“The fear of appearances is the first symptom of impotence.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
Miss Constitution is puzzled at the initial comments regarding removal of the Speaker of the House by all Democrats and a handful of Republicans. The immediate effect of this is that the line of succession to the Presidency is changed from the Speaker of the House, as third in line to the Presidency, to the Pro Tempore of the Senate – Patty Murray – and then the Secretary of State – Anthony Blinken. It is Constitutionally important, then, that a Speaker be selected as quickly as possible.
The initial universal comments bordered on hysterical – Republicans will be a laughing stock – how will this look to the public? One former Senator called the vote the equivalent of the French Revolution and the lobbing off of heads. Only a narcissist could call for a vote on the continuance of the Speaker of the House; only someone so loathsome that he should be expelled cried a former Speaker; only Republicans could create defeat out of the mouth of victory explained an ecstatic liberal commentator.
Goodness. What happened?
None of us can know the whole story, but it appears that the narrow majority held by Republicans in the House of Representatives after the 2022 election, resulted in a difficult vote for a new Speaker of the House. The difficulty arises because the Republican Party has three distinct sets of voters and hence Representatives – roughly the conservatives, the moderates, and the liberals. This is not true for the Democrat Party, they have diversity by ethnicity but not by policy or ideology. The Democrat Party votes as a monolith and does not tolerate dissent. One might ask Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., about diversity of opinion in the Democrat Party.
Republicans, in the last few cycles where a Republican Speaker presided over the House of Representatives, have generally selected a Speaker from the liberal wing of the Party. One of the myths that has floated around Congress for some time and believed in deeply by some Republicans is the myth of bipartisanship. Since the Democrat Party is now a single ideology– a liberal Republican Speaker was thought to be able to work with Democrats on important matters. The problem with this lovely thought is that while Republicans will gladly work with Democrats, Democrats will never work with Republicans on crucial issues.
So, after fifteen rounds of votes a liberal Republican, Kevin McCarthy, was selected in January of 2023, with certain conditions attached for support by the conservative and moderate wings of the Party. Among these conditions:
Regular order in the House of Representatives, meaning committee assignments for proposed Bills, public hearings on proposed Bills, amendments debated on proposed Bills, and timely votes.
One-issue Bills in the House of Representatives and time to read them, debate them, hold hearings on them, add amendments to them, and vote for them. In other words, no Omnibus bills of 4,000 pages with members of the House given two hours to read.
Management of time in the House of Representatives so that the required 12 Appropriations Bills that must be proposed, sent to committee, heard by the public, amended, and voted on, be able to be completed by the end of the fiscal year that is September 30.
To assure that these promises were kept, Kevin McCarthy agreed to being subject to any member of the House requesting he vacate the Speakership by a majority vote. September 30 has come and gone. The 12 Appropriations Bills have not been worked; the House had to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded that included monies not debated and amended. Regular order has not been restored and a six-week time frame is all that is allowed until the next financial crisis that will no doubt be “fixed” by another Omnibus Bill no one will be able to decipher before the mandatory vote.
This same dysfunctional process occurs every year just prior to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hannakah.
Therefore, a request to vacate was proposed by House member Matt Gaetz and a vote was taken. A new Speaker will be chosen within a week. The hard lesson learned by Kevin McCarthy, and hopefully the American people, is not that Matt Gaetz is an enemy of the Republican Party and a selfish human being, it is that Kevin McCarthy thought his bipartisan work with Democrats would inspire some of them to vote to retain him as Speaker. He was assured of this by former Speaker Pelosi. He learned that this type of bipartisanship is a myth. Had McCarthy simply kept his promises of regular order and open debate in the House of Representatives, he would still be Speaker.
When did bipartisanship become a myth?
To some extent the notion of closely working with the other Party in a two-Party system has always been a myth. Where it has occasionally worked it is lauded as noble. Jefferson and Hamilton hated each other as representatives of totally opposite views of proper governance. The Civil War pitted members of Congress against each other with such venom that violence broke out. Woodrow Wilson refused to take any Republicans to the Paris Peace Convention after WWI, so they refused to back his League of Nations. Congresspersons of both Parties used to live in Washington, DC and socialize together; many were great friends. This is not true today.
Where does the country go from here?
The Republican Party should not fear the optics. Their interest in a legislative process that is open, transparent, and fiscally sound is their Brand. That the Party consists of three factions regarding policy is not a negative if it is understood that the spirit of bipartisanship must reside within the Party. Hopefully, the new Speaker of the House will be efficient, collegial, and accountable to the voting public that has asked the Republican Party to do what it can through the House of Representatives to get the nation back on track. If it fails, and continues to fail in this regard, the Republican Party will go the way of the Whigs, who actually threw their President, John Tyler, out of the Party while he was still President.
Part of the Rule of Law that all Americans agree to honor is that bundle called Unwritten Law. We are required to be courteous and kindly, and we are required to be courteous and kindly even in politics. The comments Miss Constitution is hearing from commentators of all political stripes is appalling. Their interviews of those Republicans who voted to oust the Speaker for not honoring his pledges to them should be an attempt to understand their thinking. Otherwise, they are actually demanding that the Republican Party be a mirror of the Democrat Party – the first symptom of impotence.