No Pretense to Govern: The GOP’s Circular Firing Squad


A notable example of gallows humor came from Rep. Morris Udall when, reacting to the bloody 1980 nomination battle between Jimmy Carter and Edward Kennedy, Udall observed: “When we Democrats form a firing squad, we form a circle.”

Udall was correct then. Today, for a change, we have a circular Republican firing squad. The GOP cannot come up with any debt-ceiling strategy. Its investigations are slow off the ground and rife with groundless allegations. Its House and Senate caucuses are split on whether the U.S. should continue to assist or abandon Ukraine. Its leaders in Congress don’t like each other.

The shortcomings are on display for the American people to witness.  It took multiple floor votes to get Kevin McCarthy elected House Speaker.  Television viewers were treated to the sight of McCarthy pleading and bribing the far right with plum committee assignments. The spectacle revived an old joke: What’s the difference between a cactus and a caucus? In a caucus, the pricks are on the inside.

As Speaker, with a tiny majority, predecessor Nancy Pelosi held Democrats together and passed such legislation as the Inflation Reduction Act. McCarthy is unable to hold his caucus or punish those who fracture it. In words of Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Penn., ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, “Kevin McCarthy promised the sun, moon and stars to get elected Speaker. Now, he can’t even produce a GOP budget.”

A second shortcoming is the GOP’s unfocused investigations of wacko scandal allegations, and pursuit of implausible conspiracy theories. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, grandstanding chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is bringing a panel to New York next Monday to allegedly expose how the “pro-crime, anti-victim policies” of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg “led to an increase in violent crime.”  The awkward truth is that violent crime in the city is down.

A third shortcoming has an echo in this Washington.  A big chunk of the House Republican Caucus simply despises all government.  They are not worried, in Sen. Mitt Romney’s words, “if we have a collapse of the United States and world economies without raising the debt ceiling.” They are being egged on by right wing media, notably Fox News and talk radio.

The local echo is the U.S. Export Import Bank, which guarantees borrowing by foreign countries that purchase U.S. products, and that anchors Boeing’s jet sales abroad.  Eight years ago, the bank’s authorization was due to run out. The right-leaning chairman of the House Financial Services Committee refused to hold a hearing or move reauthorization legislation. The bipartisan duo of U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert and Denny Heck, and others, resorted to a Discharge Petition, signed by a majority of House members, to force the legislation to the floor. It passed easily.

Which brings us to a further shortcoming, pandering to extremists.  House Speaker John Boehner, a man of far greater ability than McCarthy, could not control his caucus.  The GOP caucus today has a higher quotient of crazies who live in fear of being “primaried” by a challenger.  The result, as seen in McCarthy’s behavior, is a timid deference to extremism, fearmongering, firearm fetishizing, and Donald Trump.

This is coupled with kowtowing to right wing media, which has redefined domestic politics as war. I get news from the “Kari Lake War Room” as it asks for money to support claims the Arizona governor’s office was stolen. Jim Jordan and Newt Gingrich are almost daily warriors on Fox News. A product of war is fearing to act. In words of Rep. Boyle, “Republicans took raising the debt limit hostage and yet have no idea what ransom they want for it.” It’s because McCarthy & Co. fear their own followers and interest groups. No wonder, for instance, that almost the entire Republican caucus in Washington state’s legislature voted against tighter vaccine requirements for school children.

The country has experienced more than 100 multiple shootings already this year. Polls show about 60 percent of Americans in favor of a ban on semi-automatic rifles, such as the AR-15 used in Kentucky and Tennessee killings. Yet, Republican lawmakers in Tennessee chose to retaliate against with African-American legislators in their 20s for defying decorum by loudly advocating the cause of firearms safety on the house floor.

Apparently, there’s little love lost between McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise.  The House Republican leadership tried to block infrastructure legislation backed by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.  McConnell has become a devil figure to House crazies.

McConnell and most Republicans in Congress have supported U.S. arms aid to Ukraine in its resistance to Russian aggression.  Not so Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, egged on by Tucker Carlson on Fox.  It’s a traditional isolationist vs. interventionist split in the party, underwritten by those who would boost TV ratings by fanning public acrimony and xenophobia.

Among the losers are schoolchildren shot dead, and living children who must face consequences of climate change during their lifetimes, and investors who will see a stock market freefall if the country cannot pay its bills, and the poor if America’s already-leaky safety net is cut further as the price of getting a higher debt ceiling through Congress.

Kevin McCarthy is part of the firing squad, pandering to the extremes in his party. He is getting no respect. He and the badly split Republicans have forgotten that the ability to govern is the acid test of politics.

A version of this article first appeared in the Northwest Progressive Institute’s “Cascadia Advocate.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.



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