Tuesday, October 3, 2023

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Melodrama In The House

When he ran for Speaker of the House of Representatives

last January, California Congressman Kevin McCarthy

persisted through fifteen ballots to win the post, but only

after he agreed to change the House rules. One of those

changed rules has now brought an end to his speakership,

and this should be foremost instructive to the next speaker.

Mr. McCarthy proved over the next eight-plus months to be

an adroit and better-than-expected leader of his caucus

and for his Republican Party, but his tenure was always on

shaky ground because as part of his bargain with those

who were blocking his election, he agreed that only a single

GOP House member could bring a motion to remove him

as speaker, Because the GOP margin in the House was 

only 222 to 213, just five votes, that meant it would not be

difficult for a small dissatisfied minority to take him out of

his office.

It was the fatal flaw in this bargain which made the legendary

Sword of Damocles seem like a security blanket by 

comparison. His colleague Matt Gaetz, who had led the

initial opposition to McCarthy, wielded the rule as a weapon

of political blackmail over the next eight months, and when

Speaker McCarthy passed, with Democrat votes, a 45-day 

continuing resolution to avoid a partial government shutdown, 

he and seven other GOP hardline deficit hawks joined 208

Democrats to vacate Mr. McCarthy’s speakership. (Nine

members did not vote on the motion.)

The now former speaker has announced he will not run for

the post again, surprising many of his supporters, and so 

there will be a new speaker.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise is the heavy favorite

to be the new speaker. Well-liked by his colleagues, he even

has the support of Mr.. Gaetz. There will likely also be other

candidates, and the voting will begin Wednesday, October 11,

according to Speaker Pro Tem Congressman Patrick McHenry

of North Carolina who is temporarily in charge until a new 

speaker is chosen.

It is too early to fairly assess the impact of Mr. McCarthy’s

downfall. Some Democrats and many media commentators

are suggesting it will hurt Republican prospects for 2024,

but assuming the new speaker, whoever it is, insists on the

single-member vacate rule change, the GOP House majority,

albeit small, could re-emerge again as an effective body of

opposition it had become under Speaker McCarthy — and

do well in the 2024 national election cycle.

If that rule is not changed, the recent scenario will almost

certainly recur under the new speaker. Should that happen,

voters would likely conclude that the conservative party was

unable to effectively function, and Democrats could retake 

control in 2025.

As for Matt Gaetz, his role in Kevin McCarthy’s downfall will 

likely not be forgotten. Already a political loner, he now will

learn the price of his intraparty revolt, and even if his caucus

now emerges stronger, he is likely to find he has few political

friends in his own party in the House.

Copyright (c) 2023 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved. 

Monday, September 18, 2023

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Neglected Factor?

Although the national and presidential elections

are more than a year away, the political calendar,

particularly its filing deadlines, are now coming

up very soon. So is the window of time for

recruiting candidates, organizing crucial Senate 

and House campaigns, fundraising, opposition

research, and so much of the preparation for 

contemporary politics prior to a major election.

The 2024 cycle is unusual in many ways, not the

least of which are likely significant third party 

candidates running for president. Activity is now 

underway nationally for the No Labels Party,  

Popular Party, and the return of the Green Party

and Libertarian Party. These third parties not

only field presidential candidates who might

drain vital votes from major party presidential

nominees, but often also put forward their own

candidates down ballot for Senate, House and 

governor. They can also affect election outcomes.

Filing and qualification deadlines for third party 

ballot access are not the only upcoming dates to 

be considered. Every political contest has a filing 

cut-off date, and these vary from state to state. 

Filing dates for candidates for 2024 state 

primaries occur in some cases as early as 

October, 2023, and most of them are in 

December and January. There are numerous 

competitive or battleground Senate and House

races likely this cycle, but not all probable

nominees to challenge incumbents are yet in

place. Only this week, David McCormick, the

likely Republican nominee, is finally announcing 

his candidacy in the battleground Pennsylvania 

U.S. Senate race. Other likely competitive 2024

Senate and House races do not yet have major

challengers declared running.

[I work with and frequently go to Ballotpedia

(ballotpedia.org ) for authoritative local, state, and

national election information, including state filing

dates. Readers going to this site can obtain 

individual 2024 filing deadlines as they are made 

available from each state — as well as 

exhaustive details about candidates, polls,

fundraising, ballot history and endorsements.]

