Regardless of where the vote for House Speaker winds up — with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) either winning his sought-after job as Speaker or returning to his seat as one of 435 sitting Members — the chaos a handful of conservative Republican Members have caused will do lasting damage to their party and accomplish little of long-term substance.
McCarthy has already taken severe damage to his position. The “Never Kevin” members of the Republican caucus have so wounded him that he would be largely unable to control the mechanisms a speaker must wield to keep the body functioning. In his weakened state, just controlling his own side of the aisle for two years would be a Herculean task.
McCarthy’s forced, eleventh-hour concessions after his months-long campaign for Speaker will simply reinforce allegations that he lacks principles on which to govern. More importantly, and beyond the wounds to McCarthy’s political persona, some of these concessions will make it harder for the slim GOP majority to achieve its priorities.
For example, agreeing to establish one or more “select” committees to investigate the Biden administration’s abuses of power, will undercut the powers of standing committees and their chairmen to set and coordinate the majority party’s priorities.
That agencies of the Executive Branch have been abusing their powers was not a concept undiscovered until the Freedom Caucus latched onto it. Executive Branch abuse of power has been building for decades. While it is fair to charge the current administration with forcing the pendulum further in that direction, the reality is that every recent administration has pushed the envelope – Republican and Democrat.
These matters of expanding and expansive powers and abuses of power by the Executive Branch need to be thoroughly investigated, but not as a politically partisan exercise by a “select” committee or committees. Republicans in the 117th Congress properly criticized the Democratic House majority for concocting just such a “select” committee to investigate the Jan. 6 disturbances. Returning the favor is neither a mature nor an effective way to govern.
Instead of payback, the new GOP majority, though slim, should be turning to the several standing committees, each of which has the power to engage in oversight and budget authorization for all departments, agencies, and offices that comprise the “federal government.” Each of these committees has broad and defined responsibilities, including subpoena power to compel answers. Let them do so without playing second fiddle to some “select committee” with ill-defined jurisdiction and purpose.
Focusing on the Biden administration’s “weaponization” of executive powers will make it unnecessarily easy for the Democrats to cry “partisan witch hunt” to avoid a reckoning. It will continue the current stalemate rather than allowing Republicans to lay the groundwork for essential reforms this biennium and beyond.
The controversy surrounding whether one, five, or a combination of leadership votes can initiate a move to “vacate the [Speaker’s] chair” is of little actual importance. Regardless of how many sponsors the rules will require, removing a speaker still would require a majority vote of the House to achieve.
However, in so publicly focusing on the “motion to vacate” procedure, the GOP signals that consistency of leadership over next two years may be a thing of the past — a presumption that does not lend itself to a sound platform for accomplishing important goals.
These rebellious conservatives appear to have concluded that displaying their ideological purity and demanding it of others as the price for their support is the only way to accomplish substantive conservative goals. In fact, as has been demonstrated time and again, the majority of Republican voters will only support change only if undertaken at a directed, more deliberate pace than what the electorate appears to demand at the polls. Push for change yes, but pushing too fast and too hard will meet pushback from many of your own supporters.
The Washington swamp needs to be drained. But a team that doesn’t know what it’s doing pulling the plug without a plan B is hardly a recipe for long-term success. President Trump discovered that, and the Freedom Caucus is about to as well.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.