The dome of the U.S. Capitol is surrounded by scaffolding, these days. They’re calling it a restoration of a symbol of government. What’s going on under the dome, though, is more a dismantling of a symbol of governing.
The House Republican Conference is wringing their hands down to the metacarpals, and the enemy within, the House Freedom Caucus, is taking credit for sinking the leadership establishment – a very conservative leadership – for not being conservative enough. They see themselves as having won a victory of some kind, and are reveling in their take-no-prisoners approach.
“The establishment has lost two speakers in two weeks,” exclaimed Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) after Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal in the race for Speaker of the House. “K Street [lobbyists] must be shaking in their boots. Mitch McConnell must be shaking in his boots, too,” he added, in a thinly veiled threat to the Republicans’ senate majority leader.
They’re being called anything from anarchists to purists, and indeed their uncompromising method of governing – or not governing – smacks of the puritanical extremism of a Salem tribunal.
The HFC, after McCarthy’s sudden decision, Thursday, sent a questionnaire to those who said they were interested in the speakership. It is, essentially, a twenty-one question litmus test, covering everything from impeaching the IRS commissioner, to committing, either through repeal or defunding, to stopping all the Obama related policies they hate, even if the Senate won’t take it up.
This is how Politico summed it up:
“The group of conservative hardliners wants to ‘decentralize’ the Steering Committee, the panel that decides committee assignments. The HFC wanted to strip the speaker and majority leader of their outsized influence on the panel. “The HFC wanted to know if the new speaker would agree to only pass a debt limit increase if it included entitlement reform. “They asked if the candidates would commit to impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The HFC asked if the new speaker would commit to passing all 12 spending bills, and ‘not acquiesce to a continuing resolution in the event Senate Democrats try to block the appropriations process.'”
And this brings us to how this revolt of about forty Republican representatives against the rest of the House Conference, while embarrassing for the GOP, is great for those of us who want Congress to actually govern, and send stuff to the president’s desk that they know he will sign.
In the aforementioned questionnaire, the HFC wonders if throwing in with Democrats to get something done is worse than voting against a rule that everyone else in the Republican conference supports. They point to the Export-Import Bank reauthorization as an example:
“In the light of recent news that some of our Republican colleagues have started a discharge petition to ally with the Democrats and force the House to take up an Ex-Im reauthorization bill, do you believe signing discharge petitions or voting for discharge motions with Democrats is worse than voting against rules?”
And they finish that question with this admonition:
“Note that voting with Democrats for a discharge motion actually does take control of the House floor from the majority party, unlike opposing a rule.”
So that’s it then. By going along with Democrats, they believe, they have ceded the House of Representatives to the minority party. They call it surrender. Other, more pragmatic members of the Republican majority call it governing.
“In order to pass any bill around this place, everybody knows we need to assemble a bipartisan coalition,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pennsylvania) told reporters, Thursday afternoon. And he’s not talking about Obama agenda kind of legislation – just passing ordinary bills that, until the last couple of Congresses, weren’t controversial.
That echoes former Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s explanation, in an op-ed published a couple of days after John Boehner announced his pending resignation, of how the extremists have wrecked the legislative process. “[S]omewhere along the road,” he wrote in the New York Times, “a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies… with him still in office, mind you — and enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise.”
What makes this good for the rest of us are two main things. As long as Boehner is forced to remain as Speaker, he will have to reach across the aisle and follow Dent’s advice in getting critical, operational legislation done. The other thing this does is expose the extreme right as nothing but uncompromising zealots, unwilling to do their job. The people who elected them might be happy that they are behaving this way, but they have as poor an understanding of civics as their representatives. We can’t do anything about their gerrymandered districts, but we can hope this draws more reasonable Republicans, and perhaps more Democrats, to the polls.
Sadly, because they were elected, I do not believe a mechanism exists to purge these obstructionists from the House of Representatives, but we can do with them what Congress used to do to extremists. Marginalize them. Let them have their three minutes on the floor, and ignore them. Then, we can get back to the business of governing.
“The only way to get anything done in this House,” former DNC Chair and New Hampshire Gov. Howard Dean told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Friday, “is to get 150 Democrats and 150 Republicans to vote together, and throw those guys over the side.”
Then, finally, maybe we can start to rebuild trust in Congress.