As I predicted, as soon as Kevin McCarthy decided to use mostly Democratic votes to avoid a government shutdown, he was ousted from power. It briefly looked like he might try to strike a deal with the Democrats again to survive, but he blew that idea up on the morning of the vote to vacate the Speaker’s chair: “They haven’t asked for anything, and I’m not going to provide anything.”
Without support from Democrats, McCarthy’s position was doomed. It was the same situation that John Boehner faced in 2015 and he resigned rather than suffering the indignity of making major concessions to the Democrats or losing his position on a floor vote. McCarthy, being the stupidest man in Washington, waddled into the threshing blades instead.
I need emphasize that McCarthy claims he offered the Democrats nothing. Zip. Nada. Remember that when you see hand-wringers question the Democrats’ decision not to save him.
And remember, too, that both during the debt ceiling crisis in May/June and during the government shutdown crisis at the end September, the Democrats provided the votes to help McCarthy get out of a fix. Passing spending bills and paying our debts on time are the two absolutely indispensable jobs that the House of Representatives must perform. Everything else can get bogged down in gelatinous gridlock, but we must fund the government and preserve our nation’s credit. And whatever grouping of members perform those two tasks is the true functional majority in the House. In this case, it has been amply demonstrated that not only is this grouping made up mostly of Democrats but that the Republicans are literally incapable of doing the job themselves.
What this means is that there is no good reason for the Democrats to collectively suffer in the minority. They serve in the functional majority, the only majority that is essential, and they should share some of the power in the House. That should be reflected in committee assignments. It should should be reflected in the rules that govern what can come to the floor for a vote. It should be reflected in the body’s top priorities.
In mid-November, funding will run out again and the Republicans will still be incapable of keeping the government open and operational. It will again be up to the Democrats to join with at least a few Republicans to solve the problem. This might have to happen through a discharge petition where a majority of (mostly Democratic) members force a bill to the floor over the objections of the House leadership, but it will eventually happen because the government cannot remain shut down in perpetuity.
Remember that when you hear hand-wringers worry that the next Speaker will be worse than McCarthy. Perhaps they will be, but only if the Republicans do something really stupid and repeat the mistake they made by electing McCarthy after 15 votes in January.
It solves nothing to elect another Speaker who has no support from Democrats. There is a divided government in Washington, with the Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate, and the government can only be funded through either compromise or continuous continuing resolutions like the one McCarthy passed which cost him his job. As I’ve already said, the remaining alternative is funding through discharge petitions which is when the Speaker loses control of what comes to the floor.
You can count on the Republicans to try every other option or even to repeat options before doing the right thing, and right now their focus is all wrong. The Republican members of the functional majority that pays our debts and keeps the government operational will do the right thing again, eventually, but they’re currently focusing on revenge. Take, for example, the centrist Problem Solvers caucus which is made up of moderate Republicans and Democrats. It may get dissolved because Republicans are bent on punishing the Democrats for McCarthy’s demise.
Rep. Nick LaLota (R., N.Y.) said at least five or 10 Republicans in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, including himself, are considering breaking up the group in frustration, after centrist Democrats declined to help Kevin McCarthy hang on to the speakership.
“This was supposed to be a time when Problem Solvers were supposed to drop their partisanship and do what’s right for America,” LaLota said. “I’m tremendously disappointed that nobody – no Democrat Problem Solver – stepped up to do so, and I’m reassessing if I’ll remain a member of that caucus.”
“There was little or no effort to actually solve the problem,” added Rep. Marc Molinaro (R., N.Y.).
Reps. LaLota and Molinaro should keep in mind that McCarthy, by his own admission, made no effort to court Democrats, including Democratic members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. The Republican Problem Solvers are part of the functional majority and they should get enhanced power in any new bipartisan coalition to elect a Speaker who will fund the government and pay our bills on time. But they expected the Democrats to continue suffering in the minority while performing the essential duties of the chamber.
The Republicans will try to elect a new Speaker with just Republican votes, but the same members who extracted impossible conditions from McCarthy and then ousted him for not keeping them will have the same demands for a new Speaker. And then the government will shut down again. It’s basic math.
So, eventually, the anger at the Democrats will subside and reality will begin to come into focus. I have absolutely nailed this whole situation from the start, predicting back in December and January exactly what would happen to McCarthy and why. But we are now in a turbulent period and I cannot make accurate short-term predictions. The influence of Trump in this cannot be overestimated, because he makes it almost impossible for Republicans to seek compromise or operate in a logical and self-protecting manner.
So, the Republicans may rally around a new Speaker in short order or they may struggle through dozens of ballots before realizing that the next Speaker must represent the functional rather than the partisan majority. What we know from McCarthy’s experience is that a partisan Speaker will fail. The best they can do is struggle through to the next elections allowing the functional majority to govern through discharge petition after discharge petition. As that’s the least functional and most humiliating for the Speaker, it’s what I expect the Republicans to attempt. They may tire of it, however.
The Democrats will be waiting.