The John McCain maneuver

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Remember when John McCain, the decorated military veteran and six-term senator from Arizona, saved the Affordable Care Act? That was in July 2017. Trump was squatting in the White House. Republicans held the majority in the House and the Senate. The GOP had sworn to repeal the ACA (Obamacare) ever since it was passed through reconciliation under Nancy Pelosi in 2010. Yet, John McCain, who had devoted his political career fighting corporate greed in the health insurance and tobacco industries, but who hated Obamacare, single handedly saved it, literally, with a thumbs-down hand gesture. It was a watershed moment preserving healthcare for millions of Americans, and humiliating for Trump and the Republican Party.

During the third vote for Jim Jordan’s bid to be House Speaker, four Republicans missed their John McCain watershed moment. After the quorum count, with two House seats currently vacant, and four Republicans and two Democrats absent, there were 427 House Members present, bringing the threshold to win down to 214 votes.

The doomsday crowd began to worry that Jim Jordan had pulled the maneuver that Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner had used. But one clue that wasn’t the case, the Democrats were confident enough to spare the two absentees, Vincente Gonzalez of Texas who was attending a funeral, and Donald Payne of New Jersey.

By the time the vote reached the Js, with four votes against him, Jim Jordan had lost. As an eternal optimist, I hoped four Republicans would have their John McCain moment and vote for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. It was a crazy longshot. But there’s been a lot of crazy lately. In the end, while all 210 Democrats voted for Jeffries, 25 Republicans voted for someone other than Jordan or Jeffries.

So, what’s next? There was bipartisan support to expand Republican speaker pro tempore Rep. Patrick McHenry’s authority, 15-days at a time, to allow him to move legislation like the debt ceiling that expires November 17th. Of the 25 House Republicans who rejected Jordan, six voted for McHentry, and as a top GOP negotiator during the May debt limit deal, Democrats considered supporting McHenry in that temporary solution. But it quickly fell apart.

As a new list of potential Republican nominees for Speaker emerges, the current frontrunner is far-right Minnesota Republican Tom Emmer. But, having voted to certify Biden’s 2020 election in defiance of the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn it, Emmer would need support from Democrats. For that to happen, Democrats would insist the nominee meet certain requirements. He or she must have voted to certify the 2020 presidential election results, and must vow to support the previously negotiated debt limit and additional aid to Ukraine and Israel.

House Republicans plan to hold a forum Monday evening, when even more candidates may join in the running. Republicans in disarray may be forced to finally get it together.

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