Wednesday, October 25, 2023

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Curtain Down! Curtain Up!

The Republican House of Representatives majority, after

three tries, finally settled on a new speaker, following a

long-brewing revolt that led to the end of Speaker

Kevin McCarthy’s tenure three weeks before.

Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson won a unanimous

GOP vote to win the speakership 220-209 over Democrat

Hakeem Jeffers. This party unity was in stark contrast to

the party divisions which marked earlier voting that saw

three GOP speaker nominees fail to even come close to 

the 217 votes necessary to win the post.

For three weeks, the House majority performed a comic

opera that wasn’t at all funny. When the curtain came 

down, there was relief instead of applause. 

Speaker Johnson says the next show will be serious 

drama. There is plenty to be serious about in both 

domestic and in international affairs.

The first action of the House under Speaker Johnson was

a bipartisan resolution condemning the barbarity of

Hamas in its attack of Israel. It passed overwhelmingly.

Coming up, the House must take action on the national

debt limit, an issue which provoked GOP dissension

before. It will test Speaker Johnson’s ability to serve as

leader of the House as perhaps no other immediate

issue. If he and his caucus are successful, they will then

face many more serious decisions in the term leading

to the November, 2024 national elections.

The work of the legislative branches of the government

goes on. The curtain will now rise on the next show in

D.C. The business of nominating candidates for

president will likely attract the most attention. There is

considerable dissension in both major parties on which

person that will be, and there is an unusual interest in

this cycle for third party and independent candidates.

Democrats might have enjoyed the spectacle of the

Republicans’ House leadership battle just concluded,

but now they face a decision of what to do with their

own incumbent president and vice president whose 

support is plummeting ominously in virtually all 

battleground states.

The curtain is now going up on that show, and no one

knows now who will be in its cast, or whether it will be 

a comedy or a tragedy or something else.


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

Saturday, October 21, 2023

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Beyond Melodrama In D.C.

Following the melodrama of the ouster of Speaker of 

the House Kevin McCarthy two weeks ago, the

Republican majority have successively nominated

two members, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Jim

Jordan of Ohio to succeed him, but failed in both cases

to produce the 217 votes necessary for election. Mr.

Jordan, after coming up short on three ballots,

suspended his effort, and said he would support electing

the current Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry of

North Carolina, thus giving him, albeit temporary, 

expanded powers so that the House can resume doing

business over the next several weeks, including acting

on aid to Ukraine and Israel, as well as vote  before the

new deadline to pass the national debt limit.

The ouster of Mr, McCarthy was made possible when,

to win the speakership, he agreed to a rule that only

a tiny group in his GOP caucus could remove him as

speaker. It was almost certain then that a few unhappy

GOP members would eventually take advantage of

this rule — and when Speaker McCarthy agreed to a

temporary delay in acting on the proposed budget

deficit, a small number of  his Republican colleagues

moved successfully to remove him as speaker.

When GOP members then nominated Majority Leader

Steve Scalise to replace Mr. McCarthy as speaker,

the caucus failed to elect him, and subsequently

nominated Jim Jordan of Ohio to be the next speaker.

After three ballots, Mr. Jordan was several votes short 

of what needed to be elected, and he then agreed to

suspend his effort, as already noted, and to vote to 

give Mr. McHenry added powers so that the House 

could resume its regular business over the next 

several weeks.

This plan was rejected by the whole GOP caucus,

including canceling Mr, Jordan’s nomination.

The Republican majority is now back to its condition

just after Speaker McCarthy’s removal, i.e., no speaker

and no ability to conduct House business.

Several members have now announced they will run

for speaker, but no one yet appears to have the 217

votes necessary to win.

The Democratic minority has been united in casting its

212 votes for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries on every

ballot so far, and have understandably painted the GOP

majority as dysfunctional.

Speaker Pro Tem McHenry probably has enough votes

to expand his powers so that the House could function

through January, but he has so far refused  to serve in

any capacity beyond his current duties to preside over 

the vote for a permanent speaker.

The GOP caucus has not yet rescinded the rule that one

member can move to vacate the speakership, and with as

few as five other members, force a speaker to step down.

If this is not done, it seems impossible for the Republican

majority to function going forward.

As the days go by, and the next deficit deadline approaches,

as does the necessity of the House to act also on critical

legislation regarding aid to Ukraine and Israel, the political

damage to the prospects for the Republican Party in general

in 2024, and the re-election of GOP members, worsens.

If not resolved very soon, it becomes a spectacle unworthy 

of a party which seeks to govern the nation in 2025.


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


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.