Also, several incumbents of both parties

are only now announcing their decisions to

retire. An example of this was Utah Senator

Mitt Romney a few days ago revealing he will 

not run for re-election next year. In his case, his 

successor will almost certainly be a Republican, 

but in other instances, especially certain House 

races, late decisions, usually for health reasons,

could lead to now unanticipated pick-ups by the 

other party.

A national effort by some Democrats to prevent

Donald Trump’s name from appearing on 

individual state ballots next November, assuming 

that he would be the Republican Party presidential 

nominee, is underway through legal actions to some

secretaries of state. These unprecedented suits 

contend that ambiguous Constitutional language 

disqualifies Trump from the federal ballot. So far, 

courts have rejected these efforts, and some 

secretaries of state have declined to deny Trump

ballot access unless ordered to do so by appropriate 

courts, but the issue remains for now unresolved.

The timing of major political campaigns has

changed dramatically in recent years. Many factors

have caused this to happen. Campaign financing is

certainly a major factor, and organizing, media

buying, voter identification, and get-out-the-vote

strategies also are factors.

But the political calendar is now often overlooked for

its importance. Pundits frequently utter cliches about

voter decisions being made late, inaccurate early polls

and that much can happen late in any cycle, but the 

influence of the political calendar, imposing earlier 

and earlier campaign decisions, is a factor of no 

little consequence.


Copyright (c) 2023 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved


Tuesday, September 12, 2023

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Time For Political Departures?

Almost everything in Washington, DC is now politically 

hyper-partisanized, and that especially includes the

current brouhaha over two aged and ailing senators: 

Diane Feinstein, California Democrat; and Mitch 

McConnell, Republican minority leader from Kentucky.

Senator Feinstein is 90, visibly frail and frequently

hospitalized or otherwise absent from the Senate

chambers. She is a key vote on the senate judiciary

committee which confirms federal judges, and

because two of her colleagues, West Virginia Senator

Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kirstin Sinema,

frequently decline to vote with their party, a vital vote

for any Democratic legislation. (If Manchin and Sinema

don’t vote with the Democrats, and Feinstein is absent,

the Republicans have a 49-48 majority.)

Senator McConnell is 81, and following a recent fall and

resulting concussion, has appeared to “freeze” during

at least two very public appearances. Although he seems

so far able to serve as a Kentucky senator, it appears he

is struggling to fulfill the added duties of being his party’s

leader in the Senate. Polls indicate that a large majority

of voters think he should step down as minority leader.

Because the Senate is almost evenly split, any retirement

before the 2024 elections has been unlikely. But because

public opinion is now so overwhelming regarding Senators

Feinstein and McConnell, the fact that they are from

the two major parties, might provide a brief window in

which Senator Feinstein could resign and Senator

McConnell could step down as minority leader without

upsetting the current fragile make-up of the Senate.

Senator Feinstein is from California, and would be

immediately replaced by another Democrat appointed

the state’s Democratic governor. He has already

announced he would appoint a “caretaker” interim

senator whose term would end in January, 2025 (so as

not to interfere with the already-begun campaign to

replace Senator Feinstein who is retiring at the end of

her current term next year).

Because Kentucky has a Democratic governor, it would

not be necessary or likely that Senator McConnell should

leave the senate after retiring as minority leader. There

is no indication that his age and health would prevent

him from serving out his current term as senator.

At least three senior Republican senators have the

stature to replace McConnell as minority leader should

he step down now.

This brief window of opportunity for departure of the

two senators would have some impact. Democrats

would lose her key vote on the judiciary committee,

and the relationships of the Republican senate minority

created over time by Mr. McConnell vis a vis the

senate majority and the White House (now occupied

by a president who is a Democrat) would inevitably

change somewhat under a younger new leadership.

If the two individual senators and their party colleagues

do not voluntarily take advantage of this window now,

they might have no choice at a later date — as public

pressure, already substantial, becomes so great that

one, or both, have no choice. 

They are also not the only elected figures in Washington,

DC facing doubts about their ability to serve because of

health and age issues. Senator Fetterman of Pennsylvania

has not seemed to recover fully from an earlier illness,

and President Biden, 81, himself has shown increasing

frailty in his public appearances.  

(Eighteen members of the House of Representatives of both 

parties are in their 80s, as well as many in their 70s. Along

with several senators on their 70s and 80s, most of them

continue to serve ably and in good health,)

Left unresolved, Senators Feinstein and McConnell face

becoming even more controversial figures as the 2024

national election cycle goes directly to the voters in an

already bitter and partisan campaign environment.


Copyright (c) 2023 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.