Democracy in Action or a Political Hijacking?

We heard repeatedly last week from pundits and politicians on the right that democracy is messy and we must let the process play out. And yes, up to a certain point, rigorous debate between factions inside a political party is beneficial. 

For example, few conservatives would argue that stand-alone spending bills on individual items of business aren’t preferable to one behemoth Omnibus bill, filled with pork barrel spending, especially one that contains over 4,000 pages and is delivered the day before lawmakers are expected to vote. The ability for congressmen to propose amendments to legislation is even better. And the truth is that power has become too concentrated in the House speaker position which diminishes the voices of other members. The Freedom Caucus members were right to address these and many other issues. 

But there comes a time, especially when 222 individuals are involved, for compromise to replace rigid demands. 

As the stalemate continued into its third day, Elon Musk announced his support for Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy, asking, “If not McCarthy, then seriously who?” It was a valid question. McCarthy, with his less than stellar conservative record, was not the perfect nominee. But no other serious candidate had come forward and none of those proposed by the Freedom Caucus members had been able to garner more than 20 Republican votes. McCarthy had won the support of over 90 percent of the GOP caucus, while Florida Rep. Byron Donalds had the backing of just 10 percent. And, while I have tremendous respect for Donalds, it’s a stretch to say he’s ready to run the House after serving just two years in Congress. 

Throughout the grueling process, McCarthy continued to compromise, eventually providing a written list of concessions which addressed all of the legitimate grievances of the Freedom Caucus members. 

Ahead of the 14th ballot, McCarthy and his supporters felt cautiously optimistic about his chances of victory. And why wouldn’t they? In an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity” less than an hour prior to the vote, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, the most outspoken member of the opposition, and Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert seemed delighted with the concessions they’d extracted. Gaetz even referred to McCarthy as the speaker designate and joked that he’d run out of things to ask for. 

Yet, rather than throwing his support to McCarthy, Gaetz voted present. As did Boebert. Although this had the effect of lowering the number of votes needed to win to 217, it still left McCarthy one vote short of victory and neither Gaetz nor Boebert would agree to switch their votes. Moreover, Gaetz was among the group of House members who voted to adjourn the session until Monday morning.

Inexplicably, Gaetz had a sudden change of heart and reversed that decision, opting to move on to a 15th ballot. According to the New York Times, Trump had called Gaetz, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs and the other three GOP holdouts.

Gaetz once again voted present. But Biggs and the last three holdouts changed their votes for other candidates to present, lowering the threshold required for victory and finally, on the 15th ballot, McCarthy won the speakership. 

But he’d paid a heavy price and will operate on a pretty short leash. Much like the tarnishing of a once-solid candidate during a bruising intra-party primary, last week’s theatrics have weakened McCarthy. 

Although I’ve never been a McCarthy fan, it struck me that, over the course of four days, he’d done an awful lot of compromising while the minority members, well aware of the power they held, called all the shots. Members’ personal attacks on McCarthy, in particular those from Gaetz and Boebert, only added to the strain. 

Even after their demands had been met, some members continued to squeeze McCarthy for personal concessions such as committee assignments. That crossed a line and what had begun as good-faith negotiations eventually turned into a hostage situation. 

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) told CBS News on Sunday that Gaetz was fundraising off the floor fight. “Matt Gaetz is a fraud. Every time he voted against Kevin McCarthy last week, he sent out a fundraising email.” (A portion of one of his emails can be viewed here along with snippets of similar emails from others in his group.)

Two of the most basic principles of democracy are majority rule and the “protection of individual and minority rights.” 

It can’t be denied that McCarthy accommodated the minority’s demands and the House will be better for it. Yet, they continued to obstruct. And rather than watching democracy in action, the spectacle on the House floor began to resemble a political hijacking. 

This raises concerns about the House GOP’s ability to unite around critical issues and initiatives once the legislative session begins. Say what you will about Democrats. Whatever goes on behind closed doors, they consistently present a united front and rarely air their party’s divisions. 

On his Sunday night program, Fox News’ Mark Levin reminded viewers of Ben Franklin’s words at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 where debate among members had devolved into bitterness and deep division. Acknowledging that the document wasn’t perfect, he told his colleagues to “administer it.” 

Franklin wrote: “For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all of their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly, can a perfect production be expected?” 

The House majority is all we have right now. And conspicuous division among members is a luxury we can’t afford if we hope to win back the White House and the Senate in 2024.


A previous version of this article appeared in The Washington Examiner.

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11 thoughts on “Democracy in Action or a Political Hijacking?”

  1. I guess It doesn’t resonate when I continue to say this, or people just don’t care. When someone thinks he is entitled to that job, and wants it so much that he is willing to sell his soul to get it, he should be the last one to hold that position. McCarthy has been wanting that job, so much, over the last several years, including the time when Ryan was Speaker, who was also a lousy sellout of a Speaker, that what I said should go without saying.
    Do you know what runs our country, nowadays, and for the last several decades? Other than it being run by and as a republic, it has been replaced by an idol based mess. Nothing, but pure idolatry.

    Our country wouldn’t have suffered one bit if McCarthy had stepped out of running and we would have seen all those totals that people are still using “Oh those guys got ten percent or less” to being able to make it as high as what McCarthy sucked his way to the top for.

