Having bounced poor Kevin McCarthy out of office — a moment that might have been painful if the former speaker possessed a spine — House Republicans now face the difficult prospect of choosing a replacement. Perhaps we can look forward to another clownish spectacle like the 15 rounds of voting and haggling that produced Speaker McCarthy, whose only distinctions are how briefly he served and how humiliating his historic departure turned out to be. (Getting punked by the likes of Rep. Matt Gaetz is truly special.)
For the rest of America, the question that inevitably arises is whether the upcoming contest really matters at all. Will it make much difference when McCarthy is replaced by his former deputy Steve Scalise, whom he reportedly loathed, or Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, whom he unaccountably liked, or other zany far-right legislator? Probably not, although Scalise is reputed to be more “reasonable” than Jordan, who appears to be certifiable.
Neither of these would-be leaders — or any alternative candidate — will lift the House Republican caucus out of the mental and moral chaos that they have made the new normal for Congress.
Whatever Scalise or Jordan may promise, we already know what congressional Republicans will do, because we’ve watched this movie for decades and nothing has changed except some of the names. We know what they will do and what they can’t or won’t do.
Among the many things they don’t do well is pass legislation, no matter how vital to the nation’s security and prosperity, because they have failed to absorb any of the basic lessons of group dynamics that most people learn in kindergarten. Not only do Republicans reject compromise, but they’re offended by the very idea.
That’s why so many of them admire Jordan, who has literally never passed a single bill during eight terms on Capitol Hill and is rated one of America’s least effective legislators. (It’s worth comparing him to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader who is rated among the most effective members in either party.)The Republican allergy to legislative achievement — unless they are cutting taxes for wealthy donors — also suggests that Jordan and Scalise aren’t serious about reducing deficits, defending our borders or fighting crime, which they proclaim as their priorities.
The problems defined by those buzz phrases require complex solutions that reflect the realities of a large, diverse country, not Fox News sound bites. It’s not what they do.
Among the other things that these Republicans won’t do is protect the institution of Congress. Jordan flaunted his lack of respect for constitutional principle when he dodged a subpoena issued by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. Instead, he displayed his sympathy for those who attacked the Capitol — and did his best to undermine confidence in our elections. As for Scalise, he is best known for the tragic shooting that almost took his life several years ago, and for an unfortunate but pithy moment of self-knowledge, when he told someone that he is “David Duke without the baggage.” Coming from the Klan leader’s home state of Louisiana, he knows exactly what that means. Neither he nor Jordan are suitable figures to unite their caucus, let alone the Congress or the country.
Over the past few decades, Republicans like Jordan and Scalise have displayed a knack for certain categories of congressional action (or inaction), and we can expect more of the same from either of them. They’re quite adept at shutting down the government they are supposed to steward, and that will surely be their first big achievement under a new speaker. They’re always ready to back down from bullies, such as former President Donald Trump or the National Rifle Association, no matter how wrong and damaging that may be. They’re well practiced at enabling extremists, authoritarians, crooks and bigots, notably including their own members like Reps. Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene, George Santos and Lauren Boebert. They’re perennially eager to isolate and punish vulnerable minorities, from impoverished immigrants to gays, lesbians and trans people.
Just keep your expectations low and these Republican “leaders” will never disappoint you.