Matt Gaetz threw a temper tantrum and got his way, now what?

Well, Congressman Matt Gaetz (R, Newsmax) got his way yesterday, and now we all get to live with the consequences. The U.S. House of Representatives has no speaker. Kevin McCarthy was ousted and says he won’t attempt a comeback. There is no consensus among House Republicans about who should replace him. The House is adjourned, and there won’t be a vote on the next speaker until a week from today. And the clock is ticking: On November 17, the funding to keep the government operating runs out.

You know who’s feeling fantastic this morning? New York Democratic congressman Jamaal Bowman. There’s nothing like deposing the speaker to get people to forget you pulled the fire alarm in a House building and had to disavow your own staff’s talking points that called your critics Nazis.

I begin today with this question: What is the point of today’s Republican Party?

Over at the National Democratic Institute — a nonprofit focused on small-d democracy, not the Democratic Party — the website explains that “political parties are essential institutions of democracy”:

By competing in elections, parties offer citizens a choice in governance, and while in opposition they can hold governments accountable. When citizens join political parties, volunteer their time, donate money and vote for their leaders, they are exercising their basic democratic rights. Participation of citizens in political parties offers unique benefits, including opportunities to influence policy choices, choose and engage political leaders, and run for office.

Do you feel like the modern Republican Party is playing the role of an essential institution of democracy? Do you feel like it’s doing a good job of competing in elections, offering a choice in governance, or holding government accountable?

I didn’t think Kevin McCarthy was going to be ousted from his position of speaker of the House. I believed you couldn’t beat something with nothing. Well, right now, America has Speaker Nothing. Matt Gaetz cobbled together enough Republican votes with Democratic votes to get rid of McCarthy, but at least for now, no one knows who, if anyone, could garner enough votes to become the new speaker.

Instead of a speaker, the House of Representatives currently has a “speaker pro tempore,” Representative Patrick McHenry (R., N.C.). (“Pro tempore” means “for the time being.”) The presidential line of succession refers to the speaker, not the speaker pro tempore; so if, God forbid, something ever happened to President Biden and Vice President Harris, the next president would be Patty Murray, the Washington State Democratic senator who serves as the Senate’s president pro tempore.

There are currently two vacancies in the House of Representatives, meaning 217 members make a majority. A speaker must be elected by a majority of those present. Yesterday, 210 of the current 221 House Republicans — that’s 95 percent! — voted to keep McCarthy, with three Republicans and four Democrats not voting. All 208 Democrats present voted with eight Republicans to oust McCarthy.

Those eight Republicans are Gaetz. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado, Tim Burchett of Tennessee, Eli Crane of Arizona, Bob Good of Virginia, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, and Matt Rosendale of Montana.

Rosendale told top conservative donors last week that, during the 2022 midterm elections, he prayed to God that Republicans would win only a small majority instead of a big one:

We have shown, okay, with a very small handful of people, six at times, five at times, that we can have tremendous impact in that body and when a lot of people, unfortunately, were voting to have a 270, 280 Republican House, I was praying each evening for a small majority, because I’ve recognized that that small majority was the only way that we were going to advance a conservative agenda.

Well, it’s good to know God is answering Matt Rosendale’s prayers by tamping down Republican victories. Ironically, Joe Biden and every Democrat in the country were praying for the same thing!

For a party that keeps talking about “winning,” the Republican Party not only loses a lot, it loses at the basic blocking and tackling of politics. You can complain about the Democrats’ rank irresponsibility in joining Gaetz’s effort to tear down McCarthy, but it’s not really the job of the House Democrats to save House Republicans from the consequences of GOP infighting.

McCarthy says he’s not coming back and won’t run for his old job again.

Gaetz says he could support House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana as speaker. Scalise, who survived getting shot in the hip during the 2017 mass shooting on the congressional baseball field, was diagnosed with blood cancer this summer and is undergoing chemotherapy. For what it’s worth, Politico reports that Scalise, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma are calling around, gauging their support within the caucus.

Keep in mind, if all 212 House Democrats show up for work, and just five House Republicans can find some Democrat they can live with — I’m spitballing here, but somebody like Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, or Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey — then at least in theory we could see a Democrat as speaker of the House. I’m not saying that’s likely to happen, but if the GOP leadership fight drags on and on, you wonder whether five, ten, or fifteen of the more moderate House Republicans might want to teach Gaetz and the “knucklehead caucus” a hard lesson. Oh, you felt marginalized and ignored under Speaker McCarthy? See how much leverage you’ve got under a relatively centrist Democratic speaker.

A lot of the complaints about former speaker McCarthy are really complaints that Republicans have very, very limited leverage in negotiations right now. They’ve barely got a House majority. They’ve got only 49 seats in the Senate, and Joe Biden is in the White House. If you want a deal on the budget, border security, or anything else, you’ve got to have a proposal that pleases lawmakers like Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. That’s the reality. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it to get anything done.

Replace McCarthy with anybody else in the House GOP caucus, and the circumstances are the same. Maybe you can find somebody who’s a better communicator or negotiator here and there, but they’ll still be working with that extremely limited leverage. A Speaker Scalise or Jordan or Hern is going to face the same mess that McCarthy did and have the same limited leverage.

And once there’s a new speaker, we can all set a stopwatch to see how long it takes for Gaetz to moan he’s been sold out by the new leadership, making the same complaints he made about McCarthy.

Gaetz complained that McCarthy worked with Democrats to avert a government shutdown (in a move supported by 126 Republicans). But Gaetz just worked with Democrats to oust McCarthy (in a move supported by just eight Republicans). Gaetz complained that the budget deal did nothing to address border security. But Gaetz refused to vote for a bill to fund the government that included border-security measures, which would have given McCarthy more leverage in negotiations with Democrats. Gaetz claims he wants to tackle the nation’s $33 trillion national debt — but he has not offered proposals, such as a plan to reform entitlements, that would be necessary to seriously address the problem.

The reality is that McCarthy was attempting to govern with a historically slim and fractious House majority and with Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling or fund the government indefinitely — even if either was politically sustainable — was never going to balance the budget or seal the border with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Biden in power.

There is no magic wand that will make Schumer and Biden suddenly agree to dramatically increase border-security funding or dramatically reduce spending. (It’s whiplash-inducing to see Republicans talking about the need to reduce spending and the debt after signing off on $1.7 trillion in new debt in the first two years of the Trump presidency, when the GOP had the House and Senate.) If you want a government that is willing to reduce spending, you need different senators, a different president, and a bigger House majority with the nerve to make those cuts.

As for a government shutdown, it would not suddenly create pressure on the Democrats. Republicans have yet to win a government-shutdown fight; the absolute best-case scenario for Republicans is that the public’s attitude is, “A pox on both your houses.” There is always some Republican loudmouth who’s convinced this time will be different, and that he’s got the messaging that will persuade a majority of the public. Some of us have long memories that go back to the shutdown fights of the mid 1990s, the late Obama years, and the mid-Trump years. Those who do not study history are not just doomed to repeat it; they’re destined to infuriate the rest of us who do remember its lessons.

I want you to picture some voters out there. (They probably include you.) They live in the suburbs or exurbs. They show up to work every day, barring those rare vacations and sick days. They work hard. They work with people they have strong disagreements with or perhaps even personally dislike. When a problem arises in their workplace, they don’t have the luxury of folding their arms and refusing to work with co-workers who think differently. They’ve just got to get the problem solved and get the job done, and that often involves finding a solution that is well short of perfect. They’ve got to compromise.

If lots and lots of ordinary Americans can do that, why is it so difficult to get elected Republicans to do the same?

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