In his Oval Office speech Thursday night calling for emergency U.S. aid to both Ukraine and Israel, Joe Biden said American democracy remained “a beacon to the world.”
It’s a nice thought, one often expressed by politicians of all varieties, but one that may not be quite as persuasive as it has in the past.
To see the problem, all you have to do is look at today’s U.S. House of Representatives, where, it’s fair to say, the lights went out some time ago. And where, it’s also fair to say, the ruling House Republicans have no idea how to turn them back on.
It’s no wonder that Biden didn’t mention the House’s latest journey into the heart of darkness. It’s hard to reconcile that image — particularly with election-denying bully boy Jim Jordan, who has voted against funding for Ukraine, as its centerpiece — with the democratic ideal.
You’ll remember that Jordan was, at the very least, a cheerleader for the January 6 attempted coup — that dark stain on American democracy — and very possibly more involved than that. And yet, one of America’s two major political parties was a few votes away from electing Jordan speaker of the House, a job that would have put him second in line for the presidency.
What were they thinking?
This is a question that still needs answering, even as Republicans finally voted to dump Jordan as their nominee for speaker. As much as any single House member, Jordan embodies the far-right-wing obstruction and nihilism that has made House Republicans ungovernable for years now. And still, around 90% of the GOP conference voted for him.
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Democratic beacon? I’m thinking that even Bibi Netanyahu would have blanched at the thought of having to deal with Jordan.
But I guess Biden must have figured Jordan was on his way out when he sent his $105 billion request for emergency aid to a Congress that is not only dysfunctional — I mean, that’s basically normal — but at this point not functioning at all. Since the House has had no speaker for nearly three weeks, it can conduct no business, pass no bills, provide no funding, do nothing more than exchange assorted F-bombs in the GOP’s closed-door conference meetings.
As I write this on Friday, Jordan, who still wouldn’t say that Donald Trump lost to Biden in the 2020 election, had gone down for the third time. The joke was that Jordan, who lost support with each vote, is so deep into election denial that he naturally assumed the count against him was rigged.
Since Jordan wouldn’t quit, the embarrassed House Republican conference had no choice but to dump him. The vote, it should be noted, was conducted by secret ballot, presumably so as not to force any of the more timid members to openly oppose Trump’s endorsed candidate.
If you were inclined to look at this optimistically, you could point to the 20 or so House Republicans who consistently rejected Jordan’s Trump-approved bullying tactics. Some have even suggested that Jordan’s failure indicates at least some small cracks in MAGA world.
Colorado’s Ken Buck, who voted all three times against Jordan, isn’t ready to go that far. Nor should he be. I mean, if you haven’t noticed, Trump is cruising toward a third consecutive Republican presidential nomination.
Like all House members who opposed Jordan, Buck was on the dark side of bullying efforts by Jordan supporters. As of Thursday, Buck said he had received four death threats and many thousand angry calls to his office, which is, sadly, of a piece with everything we’ve seen since January 6.
I don’t know if Buck heard directly from Sean Hannity, who was leading the Fox News charge for Jordan. Or from the NRA, which was sending out warnings that a vote against Jordan would count on the dreaded NRA report card as a vote against guns. Yeah, you explain that one. Even the wife of at least one GOP congressman received threatening texts.
But Buck may have faced a unique brand of bullying. He said his landlord sent him a notice of eviction from his Colorado office because the owner was “mad with my voting record on the speaker issue.”
The Sun’s Unaffiliated newsletter reached developer Martin Lind, who was apparently the Windsor landlord in question and a major Republican contributor. His answer: “I don’t talk to the press.”
Buck, who has been seen of late talking on virtually every TV news show, surprised some people when he said he wouldn’t vote for Jordan so long as he continued to say the 2020 election was rigged. In fairness, though, Buck does have some issues with his voting record.
As you’ll recall, Buck, a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, was one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy from the job in the first place. This is not to defend McCarthy — no, not at all — but it was hard to say exactly why Buck voted with Matt Gaetz and his fellow zealots.
Surely Buck, who said it had something to do with McCarthy’s reluctance to cut spending, had to foresee the chaos that would follow.
It’s impossible to say where Republicans will go from here. Several Republicans have said they’d enter the race, but that doesn’t mean any of them could get the necessary votes.
With their slim majority, Republicans can afford to lose only four votes in any speaker’s race since the Democrats, in each case, vote unanimously for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
We now know that a certain number of Republicans won’t vote for a House crazy in the mold of Jordan, who can now go back to his day job of pushing the evidence-free Biden impeachment inquiry. We know for certain that a significant number of the far right won’t support, well, anyone they feel they can’t manipulate.
We know that people like Lauren Boebert went all-Beetlejuice at the idea, which has been discussed, that Speaker Pro Tem Patrick McHenry would serve as temporary speaker so that the House could pass a spending bill needed to keep the government open and could address the Ukraine-Israel aid bill.
Boebert was among those who called the idea — which would almost certainly need Democratic votes to pull off — a “complete betrayal.” Of course, Boebert, who strongly supported Jordan and who opposes more aid to Ukraine, knows that for Democrats to sign on, they’d have to be guaranteed that Ukraine assistance would come to a vote on the House floor.
And so, at this point, House Republicans have left Washington and gone home. They plan to resume talks next week.
Meanwhile, it’s a clown show. It’s an embarrassment. It’s found money for any writer, just back from the long strike, in need of material for late-night, talk-show monologues.
Yes, your TV may be burning brightly. But what of American democracy’s beacon? Last I checked, it was barely flickering.