While our European friends looked on appalled, our House of Representatives (which, with the Senate, makes up Congress) was without a leader and unable to function for more than three weeks, from October 2-25. What happened?
I can understand why Europeans got the jitters when all three branches of the United States government seemed to be in peril. Although President Biden is an experienced administrator, ally, and diplomat well-known and long trusted by our allies, what if we elect Republican front-runner Donald Trump again? What about our Supreme Court, with its far-right majority overthrowing basic American rights, not to mention judges’ violations of ethical norms?
And now, unable to select a Leader, the Majority Republican Party brought Congress itself to a halt. With all three branches of the United States Government threatened, is it any wonder that Europe questions our world leadership?
What is wrong with the United States Congress? The way it works is that each state is divided into districts, and each district sends one Representative to Congress, for a total that cannot go beyond 435.
Presently, there are 222 Republicans to 212 Democrats (each state elects two senators). A bill can be introduced either in the House of Representatives or in the Senate; when both have voted affirmatively, the President can either veto the legislation or sign it into law.
The Speaker of the House, who is nominated by the majority party and voted in by the House of Representatives as a whole, presides over the House and is third in the line of presidential succession. The October stalemate derived from the inability of any Republican candidate for the position to garner 217 votes in the House.
How did this happen?
Here’s a timeline of what has been going on.
- The 118th Congress convened on January 3, 2023, with Kevin McCarthy from California selected as Speaker, though with serious opposition from far-right or MAGA (Make America Great Again – Trump’s slogan) Republicans.
- After making a series of concessions to this far-right cabal, McCarthy was voted into office on January 6, 3023. One of his concessions was that a vote to vacate the office could be brought by any one member of the Republican Caucus.
- On October 2 McCarthy was forced to vacate his leadership by a single vote from Representative Mat Gaetz, who believes that to grow the economy and let the free market work you have to “get government out of the way” and never, never, compromise with Democrats. He was thus appalled that Speaker McCarthy sought Democratic votes in order to keep the U.S. economy from defaulting on its debt. Gaetz was also furious about McCarthy’s role on the House Ethics Committee investigation of his own alleged sex trafficking.
- The Gang of Eight, the cabal that controls the vote in the House Republican Conference, is basically nihilistic: their goal is to curtail government spending and cut funds for safety-net institutions like Social Security, Child Support, and Health Care. International isolationists, they think that the United States has no business in Ukraine and oppose any military aid. The Republican party attacks companies complying with UNESCO’s Sustainable Development program and intends to use their control of the House to attack companies that take climate into account in making investment decisions. They have no platform or agenda beyond acquiring oppositional political power, operating in a kind of anarchistic Libertarianism.
- On October 3, Representative Patrick McHenry stepped in as speaker pro tempore, with limited powers.
- On October 11, Representative Steve Scalise was nominated for Speaker but bowed out of the race the next day after refusing to follow MAGA directions.
- On October 13, Representative Jim Jordan, the hardest-right MAGA Trump loyalist of them all, made a run for the speakership, only to find himself opposed by 20 fellow Republicans who were put off by his shouting and screaming and all-round obstructionism. Right out of the Trump playbook, he allowed the names and addresses of the 20 to be displayed on Social Media, leading to a torrent of death threats and abuse against them and their families. This time, hiding his bullying and intimidation only made them dig in deeper. Or, as USA Today put it, “Facing death threats, some House Republicans are meeting the MAGA monster they created.”
The rift between Republican factions, ranging from the hard-right Freedom Caucus to the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, left us with no Speaker of the House. As a result, all Congressional legislation was held up, including the next Debt Ceiling vote due on November 17 and military funding for Ukraine and Israel.
- As of October 23, there were 9 further candidates running for leadership of the House, of whom 7 denied the validity of the 2020 Presidential election. The front runner was Rep Tom Emmer, who actually voted to certify the electoral count and was vilified for it by Trump and the MAGA Republicans.
- On October 24, Trump spoke against Emmer, who was then voted down.
