"The Senate, wrote Becky Little a couple of years ago, "had just adjourned on May 22, 1856, when Representative Preston Brooks entered its chamber carrying a cane. The pro-slavery southerner walked over to Senator Charles Sumner, whacked him in the head with the cane and then proceeded to beat the anti-slavery northerner unconscious. Afterward, Brooks walked out of the chamber without anyone stopping him. The caning of Charles Sumner is probably the most famous violent attack in Congress, but it is far from the only one. In the three decades leading up to the Civil War, there were more than 70 violent incidents between congressmen."
Yesterday, Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) did several interviews in which he said Georgia freshman Marjorie Taylor Greene is not a Republican at all. And Trumpist patsy Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was in Cheyenne campaigning-- viciously-- against Liz Cheney (R-WY). He told a large crowd of Republicans that she represents corporate interests, not the people of Wyoming and blasted her as a warmonger. (A few days earlier, her office made reference to his status as a closet case but telling him to leave his beauty bag at home because "in Wyoming, the men don't wear makeup.") He retorted that it's easier for him to get makeup off his shirt than for her to get the "blood off her hands." Gaetz and Trump are supporting a primary against her. And that's the Republican vs Republican mood in Congress. According to reports from both the Washington Post and Politico, relations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress are even worse.
Colby Itkowitz and Mike DeBonis called it open hostility. They claim there are "fears of physical violence," as well as "looming domestic terrorism threats" from Trump supporters. "Some Democrats," they wrote, "are expressing fears that Republican lawmakers-- who in some cases have tried bringing weapons onto the House floor-- cannot be trusted. Some have bought bulletproof vests and are seeking other protections." Republican freshman Peter Meijer (MI) bought body armor and employs an armed escort because he fears Trumpists, not Democrats. Thursday afternoon Pelosi actually went so far as to point out that dangers lurk among the membership itself. "The enemy is within the House of Representatives, a threat that members are concerned about, in addition to what is happening outside."
When far right Arizona crackpot Paul Gosar, who materially aided the insurrectionists who sacked the Capitol, was asked if the country is headed for a civil war, he replied "We’re in it. We just haven’t started shooting at each other yet." Several of his own siblings have gone on record that Gosar is an extremely dangerous threat to the U.S. and should be thrown out of Congress.
Jim Himes (D-CT), is a respected House leader, who no one would call a "hot head" or super-partisan. This morning he told me "It’s really bad. There’s no way to frame what happened on 1/6 as a policy difference, in which we disagree civilly and respect each other’s motives, blah, blah, blah. It’s really hard to get beyond the fact that most Republicans were willing to risk our democracy and our safety in the service of devotion to Donald Trump’s lie. How do you sweep that under the rug? Lots of conversations ongoing on how and whether to work with them."
Matt Cartwright, a courageous and much-liked progressive who represents a red-leaning congressional district in northeast Pennsylvania, told me this morning that "It’s part of the human condition that people continually disappoint you. I have also known for a while that there were people serving in the Congress who truly do not have one iota of courage, and that it’s because they know their own intrinsic lack of merit means they could not possibly match their government salary in the private sector. But those who voted, to give validity to the hundred-times-over debunked claim of election fraud, takes it to a new level.... [T]hey really seem even smaller people now."
Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-GA) is at the center of all this-- and she's revealing in it. Her politically backward Georgia district sees her as a martyr to their grievances and all this attention is making her even stronger-- and giving her a platform to raise money, maybe enough for a 2022 Senate campaign (against Rapahel Warnock).
This morning, writing for Politico, Sarah Ferris and Melanie Zanona, reported that "Some House lawmakers are privately refusing to work with each other. Others are afraid to be in the same room. Two members [Maryland gun nut Andy Harris was one of them] almost got into a fist fight on the floor... Just weeks into the 117th Congress, the bedrock of relationships hasn't been on such shaky ground in more than a generation, with a sense of deep distrust and betrayal that lawmakers worry will linger for years. And those strains could carry long-term effects on an institution where relationships-- and reputations-- matter more than almost anything else."
