California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy has so far failed in his quest to be elected Speaker of the House. He lost on the first vote, taken soon after the House convened for the new GOP-led session; that was the first time the majority party failed to quickly elect its leader in 100 years. He also lost on the second vote and the third.
This is being portrayed by the liberal media as a catastrophe for the Republican Party; even former Speaker Newt Gingrich says the GOP “is in the greatest danger of meltdown that it’s been since 1964.”
Another view would be… the Republican Party requires a serious reboot, and perhaps this public skirmish is a necessary first step. The midterm elections delivered an unmistakable message: voters are not buying what the GOP is selling.
Imagine posting only very slim victories over Democrats even as voters overwhelmingly think the country is headed in the wrong direction, are struggling with the highest inflation in 40 years, are horrified by our collapsing border, threatened by rising crime and disgusted by an inept and dishonest president. Something is not right.
Some say voters have no idea what Republicans stand for. Why, for instance, did Republicans in the House and the Senate help pass the $1.7 trillion Omnibus spending bill, obliterating the party’s (meager) claims of fiscal sobriety? Similarly, how could they have supported the Democrats’ $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the $280 billion Chips Act, when excessive spending has triggered unprecedented deficits and rising prices?
McCarthy faces considerable opposition from conservatives in his caucus, several of whom vowed to block his election unless he acceded to numerous demands. Predictably, those requirements have been portrayed as unreasonable by the liberal media, but actually, many Republicans would agree with the conservatives’ demands.
The first requirement is that the new House adopt, or actually re-adopt, a rule first proposed by Thomas Jefferson that allows members to “vacate the Chair,” or remove the Speaker, which was in place from 1801 to 2018, when it was eliminated under former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The rule allows any five members to call a vote to remove the speaker at any time. This process could be disruptive, for sure, but it also makes the leaders of the House accountable, which they have not been.
The second demand would require, as a “Dear Colleague” letter put it, that representatives “legislate in a responsible manner on behalf of our constituents.” It specifically requires all bills to be presented to lawmakers at least 72 hours before they are required to vote, allowing them time to read the proposed legislation. They also want to return to “single subject” bills, rules “requiring germane amendments” and a “pledge to restore genuine debate.”
The letter includes a note saying, “No amendment has been offered by Individual Members on the House floor in open debate since May, 2016.” That is the so-called Democratic process under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The 4,000-page Omnibus bill is the poster child for the ongoing dysfunction of the House; the bill landed just as a government shutdown loomed, forcing a hasty vote which left untouched 7,200 earmarks totaling some $15 billion. Projects included the Democrat-proposed $3.6 million “Michelle Obama Trail” in Georgia and $3 million to expand the New-York Historical Society building to include an exhibition space for L.G.B.T.Q. history and culture.
Unfortunately, the Omnibus bill is not an outlier; it is typical of the horse-trading that goes on in Congress as members boost their own political futures rather than the welfare of the nation.
The third demand is that the GOP leadership must stop interfering in Republican primary contests, which the conservatives say weakened some contestants in the 2022 midterms. They argue that while the Chamber of Commerce or Club for Growth should support candidates of their choice, leadership meddling only leads to intra-party distrust and depletes war chests – a reasonable argument. Conservatives also want proportionate representation on House Committees, which they argue has not been the case recently.
Perhaps most significant, the Freedom Caucus wants leadership to pledge to not raise the U.S. debt ceiling without committing to a spending plan that caps outlays and leads to a balanced budget within ten years. They also argue against a “blind embrace of earmarks emblematic of the swamp.”
In addition, the conservative group pushes colleagues to use “must-pass” bills to accomplish desired ends. For example, they argue that “The Farm Bill must reform food stamp welfare programs and block Chinese government land-buying.” And, “Appropriations bills must utilize the power of the purse to actually stop the border insurgency [and to] restore energy freedom…” Yes, that is what even a small majority can accomplish.
Finally, the Freedom Caucus group wants to see a “Church-commission style committee” to “target weaponized government”. The Church Committee was a select Senate committee established in 1975 and overseen by Idaho Democrat Senator Frank Church to investigate abuses by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies including the CIA, the FBI, the NSA and the IRS.
The Twitter files and numerous other sources show that the Obama and Biden-led White Houses spied on Donald Trump, collaborated with media and intel groups to publish politically helpful misinformation, targeted parents protesting their children’s’ schools and – yes – weaponized the federal government. It’s time the bad actors are held accountable.
The next two years give Republicans in charge of the House an opportunity to redefine the GOP brand, not just to oppose an unpopular president. As McCarthy’s opponents say, the House needs to change.
McCarthy has agreed to several concessions, but he has not won over the votes he needs. For sure the haggling has weakened his position. His opponents have not yet presented a serious alternative candidate; some criticize their resistance as political posturing, meant to attract attention and help with fundraising.
But the California congressman is not wildly popular among Republicans; the party needs leadership not only capable of fund-raising but also able to guide the party into the next election with a strong, compelling vision.
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If McCarthy ultimately succeeds and is elected Speaker, he needs to deliver that vision; currently, he needs to convince his critics he is the right guy to do that.
Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.