    Better be glad I am not a House member, because I would have been the twenty first holdout.
    McCarthy will always have been a mistake. But it is now history, so let’s see how things go.

  2. The Senate should have had the same debate on McConnell’s vote as minority leader as the House debate on McCarthy.
    Mitch clearly needs a challenge to force him to act for conservatives instead of helping out Biden and Schumer on the budget fiasco.

    • They did have a debate, but it was internal to the caucus. He got a lower percentage of the GOP vote than McCarthy did in the post-election meetings. The difference is that McConnell needs only a majority of the GOP caucus to be Minority Leader. The Speaker of the House has to have a majority of the entire House. Given the tight margins, he needed 98% of the GOP Caucus to vote for him or 96% to vote for him and the other 4% to vote “present” and lower the threshold.

  3. Elizabeth, you are still wrong. The idea that “if not KM, then who?” is not a valid question if you are not willing to consider how things change once KM got out of the race. If he had gotten out, someone else, likely Scalise, would have gotten in the race and could have gotten 218 votes. The field was never going to open up as long as KM was in the race. That is like claiming no other Republican in the country (besides Bill Weld) wanted to be President in 2020 or could have won the nomination. Trump was the incoming President and no one credible was challenging him. They weren’t going to as long as he was running. If he had announced he was not seeking re-election, we would have at least a dozen serious candidates declare. The Speaker of the House race is not all that different in concept, only the voting is done by the 222 elected Republicans.

  4. It is kind of pearl clutching at this point. The last round held it out for what, another few hours. I know it is a close call, but I think the republic will be able to survive a few less hours without a Speaker of the House.

    I don’t know why the holdouts stayed at it. Chip Roy, who is the real hero of the whole thing, got all the concessions and then honored his word and voted for McCarthy after he’d gotten everything they asked for. That said, all the attacks the moves by McCarthy’s people no doubt created some bitter feelings. Some of them are more theatrical and less substantive than Roy, so they had another round or two left in them. I’m not going to cry too much over it considering 201 had no objections to just giving McCarthy all the power with no concessions. All 21 deserve some credit in my book.

    • They deserve a ton of credit, reviving the idea that rigorous debate is how righteous people resolve conflict. McCarthy was elevated way above any human’s status should ever be. Pedestals should be reserved for those who deserve them because of their actions after holding office, if they are found to be beneficial to society. McCarthy made that pedestal meaningless, or perhaps, even evil. He better have a high ladder, just to keep his word, while climbing out of the hole he dug.
      We’ll see. won’t we?

  5. Democrats always close ranks because they do not believe in individualism. They believe that the betters tell the lessers what to do. The lessers then do what they are told for the hope that one day they can grease enough palms and crook their way into being one of the betters. All of them feel they are entitled to take from you and me and order us around. They embrace tyranny as long as they are a part of the ruling class.

    They don’t deviate because they believe in top down government. The top gives the orders and it is passed down. No one is allowed to question their betters.

  6. “For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all of their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly, can a perfect production be expected?” 
    Levin is a pretty smart feller, but what he doesn’t understand about Franklin’s statement is that when you allow all those prejudices, passions and errors of opinion to be debated, you can then get to a truth, a truth better than just succumbing to one man’s obsession.

    What Levin is trying to make permanent in the House, is expediency, for expediency’s sake. All expediency can do is stifle learning the truth through the lack of debate.
    Somehow, I think Franklin meant something different than how Levin used his statement. Didn’t Franklin also say something to the effect of “…a republic, if you can keep it? How can you keep it without the debate, to get to some truth?

    • Well said.

      As to Franklin’s words, the Constitution is a bit more important than a Speaker’s election for one session of Congress. And they spent plenty of time debating and debating and negotiating to get something that everyone could agree on. In this instance, the 21 holdouts were told to sit down, shut up and get in line. No significant concessions were offered by McCarthy and his camp. He believed that since he had Fox News, most of conservative media and Donald Trump in his pocket, he could just bully his way to being the Speaker without having to do any negotiating. Well, he was wrong.

      As I said elsewhere, depending on the metrics used, the House spends between 170 and 220 days not in session. Taking less than a week to decide on the Speaker and the governing rules for the next 2 years is not too much to ask. They can easily make up those days if they so choose. Of course, we all know the screams about the wasted time was just b.s. trying to bully the holdouts.

      Mark Levin has really taken a slide. This is the second or third major issue in the last few years where is simply carrying the government and/or the establishment’s water. He used to not be like that. I don’t know if he has just gotten too big and isolated, if he sold out or what, but it is disappointing. There is a lot of truth to the old saying that you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Levin is trending towards that territory and not finishing his career very well.

      If I get some time, I want to put together a list of which “conservative” media figures became simps for the establishment and who is still fighting for conservatism. Levin has moved into simp category. Anyone can talk like a big dog against the Democrats and Biden, but the proof comes when you have to stand up to the GOP and your buddies. Levin failed the test.

      • Unfortunately, that list would be long, about right now, because they appear to be turncoats, since most have adopted the left’s fashion statement, of saying and doing whatever the winds from the left dictate, which it appears to even control even Fox, nowadays.

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