- On October 10, Rep Mike Johnson of Louisiana, an extreme Maga Republican, was put forward and won the speakership with every Republican voting for him, including the 20 who had vehemently opposed Jordan’s election denialism, a position that Johnson shares.
What possessed them to bow down to Trump’s choice? Johnson didn’t solicit death threats against them and their families, and by then, they were probably suffering from frustration and fatigue with the whole process.
What we are left with:
Mike Johnson, the new Speaker, is:
- A Christian Nationalist theocrat who believes that America was set up as a Christian country and who wants to end the (constitutional) separation of church and state (Jesus Wept);
- An anti-abortionist so extreme that he seeks a national ban on the procedure even in cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother;
- A fiscal conservative who wants to cut back both Social Security and Medicaid;
- A virulent homophobe who not only opposes gay marriage but represented anti-LGBTQ hate groups in court;
- An election-denying lawyer who provided legal arguments for overturning the 2020 election;
- A global warming denier.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the Speaker of the House is second to our Vice President in line for Presidential Succession.
After all of this, how can democracy prevail in America? Or how can the world hope that America will lead the way out of existential challenges such as climate change that literally threaten the continued existence of civilization as we know it or lead the way forward on major moral challenges such as women’s rights or LGBTQ+ rights or race and minority rights?
There is (very faint) hope in the fact that, except for Jim Jordan’s signaling MAGA minions it would be all right to send death threats to the Republicans who held out against him (along with some screaming and shoving reported from behind the closed doors of the House Republican Conference) this entire process was not undertaken in an anarchistic manner. Rather, the voting followed the traditional rules and procedures of the House of Representatives.
Looking to the future, Speaker Johnson, although he vigorously prosecuted what he said were corrupt 2020 election results controlled by the (long dead) Hugo Chavez, holds no particular power over the certification of the 2024 election. Electoral votes will be (ceremonially) accepted by Vice President Kamala Harris before a joint (House of Representatives and Senate) session of Congress. The rules for this procedure have been tightened after Trump’s failed attempt to get the Vice President to decertify Biden’s election on January 6, 2020.
As noted in a PBS article, “The new provisions make clear that the vice president’s responsibilities in the process are merely ceremonial and that the vice president has no say in determining who actually won the election. . .The new legislation also raises the threshold required for members of Congress to object to certifying the electors.”
So, once again, the survival of democracy in America will come down to how many voters Democratic Party members can get out to the polls in 2024. As to the dread possibility of Trump’s being re-elected, his race seems seriously handicapped, considering the 91 felony counts against him in 4 court cases, with quite of few of the leaders of his election denial effort indicted, pleading guilty, and witnessing against him, not to mention a significant likelihood that he will spend some of his campaign season in jail for violating gag orders.
Then there is the broad opposition in America to the MAGA positions held by the new House Speaker. As Substack writer Robert S. Hubbell puts it in his Today’s Edition Newsletter:
“The extremist views of Mike Johnson, Matt Gaetz, and Marjorie Taylor Greene are badly out of step with the views of the strong majority of Americans. Republicans could not have chosen a worse emissary of the GOP message heading into the 2024 elections.”
Given this significant majority of Americans from both parties, who support abortion, LGBTQ rights, the separation of church and state, our Social Security and Medicaid safety nets, and doing everything we can do to save our beloved planet from global warming, Trump and MAGA Trumpism seem unlikely to prevail.
While noting that “we are experiencing an emotional, volatile, and exhausting moment,” Robert S. Hubbell urges us “not to surrender to fatigue and anxiety. Yes, we face many challenges, but we have Joe Biden as our candidate – a decent, experienced, effective leader. They have a guy who is sitting in court most days and getting sanctioned for violating court orders. We can’t count on Republicans to defeat themselves, but we should not lose sight of the fact that Democrats have substantial advantages working in their favor.”
Nonetheless, with Trump far in the lead of the Republican Primary and the House of Representatives presided over by a hard right MAGA loyalist, it is clear that we who believe in the Rule of Law, the Constitution, and American Democracy are going to have to transcend our despondency and, once again, throw ourselves into action.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Mike Johnson at the moment he is elected House Speaker Source video screenshot from ABS news video