As I write this, the Congress of the United States of America is currently winding down its sixth vote in a row to name a Speaker of the House of Representatives. It has already failed, exactly as the previous five votes did, because the putative leader of the Republican congressional delegation, Kevin McCarthy, was somehow mysteriously unaware that a significant fraction of his party are completely insane. The figurehead of the opposition to his nomination is literally under an active investigation for various sex offenses who refuses to resign. The demands of the dissenting 20 or so Republicans vary, but range from being named heads of committees they are manifestly unqualified for to objecting to the House doing anything at all.
“Ah, watch out! You might get what you’re after!”
Although there’s an immense amount of finger pointing going on amongst the Republicans (and popcorn eating amongst the Democrats), the cause of all this chaos is painfully obvious: the Republicans expected to enter the House this year with a large working majority, and instead only achieved a majority by a 4 vote margin. (The reasons for this vary but range from many Republicans being actual deranged fascists to many moderates of both parties concerned that Republican-named judges were actually doing what they were appointed to do.)
This also happened to the Democrats in the Senate in 2020; after all the votes were counted (and contested, and protested, and the coup attempts played themselves out) the Senate was split 50-50, with Vice President Harris being the tie-breaker. However, in the Senate’s case, the Democrats had fewer members who just wanted to set the place on fire. Two, actually (and that’s not really fair to one, who just votes the interests of his very conservative-leaning state). In the House? Well… there’s quite a few more. Thanks to smaller, much more easily gerrymandered districts, the only vote that’s remotely a contest in many districts isn’t the general election, but the party primary. And rabid fire-breathers tend to do much better in primaries.
Thus, the 2023 House entered its session with three commandments: “Investigate Hunter Biden”, “Investigate Hunter Biden”, and “Get on Fox News”. However, that 4 vote majority meant that if at least five Republicans decided they didn’t want to vote for something because the voices in their head commanded otherwise, well, there’s now a problem. And, I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but there are considerably more than 5 Republican congressmen who want you to know THEY HEAR THE VOICES, TOO!!!! So as the new year ticked over, the House agenda quickly devolved into one simple command:
“Cool, babies! Strange but not a stranger!”
You would think McCarthy would have this in the bag. I mean, his entire career has been essentially “My name is Kevin McCarthy, I am the Generic Republican, and I am running for Speaker of the House.” He came close in 2015, after helping to dethrone the then-Speaker who painfully, obviously did not want the job, John Boehner. However, rumors of an affair with another member of Congress (widely believed to be false but still used as a cudgel to get him to quit the race) caused him to step aside in favor the next Speaker who painfully, obviously did not want the job, Paul Ryan.
You’d think that the fact the two previous Republican Speakers made clear that in the age of Trump and the Freedom Caucus, getting a tooth removed without anesthesia was preferable to remaining Speaker would dissuade him, but, well, damn it all, it’s his turn!
McCarthy “raised his voice in the meeting as he animatedly teed off on his opponents, detailed all the concessions he has made and said that it hasn’t been good enough,” the report said.
One source told the outlet that McCarthy took his opponents “to the woodshed like I’ve never seen.”
“I’ve earned this job,” McCarthy reportedly said.
A real profile in courage, there. Amazingly, “vote for me because it’s mine and I should have it” as a battle cry did not win over any dissenting voters, and McCarthy quickly faced the humiliation of losing floor vote after floor vote. One of the ringleaders, the unindicted sex offender Matt Gaetz, took note of McCarthy’s grabbing the swank Speaker’s office a bit in advance and, well, tweeted about it.
“I’m an ordinary guy, burning down the house”
This is all very funny, of course, until you realize that the US Congress does have an actual job that they are presumably going to be doing at some point. So, somehow, this does have to end. And amongst the choices of how, few are palatable, let alone “good”.
- McCarthy gives all 20 dissenting members everything they want to get their votes. This is not only very unlikely, if McCarthy did this it would be very, very bad. Some of the demands include things like “refuse to pass a budget unless it’s balanced”, “refuse to raise the debt limit”, and “make me the head of the Armed Services Committee so I can prevent Ukraine from getting any aid” (this is unindicted sex offender Gaetz’s position). In fact, the demands of the dissenters are in most cases so extreme, McCarthy would lose votes from other Republicans if he caved.
- McCarthy steps aside and another member who basically is also a Generic Republican but is a better politician than McCarthy is (a pretty low bar) like Steve Scalise is nominated. The problem here is that Scalise is as likely to win over the 20 dissenting members as McCarthy is.
- McCarthy steps aside and a truly horrible person is nominated and somehow wins. Jim Jordan is the name most often put forward here (and Jordan really is awful). Another comedy option? Donald J. Trump. It’s possible (the Speaker doesn’t have to be a congressman) and it’s in the contract that every Republican signed away their soul to get elected last year - Thou Shalt Not Ever Oppose Trump. The primary thing saving us from Speaker of the House Donald Trump is that it would involve work. Trump hates working.
- McCarthy pushes through a rules vote, with Democratic assistance, making the winner of the Speaker vote a winner of the plurality of the votes, not an absolute majority. The TRULY funny comedy option here is that the Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, then promptly wins since Democrats have been voting as a unified bloc and Republicans have, well, not really. He wouldn’t last as Speaker since the Democrats are in the minority but, at this point, I think we really deserve this.
- Moderate Republicans, which are reputed to technically exist, ally with Democrats to nominate a candidate with bipartisan support and cut the Freedom Caucus dissenters out entirely. This sort of coalition building is how most democratic governments operate, and thus is entirely foreign to US politics. As such all bets are off on who would be nominated, whether they could get anything accomplished at all, and how loud Tucker Carlson’s screams would be - would they be audible, or in a register only dogs and Russian talk show hosts can hear?
While this is all really tremendously funny, it’s also very much not, because it demonstrates very concisely that for the next two years, a branch of the government is so paralyzed they can’t even agree on a lunch order. And Congress does do fairly important things like agree on budgetary outlays and meeting our financial obligations. A default on the US debt, and consequent collapse of the global economy, because Jim Jordan was told to wear a suit is very much on the table.
As always, everything continues to be horrible. You read it here first (not really).