Discover more from The Status Kuo
Failures and Fisticuffs
We may need to shut the GOP down until we can figure out what’s going on.
I thought that today’s focus would be on the failure of Speaker Mike Johnson to gain his party’s backing for a budget resolution. Instead, he had to go to the Democrats to pass it.
Ruh-roh. That’s the same unforgivable sin that led to McCarthy’s ouster as Speaker. Do we need to put up a head of lettuce soon for Johnson over this failure?
But Johnson wasn’t even the headliner yesterday. Congress was filled with examples of another alarming kind of failure: character.
Take former speaker Kevin McCarthy. While walking by Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust him, McCarthy elbowed Burchett in the back, resulting in an insane chase scene and shouts of “jerk,” “chicken” and “pathetic.”
Okay, those are all true, but still. In the halls of Congress?
It was no better over in the Senate, where Oklahoma GOP Senator Markwayne Mullin challenged Teamsters president Sean O’Brien to a physical fight. The two had been feuding on Twitter, and Mullin chose to escalate it during an otherwise standard committee hearing. The Chairman, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) had to remind Mullin, “You’re a United States Senator!”
Historically speaking, it is unwise to threaten a Teamster. And if Bernie Sanders has to tell you to go sit in a corner, you’re basically a laughing stock.
Speaking of laughing stocks, in yet another useless, waste of time hearing by the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) embarrassed James Comer (R-KY) over a questionable $200,000 check to his brother. Comer lost it, cursing and even calling Moskowitz a “smurf.” I guess because of his blue suit and blue tie?
This is all so childish and embarrassing. But underneath it all, there’s a serious warning sign, flashing bright, that we need to address.
So what’s going on? The simple answer is, the GOP is melting down in real time. This is a party at war with itself and out of control. There are a few fundamental reasons for the failures and the fights, but if left unchecked, the situation could devolve further and result in dire consequences for our democracy.
Trapped by their own dysfunction
There are two basic types of GOP members still left in Congress: those who believe government is the enemy and should be reined in, and those who believe government is the enemy and should be shut down. In short, they are either obstructionists or nihilists.
All of them claim to want steep cuts to government spending, but a vocal minority would rather burn down everything than compromise with the Democrats, who actually control most of the government. That minority has been getting its way because it has the power to block legislation and remove the Speaker, both of which have now happened and may still continue to happen.
Republican House candidates, who come from safe, gerrymandered districts, tell their voters to send them to Washington in order to keep government from doing anything—other than pass tax breaks for the wealthy, restrict bodily autonomy, and bash on immigrants, of course. That works when you’re in the minority and can criticize the other side in power, but it fails miserably when you’re in the majority and are expected to lead.
The House of course does have one primary job: passing the annual budget. But what is a budget, if not a plan for how the government will prioritize and do things? Moreover, if you don’t like the government, and you don’t actually want it doing things, then the budget isn’t your job, it’s your target.
That’s the fundamental conundrum the GOP House majority faces. And it’s why they’ve lost their Speaker, gone through four other leadership candidates, and ultimately landed on someone with zero experience and an unvetted, problematic past.
On Tuesday, the new Speaker, to no one’s surprise, wound up facing the same problem as ever: how to pass a budget when his own party doesn’t want much or any government in the first place. The only real solution is to work with the party that actually believes that government can and should function on behalf of the people. That’s why, once again, nearly all Democrats voted for the continuing resolution that keeps the government open, but nearly half of the Republicans voted against it.
Speaker Johnson has now committed the same sin as Kevin McCarthy: relying on Democrats to pass a budget bill instead of uniting his own party. Now there’s rumblings, once again, of canning Johnson for not shutting down the government like the radicals wanted. And the problem has not gone away. It has only been put off until later.
But what about all these insults, threats and fights? Where’s all that coming from?
House leadership bears much of the blame. Kevin McCarthy is now downplaying the idea that he would ever physically assault a member of Congress he didn’t like, but he’s denying it in a very telling way. McCarthy told reporters he didn’t shove Burchett or intentionally contact him because, “If I kidney-punched someone, they would be on the ground.”
This isn’t the first time such an incident with McCarthy has occurred. In his book, former Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who stood up to his own party and served honorably on the January 6 Committee, reported that McCarthy shoulder checked him not once but twice after he began speaking out against the former president. Kinzinger called McCarthy “an attention-seeking high school senior who readily picked on anyone who didn’t fall in line.”
Nor should we dismiss these actions as mere flare-ups within an exhausted and divided party. The stakes shot up incredibly high just a few weeks ago when another House leader, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), unleashed a campaign of intimidation as he sought the Speakership. Jordan was being blocked by a few dozen, less extreme members of his conference. The holdouts, who ultimately succeeded in preventing Jordan from becoming Speaker, received credible death threats. Their families and staff were targeted and intimidated. It left many unsettled and disgusted, and some such as Rep. Kenneth Buck (R-CO) decided not to run again, saying of his party, “We lost our way.”
Then there’s the guy at the top of the party, leading the way downward for all. Donald Trump normalized violence in his rallies. He suggested police should harm civil protestors as they arrested them. He made it commonplace to belittle and insult others based on their disability, race or gender. And, as I wrote about on Monday, Trump has begun to dehumanize his political opponents using language expressly lifted from Hitler and the Nazi regime, while his followers roar their approval.
The road to political violence
Historians such as Ruth Ben-Ghiat warn that the proud display and embrace of violence cannot be simply dismissed as bravado or, as Trump likes to say, “locker room talk.” The purpose behind the praise and encouragement of violence is to open the door to greater acts of political terror and ultimately the use of force to seize the levers of government.
The American public is already numb to shootings on a near daily basis, but the open glorification of weapons of mass murder by our leaders is something new to our politics. When congressional leaders post holiday photos of their families wielding rifles and guns, and when they wear AR-15 pins on their lapels in the halls of Congress, this is not simply to “own the libs” or even to reinforce some kind of tribalism. It is an express validation of achieving and maintaining political power through the use of force, with deadly weapons if necessary.
Even the objectively silly, Fight Club-like challenge that Sen. Mullin issued to Sean O’Brien carried a darker message. In the weird, Elon Musk world of man-child cage match challenges, O’Brien had goaded Mullin to fight him, “any place, any time”—an invitation that Mullin bizarrely chose to raise and accept right there in the Senate committee room.
Not long after, Mullin posted a picture of himself with an arsenal of guns and ammunition, replying to a podcaster who had posted about his altercation with O’Brien in the Senate. The podcaster had invited Mullin to come on the program to discuss the incident.
“Let’s do it. Anyplace, anytime,” Mullin warned, his hand on a gun.