Authorities are investigating whether any GOP lawmakers played a role in the insurrection. While law enforcement have released no details about specific members, Democrats have been quick to point to members like freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who live tweeted the speaker’s whereabouts as rioters stormed the Capitol.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who regularly faces a barrage of threats against her, dismissed GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in a tweet after he signaled that the two of them could work together on a congressional probe into GameStop’s recent stock trading.
“I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out,” Ocasio-Cortez fired back at Cruz, who led an effort in the Senate to challenge Biden’s win.
Further complicating matters is the potential security threat that still exists at the Capitol, which prompted Democrats to implement new safety measures-- metal detectors outside the House chamber.
Republicans have complained that Democrats were targeting their own members, but Democrats said it proved justified after the screening revealed that one Republican, Harris, attempted to bring a weapon onto the floor. They plan to pass a bill next week requiring steep fines for any Republicans who sidestep the metal detector, adding to existing fines for GOP members who refuse to wear masks.
But the problem isn't just Taylor Greene and Boebert, the two QAnon lunatics. North Carolina's 11th district elected a Nazi-- who also has QAnon sympathies-- and North Carolina media is already calling him an embarrassment. In an editorial yesterday, the editors of the Charlotte Observer roasted Mad Cawthorn, suggesting that he's an overt publicity hound and that someone should keep him away from the cameras and microphones. He's been, they wrote, "an embarrassment to the institution, to his party, and to his state. In the last month alone." They listed several examples:
• Helped incite the U.S. Capitol invasion with a Jan. 6 speech that lied about election fraud and stoked anger, then less than 24 hours later said the president’s election falsehoods played a role in the riot while claiming his own, similar election lies weren’t a factor. Cawthorn wasn’t alone in that kind of whiplash-inducing pivot, but he was the only lawmaker calling for unity after Jan. 6 who also sold “Cry more, lib” T-shirts on his web site. (He later removed the listing.)
• Faced questions about claims that he was a legitimate candidate for the 2020 Paralympic Games. Cawthorn has suggested so more than once, including telling a Christian podcast host that “I had an opportunity for the Paralympics for track and field.” This is not accurate, as The Nation reported, and it’s an insult to the Paralympic athletes who invest their time and effort to compete at an elite level.
• Typed this actual sentence in a Jan. 19 e-mail to Republican colleagues obtained by Time: "I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation.” That commitment to messaging, rather than understanding and participating in legislating, might have been something that interested his constituents before they voted to send him to Congress.
• Struggled through an excruciating interview with CNN's Pamela Brown in which he finally acknowledged Joe Biden’s legitimate victory yet continued to allege that states subverted the U.S. Constitution in changing election rules. That’s not true, and when Brown noted that election rules also were changed in North Carolina, Cawthorn said he wasn’t aware of those changes. Either Cawthorn inexplicably doesn’t know what’s going on his home state, or he lied. (The latter is very possible given Cawthorn’s volatile relationship with the truth. During his campaign, he created the impression that he was headed to the U.S. Naval Academy before an accident left him partially paralyzed. The reality: Cawthorn was rejected by the Naval Academy before his accident.)
"Cawthorn’s strategy for these kinds of mishaps," they ask rhetorically. "It’s apparently to keep doing interviews, which results in more head-shaking headlines and national ridicule. It’s why the North Carolina freshman is on the medal stand for worst new member of Congress. It’s also why at least one prominent supporter has expressed regret, and why Republicans are surely not looking forward to two years of cringing." But they went right the heart of the problem of why Congress is filling up with extremist crackpots like Cawthorn, Boebert and Taylor Greene: gerrymandering
It’s difficult to feel sorry for GOP leaders, however, including those in North Carolina. Cawthorn is a creation of their making, a product of legislative gerrymandering his state’s Republicans engaged after their 2010 victory in the N.C. House and Senate. Those maps resulted in some of the most gerrymandered districts in history, and even after courts intervened for fairer maps, a Republican is still all but assured to win in NC-11.
As has happened in districts across the country, such gerrymandering squeezes out moderates who thoughtfully consider the center. That leads to awful candidates and elected officials, and as lawmakers embark on a new round of map drawing in 2021, they should keep Cawthorn in mind. It might be nice to get easy election wins, but it’s not good for your party or the people you’re supposed to serve.