Republicans’ dysfunctional search for a House speaker
For at least three weeks, the country has been in the clutches of a gang — but not the stereotypical group of ruffians with no respect for life or others. The word was popularized back in 1914 with the film “In the Clutches of the Gang,” part of the Keystone Kops series. The short comedies usually involved seven to nine actors dressed as cops going through a routine that led to them arresting the wrong person. The Kops’ antics were comic bits added to movies, rather than being integral to their plots.
The lackadaisical efforts of Republicans to elect a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for three weeks would be funny if the chamber were not an integral part of Congress. Kevin McCarthy was removed from his post for taking the only option on the table to avoid a government shutdown, relying on Democratic votes to pass a resolution to continue funding until mid-November. Most would think that was the reasonable choice, but not this gang of eight or more right-wing Republicans who are holding America hostage, stopping floor action in the House.
The first member to run to replace McCarthy as speaker was Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana. He ended up stepping away from the competition, leaving the way for Jim Jordan from Ohio, another far-right representative. Jordan was never a good choice to be speaker for a host of reasons, which became abundantly clear after three House roll calls where he received fewer Republican votes each time, culminating in a no-confidence vote on a secret ballot that dashed his chances.
Lawmakers were still trying to coalesce around a nominee. Nine Republicans started out in the running. Only two of those voted to certify President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. That means most of them tacitly endorsed the January 6, 2021 insurrection, or at the very least, would not be coalition-builders willing to extend a hand to the other side to make government work.
The bitterly divided House Republicans seem to be bumbling around, looking for the wrong person to elect speaker. They are running in every direction, following the whims of a twice-impeached former president, when they should be electing a moderate member to represent them, build consensus and help build back trust in our institutions.
A fractured Republican caucus inside a divided House that represents a divided country does not bode well for the future of the nation. Our country and the world are facing serious crises, from two active wars in the Ukraine and in Israel-Gaza to the economy, climate change and the rise in racism and antisemitism. We need a functioning government to effectively deal with these crises. The government currently has funding to continue operating only until Nov. 17. Lawmakers must pass another spending bill to avoid a shutdown in less than a month.
Many theories exists about how divided government can be good for the economy but not for leadership. Certainly, our government has been divided in the past, but Pew Research Center findings published in April confirm that we have never been this divided in modern times. Most have little faith in our nation’s institutions, from the president to Congress and the Supreme Court. Eight of 10 Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country. About three-quarters say the economic system in the country unfairly favors powerful interests. Roughly seven in 10 say they have an unfavorable view of Congress.
Shoving and pushing one another, running every which way, falling over and tripping over each other is great for a stooge’s comedy, but this is unacceptable behavior for any sort of leadership in our nation’s government. House Republicans being part of Donald Trump’s Keystone-Kops sideshow of dysfunction is unacceptable. Whether it is by design, an active plan to disrupt orchestrated by a desperate multiple-times-indicted politician, or just pure incompetence, it must stop.
Whoever gets the votes to become the next House speaker must be savvy enough to unify members of his or her own party. The new speaker must be able to build coalitions between disparate factions. Coalition-builders must be found, supported and voted into office. The sooner those who are in power come to grips with this notion, or are voted out of office for failing to do so, the sooner we will have a better chance of becoming a more just and equal society.