This Is The Problem With Electing An Empty Suit Leader
Early yesterday, in a closed door GOP conference meeting, conservative freshman Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) was on the mic, heatedly slamming the House Freedom Caucus’ latest example of hostage taking. Another freshman, Mike Lawler, did the same thing the day before... and then did it again yesterday. These guys are getting very frustrated with the selfishness of a gaggle of red state— safely gerrymandered— extremists who are forcing the weakest Speaker in living memory to give them veto power over the entire agenda. Shaken, Alabama Republican Gary Palmer insisted that members refrain from using profanity during the meeting, noting that some lawmakers' children were present (although he may have mistaken Gaetz' harem for members' children). I wonder how many GOP members agree with how Hakeem Jeffries described it yesterday: "Team chaos, team dysfunction and team extreme is completely out of control right now and focused on the wrong things."
Around the same time that Van Orden and Lawler were venting, Gaetz was on Bannon’s podcast claiming his fellow House Republicans yelled at him yesterday morning and accused him of holding the floor “for outrage and fundraising.” Gaetz said those same Republicans “prostitute” themselves “to lobbyists for money.” Everyone was corrrect.
Gaetz further embarrassed the pathetic McCarthy by blabbing to the media that follows him around asking about his Ethics Committee investigation reopening, that the Freedom Caucus is “renegotiating its ‘power-sharing agreement’ with McCarthy. It will be in writing and released publicly. Poor McCarthy: “I don't know that there's anything in writing here. The only thing we agreed to do is— we'll sit down and talk…” Whadda mess! The House was scheduled to vote on the rule for the 4 messaging bills last week and it didn’t happen. Then they were scheduled to vote on it Monday night— and it didn’t happen again… even though, the DC trade papers were reporting it as a done deal. Roll Call reported that “Some Republicans told reporters Monday evening the floor could be back up and running as soon as Tuesday, including a possible vote on a rule setting up debate on bills that were stalled last week to deal with gas stoves and curb executive branch power, plus a newly added GOP measure on pistol braces. And one of the extremists, Matt Rosendale (R-MT) said it would definitely be this week… although he warned that if McCarthy tried any bullshit, they pull the rug out from under him again. “We have to get comfortable with what Speaker McCarthy has said to us and that he’s kept his word,” Rosendale said. “That’s what we’re trying to… hold him to.” Finally at 2pm, having made their pointed a flexed their muscles, the 11 spoiled children voted yes on the rule.
Nebraska GOP Rep. Don Bacon, whose congressional district Biden carried in 2020, said in a statement before the announcement of the agreement with the conservatives that he believes the conference needs to work together.
“When individuals divide the team, they weaken the conference and the GOP. The small group acts like we’re in a parliament in which the House majority can get whatever it wants,” Bacon said. “In reality, we’re in a bicameral with three branches of government and separation of powers. If we want to get something done it will involve working across the aisle. The small group of GOP individualists want a 100% and will end up with zero. I’m for getting the best results possible and that will take a unified team.”
Yesterday David Dayen cautioned his readers to not take any of this at face value: “The temper tantrum on House floor votes masks a much more consequential lack of consensus on upcoming spending bills— which could give Democrats an opportunity.” He wrote that “Freedom Caucus members are baring their teeth in order to influence the implementation of the debt ceiling deal when federal spending bills come up in the fall. They’re trying to force McCarthy into positions that will make it difficult to get those spending bills completed on time. And because negotiators added a penalty if spending bills linger through January that would mainly slash the military budget, the Republican disarray threatens nothing so much as the men and women in uniform they traditionally worship. The Fiscal Responsibility Act, which got the debt limit extended for two years, set spending levels for fiscal years 2024 and 2025. But appropriations must be conducted within those parameters. The HFC outburst should be seen as an attempt to effectively revise the deal at the appropriations stage. They want House appropriations to come in lower than the targeted figure, back to fiscal year 2022 levels, which would be a cut of roughly $100 billion.”
McCarthy is already talking about welching on his agreement with Biden by appropriately less money than was settled on. But Senate Republicans are demanding more money— at least for the Military Industrial Complex… something already giving McCarthy agita.
This is also where the trigger mechanism in the deal comes into play. If Congress doesn’t pass the twelve annual spending bills by January 1, all outstanding budgets will revert to fiscal year 2023 levels minus a one percent cut. Because military budgets were increased in the deal, it’s actually more like a 4.3 percent cut for the Pentagon, which adjusted for inflation is closer to 10 percent. It’s a good bet to think that our military-worshipping Congress will never let that happen. But it’s harder to figure out how they’re going to avoid it, given the deep differences between Democrats and Republicans, between House and Senate Republicans, and between hardliners and the leadership within the House.
Democrats are in a different position than they were in the debt limit talks. Historically government shutdowns have rebounded back on Republicans, who eventually crawl back to the table without getting much in return. And the trigger that would slash defense spending in particular is a powerful spur to stick to the demand to keep to the promises in the debt ceiling deal.
Then there are wild cards like natural disasters, which almost always require supplemental funding. Holding out on rebuilding part of the country would be damaging to a House Republican majority that is at risk next year. You could even see Democrats, if they are the only thing standing in the way of an impossible impasse, asking for their own breach of the deal by asking for non-defense spending increases.
Republican disarray in previous years has allowed Democrats to effectively control the floor. Ultimately this, not the administration’s negotiating, could lead to the debt limit crisis having a much more favorable outcome than expected.
The upshot of all the drama is that the normally docile and toothless mainstream conservatives are threatening to work with their conservative friends in the Democratic Party to cut the Freedom Caucus out of the legislative equation. As much as mainstream conservatives dislike Gaetz and Boebert and the other 9 nihilists, this is a total non-starter, despite Don Bacon saying “We’re going to have to have Democrats vote on rule votes… I would rather pass meaningful legislation that can get through the Senate and leave the 11 to the side. They can raise holy hell by themselves.” And despite a conservative Democrat, Wiley Nickel, likely to lose his seat next year anyway, telling Axios that he’d be anxious to work with the Republicans. Nothing new there; he often votes with them against his now party anyway.
Two more neo-fascists joined the House Freedom Caucus this week: Diana Harshbarger (R-TN) and Eric Burlison (R-MO). I’m surprised it took them so long since they are both so extreme and both from scary-backward districts, Harshbarger’s in the northeast corner of Tennessee with an R+60 partisan lean, one of the worst in the country, (Trump won with 72.4% there) and Burlinson’s in the southwest corner of Missouri with an R+47 partisan lean (Trump won there with 69.8%).