Republicans have failed to govern in the House – opinion

The House of Representatives returns this week from its latest “district work period.” That’s a euphemism for its frequent vacations that used to be called “recess,” but kindergarteners resented the comparison. District work period is also a misnomer since many don’t head home but instead go on foreign junkets at taxpayer expense. Given the House’s abbreviated schedule and extremely low productivity, “work” would also be inaccurate.

The latest was actually more like a “time out,” since lawmakers were sent home early for Thanksgiving because the extreme-Right Freedom Caucus blocked bringing up spending bills without the unrealistically severe cuts they demanded.

The new speaker, Mike Johnson, who was fourth choice for the job after three weeks of tempest, said the House had become “a pressure cooker.” And it boiled over with a lot of yelling and screaming, which was punctuated by a sucker punch to the kidneys. Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee claimed deposed speaker Kevin McCarthy struck him in revenge for his voting to take away McCarthy’s speaker’s gavel. McCarthy denies everything.

Rep. Chip Roy – in a nearly hour-long tirade – asked: “What in the hell are we doing in this chamber? I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing – one – that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!” 

It needn’t have been so unproductive, but the lack of actual legislation was intentional.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol Building is seen in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/Kevin Wurm)

Republicans ran last year promising to show voters they could govern. But once they got the chance, they proved they weren’t up to the job. Maybe not even interested.

That’s unlikely, because House Republicans this year have shown they’re much more interested in messaging than legislating.

They have a majority, albeit slim, but they are so bitterly divided among themselves that they’re unable to pass legislation that has a realistic chance of being law. 

Instead, they prefer the “gotcha” game of messaging bills. Those are the bills with scant chance of becoming law, designed to put the other party on record opposing something the sponsors believe will hurt them in the next campaign. 

Some examples: prohibiting the federal government from banning gas stoves. Or prohibiting abortion after birth, although such protection already exists. Or paying for emergency assistance to Israel by taking the money out of the IRS budget. 

They indignantly claim to support Israel, but that’s questionable because they attached the aid to a provision they know has zero chance of passing the Senate.

It’s one side trying to embarrass the other. Like a Republican resolution endorsing West Bank settlements or another by Democrats backing the two-state solution. 

Messaging can be a matter of perspective. According to Republican Marc Molinaro, “We are speaking on behalf of other people we represent,” but when Democrats do it “they’re caught up in politics,” said Republican Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin, although conceding “that’s on both sides.”

Bipartisanship is treated as a sin in the House

THE HOUSE has become a place where bipartisanship is seen by many as an unpardonable sin. McCarthy was dumped for having compromised with the White House on raising the debt ceiling and then relying on Democratic votes to prevent a government shutdown. He was the third speaker toppled by angry ultraconservatives’ demands for deep spending cuts that could never become law. 

Speakers John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and McCarthy weren’t the only casualties. Many traditional Republican lawmakers decided to retire rather than face primary challenges from the farthest Right.

Republicans leaving include Reps. Debbie Lesko of Arizona, a Freedom Caucus member and election denier, who said, “It is hard to get anything done.” One candidate to succeed her is Jacob Chansley, the QAnon Shaman and January 6 insurrectionist who served 27 months in prison for his role in the assault on the Capitol. 

Another retiree, Victoria Spartz of Indiana, cited “a complete absence of leadership, vision, and spine.” Kenneth  Buck of Colorado said he’s tired of colleagues “lying to America” about who won the 2020 presidential election. Democrat Brian Higgins of New York said it’s hard to tell what is serious and what is not.

The chaotic House Republicans have been called clowns not only by the media but also by some of their own. Following the latest leadership reshuffle, Rep. Kelly Armstrong said, “It’s the same clown car with a different driver.”

For a second opinion, I called a genuine veteran circus clown. For real. He told me the comparison is insulting. “Those guys give us real clowns a bad name,” said this graduate of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, who asked that his name be withheld.  “We take our work very seriously. Our buffoonery is pretend, theirs is real.” 

And then there’s Rep. George Santos of New York. This serial liar, creative CV composer, and indicted fabricator is about to get the boot now that the House Ethics Committee cleared the way to expel him for having “brought severe discredit upon the House.”

That’s saying quite a bit, considering more than seven in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of this 118th Congress, which is finishing its first session with a 13% approval rating.

Freshman Democrat Jasmine Crockett said Santos is a “symptom” of the chaos that is the GOP, and it “starts at the top” with Trump.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell agrees. He has said poor vetting of candidates turned the GOP’s expected red wave of 2022 into a pink trickle. Too many got on the ticket because they won Donald Trump’s endorsement, where flattery trumped competence.

A good example is in McConnell’s own cloakroom, Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, whose primary qualification was being the former Auburn University football coach. He got Trump’s endorsement because he was running against former attorney general Jeff Sessions, whom Trump despises. In Washington, he has become the poster boy for a dysfunctional Congress that is known more for what it opposes than what it supports.

If House Republicans have any agenda beyond producing campaign sound bites and opposing anything the Democrats and Biden administration want, it is prosecuting the Biden family.  

Impeaching this president is a top priority but, unlike with Trump, whose two impeachments they’re trying to avenge, they are having a lot of trouble coming up with “high crimes and misdemeanors” that can pass the smell test. But that won’t stop Reps. Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Mike Johnson from bringing up a resolution, which will send Marjorie Taylor Greene into convulsions of ecstasy, since she’s been trying to do that since Inauguration Day.

Until then, Republicans will continue their relentless pursuit of the greatest threat to world peace and American survival, Hunter Biden, the deeply flawed sole surviving son of the president.

With no indication that they plan to switch from messaging and avenging Trump to legislating and governing, Republicans appear increasingly likely to return to the minority next year.

The writer is a Washington-based journalist, consultant, lobbyist, and former American Israel Public Affairs Committee legislative director.

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