As colleagues savored soundbites on Sunday morning TV shows, a welcome opportunity came to hear out solid work-horse member of Congress who reaches across the aisle in the “other” Washington. But U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., did not bring any reassurance about a body that just ousted the Speaker it elected last January..
“Things are crazy right now,” said Schrier. Of the Republicans, who hold a narrow House majority: “They have their own civil war.” Of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, to get elected after 15 ballots: “He cut deals that would handicap him for his entire tenure.” When McCarthy had the opportunity to make Congress work: “He was down at Mar-a-Lago kissing the ring [of Donald Trump].”
The tail wagged the dog in the form of “20 to 25 crazies” of the far right. McCarthy “did not have to kowtow to them,” Schrier told an Eastside fundraiser. With a narrow 222-213 Republican majority, there was the option of reaching out to Democrats. McCarthy got a temporary budget fix earlier this year with the help of Democratic votes, then went on CBS’ Face the Nation to demean the Ds.
A modest use of intelligence might have yielded a different result. Just look, for a minute, at Washington’s delegation. Chaos is not on its agenda. “I went back there to get stuff done for Southwest Washington . . . I believe in bipartisanship,” newly elected Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez (MGP) told a recent town meeting in Tenino.
Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., spent four years chairing a bipartisan committee charged with improving internal operations of the House. Schrier has worked with Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., on the Yakima Basin Project. She pressed for the Inflation Reduction Act provision that capped insulin costs for diabetic seniors. MGP co-chairs the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, cosponsoring bipartisan legislation on issues ranging from forest management to farmers’ right-to-repair their equipment.
“He’s [McCarthy] shown he’d rather be held hostage by a bunch of weirdos than admit that he cannot lead the peoples’ house,” Gluesenkamp-Perez said after last week’s vote. In Rep. Kilmer’s words, McCarthy “weakened the institution by bending to extremists rather than collaborate across the aisle. He has inherited the chaos he has sown.”
A half century ago, former Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy quipped: “A moderate Republican is someone who gets to follow Richard Nixon into battle and shoot the wounded.” Spot-on observation, true in different form today. The Republican Party has grown insular and combative in the image of Donald Trump.
What of Republican colleagues who want to make government work? Some come from “red” districts, Schrier told donors. They are afraid of being “primaried” by MAGA voters. After all, six-term GOP Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler lost to Trump-endorsed Joe Kent in last year’s primary, with Kent then losing to MGP.
Trump has his candidate for House Speaker, Ohio’s strident GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, and the ex-president may show up when House Republicans caucus on Tuesday. Jordan chairs the House panel launching an impeachment “investigation” against President Biden. Even House Majority Leader Steve Scalise is seen as more collegial, said Schrier, even though Scalise once described himself as “David Duke without the baggage.” (Duke, a fellow Louisiana politician, is a former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.)
Self-described GOP moderates have spurned joining with Democrats to elect a new Speaker. Instead, they blame D’s for casting votes for McCarthy’s downfall. But what reason did Democrats have to rescue the maladroit McCarthy? “He has been completely partisan, refusing to work with Democrats at every turn to appease MAGA Republicans in Congress,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who chaired a collegial House Armed Services Committee when Democrats ran the House.
In the meantime, crises mount. Shutdown looms. The federal government is funded only until November 17. The Republican right has long resisted legislation to deal with the immigration crisis, even when a bipartisan bill passed the U.S. Senate by a 68-30 vote.
“Now Ukraine funding is hanging in the balance, and we have a war thrust on Israel,” lamented Schrier. “Now, at a precarious moment, we have chaos in the House.” She noted the political right’s loud lip service to Israel, adding: “If we can’t get aid to Israel, all this wrapping in the Israeli flag while also associating with anti-Semites will go for naught.”
What a difference time makes. Democratic Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., used to have fiery House floor debates with GOP Rep. Henry Hyde over the Reagan administration’s push for U.S. assistance to the Contra guerillas in Nicaragua. When done, the two big Irishmen would stroll arm in arm from the chamber.
As House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi had to work with a 221-214 Democratic majority, yet the House passed major Infrastructure legislation, the CHIPS act to bolster U.S. manufacture of microchips, and the Inflation Reduction Act with its major investment in green energy.
“We’re the ones who govern,” said Schrier. The “crazies”, as she put it, stand willing to “blow up the country.”