trump was president, but when a Democrat is in the White House they balk and demand unreasonable spending cuts. Some members of the GOP caucus, for ideological reasons, will never vote to raise the debt limit.
Any Republican speaker will need skill to win that essential vote. It could be finessed by negotiating with incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and the Democrats. But a GOP speaker who went that route would surely face a MAGA revolt — and because of concessions that McCarthy reportedly made Wednesday, any single member of the Republican caucus could force a vote on his ouster.
The House also has to appropriate funding to keep the government in operation. It is hard to imagine how this GOP majority performs that basic function without seeking help from Democrats — which, again, would invite a challenge to the speaker’s leadership. And the more that any speaker bends to the will of the MAGA fringe, the more disgruntled mainstream Republicans are likely to become.
To say that it appears McCarthy is desperately seeking the worst job in Washington is a gross understatement. It might be the worst job in the United States.
Meanwhile, at this writing, technically there is no House of Representatives. One of the two chambers of our bicameral national legislature is not properly constituted and cannot function. And one of our two major parties is responsible for this chaos.
With the whole world watching, Republicans are making a compelling argument — for electing Democrats.