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Opinion The GOP’s latest headache: MAGA crazies on committees

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 12. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

The White House is working to exploit another MAGA debacle: Kevin McCarthy’s secret talks with the extremist holdouts in his speakership fight, which appear to have resulted in appointment of grotesquely unqualified and ethically suspect Republicans to critical committees.

McCarthy, as is so often the case, might not have thoroughly thought things through.

On Tuesday, White House aide Andrew Bates told Politico: “An unprecedented tax hike on the middle class and a national abortion ban are just a glimpse of the secret, backroom deals Speaker McCarthy made with extreme MAGA members to end this month’s chaotic elections and claim the gavel.” Bates added: “It is well past time for Speaker McCarthy and the ultra MAGA Republican House members to come out of the dark and tell the American people, in full, what they decided in secret.”

On Wednesday, Ian Sams, another Biden aide, told Axios that “House Republicans may be setting the stage for divorced-from-reality political stunts, instead of engaging in bipartisan work on behalf of the American people.”

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McCarthy has maintained that he did not make any formal, behind-the-scenes agreements to secure the votes needed to become speaker, but many in the MAGA caucus have reported otherwise. Now McCarthy has put Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) on the House Oversight Committee, which promises to launch one investigation after another into the Biden administration. Sams correctly declared: “Chairman [James] Comer once said his goal was to ensure the committee’s work is ‘credible,’ yet Republicans are handing the keys of oversight to the most extreme MAGA members of the Republican caucus who promote violent rhetoric and dangerous conspiracy theories.”

House Democrats would be well advised to follow this lead. They should challenge, at every turn, the secret deals and Oversight Committee appointments. They should challenge Greene’s placement on the House Homeland Security Committee, which among other things exercises oversight over the Department of Homeland Security’s antiterrorism activities, and serial liar Rep. George Santos’s assignment to two other committees: Small Business and Science, Space and Technology.

At every meeting of the Rules and Budget committees, House Democrats should demand that Republicans produce the contents of any standing deal on the debt ceiling and spending cuts. If Republicans have already made pledges to force a default if their demands aren’t met, what’s the point of hearings or budget negotiations?

Democrats can use televised hearing time, leadership news conferences and TV appearances to hammer home not only the Republicans’ reckless attitude toward the economy but also the utter lack of transparency — a bit of jaw-dropping hypocrisy for the MAGA team that came to power promising to drain the swamp.

As for the placement on the House Oversight Committee of members who were identified by the Jan. 6 select committee as possible participants in the coup (Perry’s phone was seized by the FBI as part of its criminal investigation), cavorted with white nationalists or engaged in threatening behavior toward other members, Democrats should make these characters the focus of hearings. They can quiz witnesses on such conduct, propose legislation barring insurrectiont participants from serving in capacities with access to classified materials and directly engage these members during public hearings.

If Democrats recognize that the four serve as walking advertisements for the irresponsibility and deranged partisanship of the House GOP, their presence can serve to discredit the GOP-led committee’s work and subject those few Republicans still capable of experiencing shame to a barrage of uncomfortable moments.

With regard to Santos, the questions keep coming. A veteran has alleged that Santos pocketed thousands in donations meant for his dying service dog. (Santos denies that.) There has also been reporting into whether a Santos aide impersonated a McCarthy aide, and whether Santos used a fake Jewish name, to raise money.

How can someone accused of falsifying his identity and engaging in deceptive practices possibly serve on the Small Business Committee? Again, Democrats should excoriate Santos at every hearing and make clear that his placement on the committee reflects the contempt with which McCarthy regards the small-business community itself.

Perhaps a hearing on résumé fraud and deceptive fundraising practices is in order?

Democrats have a perfect opportunity to refocus phony investigations on the real scandal: the degree to which McCarthy has sold his soul and speakership — not to mention the well-being of the country — to insurrectionists, liars and cons.