“We look like idiots”
House Republicans clearly had no problem suffering the humiliation of six failed votes to elect a Speaker in a row across a span of two days. But when they came back into session last night, they immediately moved to adjourn in order to avoid a seventh failed vote. What does it mean for today’s prospects? We’ll see. But one thing is clear: these House Republicans care more about themselves than they do about their own party’s prospects.
House members, even within the same party, come from different kinds of districts that are located at various points on the political spectrum. What’s good for one House Democrat’s reelection prospects, for instance, isn’t always good for some other House Democrat’s reelection prospects. It’s a tough ask to get House Democrats in far left districts and House Democrats in moderate swing districts to remain aligned with each other in furtherance of keeping a majority and getting things done, rather than each selfishly doing their own thing at the expense of their party’s overall prospects. That’s why it’s so remarkable that Nancy Pelosi, and now Hakeem Jeffries, have managed to keep the Democratic House caucus so united over the past several years.
Then there are the House Republicans, who have a few problems when it comes to cohesion. First, their caucus is filled with a lot of utterly deranged people who have no interest in working with their fellow Republicans toward a common goal – not even a corrupt one. Second, House Republicans are completely devoid of any semblance of leadership. Kevin McCarthy is too inept to lead cats to catnip, and everyone else in his caucus has even less internal influence.
So it’s really not all that surprising – stunning, yes, but not surprising – that House Republicans have held six failed votes for Speaker. There are a number of House Republicans who have decided that sabotaging the Speaker vote is what’s selfishly best for them and their own personal reelection prospects, and so that’s what they’re going to do.
On the one hand you’ve got people like Andy Biggs and Matt Gaetz, whose far right districts love that they’re preventing the federal government from having a Speaker of the House. They figure the longer they can drag out this process, the more they can campaign and fundraise on it back home. Then there’s Lauren Boebert, who was shocked to learn in the midterms that her district is far more moderate than she’d thought, and now seems to be trying to pivot to the middle by trying to force the Republicans to move on from the Trump-McCarthy era (or whatever it is she thinks she’s doing).
The key to being a strong congressional leader is finding a way to get these various factions within your own party to realize that they’ve got to get their act together, because if they each keep carrying out these selfish agendas at the expense of the party’s overall prospects, the party is going to lose the majority and not get it back. It’s a tall order with any small minority. Pelosi made it look easy, and so far Jeffries is making it look easy, but that’s only because they’re good at it. It takes a lot of hard work behind the scenes to make unity look this easy.
Then there’s Kevin McCarthy, a guy so weak he probably couldn’t control a small House majority even if he didn’t have so many deranged bad apples. This is a guy who, upon realizing he didn’t have the votes, thought it would be a good “power move” to just move into the Speaker’s office instead of finding a way to line up his votes. As if the holdout House Republicans were going to say “Well, we really don’t want this guy as Speaker, but that’s a lot of boxes to move back out of there, so screw it.”
We’ll see what happens today. House Republicans’ sudden move to adjourn last night could have been spurred by any number of reasons. Perhaps they have newfound hope that they can cut some sort of deal before reconvening this afternoon. Perhaps they feared that the Democrats might have been preparing to nominate a compromise Speaker who could get six Republican votes. Or maybe House Republicans were just tired last night – tired of losing, tired of being laughing stocks, tired of sitting there like losers in front of the TV cameras while House Democrats chanted Hakeem Jeffries’ name and literally ate popcorn.
Even if House Republicans do manage to elect a Speaker today, or tomorrow, or at any point, a good amount of damage has already been done. As the wise fictional West Wing character Leo McGarry once said about a nominating process, “One night of this is entertaining. Two nights, we look like idiots.” For House Republicans, it’s worse than that. It’s not just that they’ve come out of the gate with humiliating headlines about how they supposedly can’t govern. It’s that this proves that they in fact can’t govern. Even if they get past this first hurdle, they’ll do even worse with the next hurdle and the one after that.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report