It’s not clear yet that House Republicans’ inability to elect a new speaker has significantly recast the political paradigm in this country. But the danger for the party is in a drawn-out process continuing to cast doubt on the GOP’s ability to actually govern when voters give it power. A poll released this weekend showed two-thirds of Americans agreed that “Congress needs to elect a speaker as soon as possible” to deal with issues such as Israel, Ukraine and the looming government shutdown.
The situation has apparently gotten so dire that Republicans are effectively admitting that they can’t govern — that their party is so badly broken that it can’t do the most basic work voters elected it to do. And in some cases, they’re indicating their own party is actually doing damage.
The word of the day Sunday was apparently “embarrass.”
“Well, it’s embarrassing,” ousted former House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when asked about how this undercuts perceptions of the GOP’s ability to govern.
He later returned to the word: “This is embarrassing for the Republican Party, it’s embarrassing for the nation, and we need to look at one another and solve the problem.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) did McCarthy one better, saying what Republicans were doing was not just embarrassing but also “so dangerous.”
“The world’s on fire. This is so dangerous, what we’re doing,” McCaul said on ABC’s “This Week.” “And most importantly, it’s embarrassing because it empowers and emboldens our adversaries like [Chinese President] Chairman Xi [Jinping] who says, you know, democracy doesn’t work.”
McCaul’s comments built upon what he said early in the speaker fracas, when he placed the threat of the GOP discord alongside external threats.
“Our adversaries are watching what we do — and quite frankly, they like it,” McCaul told the New York Times, adding: “One of the biggest threats I see is in that room, because we can’t unify as a conference and put the speaker in the chair together.”
In that same story, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said, “We’re not a governing body.” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) said, “This is a bad episode of ‘Veep,’ and it’s turning into ‘House of Cards.’”
“It is an embarrassment,” added Rep. Carlos A. Gimenez (R-Fla.) last week.
When CNN host Jake Tapper on Friday likened the GOP infighting to high school, Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said that gave his party too much credit.
“That’s kind of offensive to high school people, because it’s really junior high stuff,” Womack said, adding: “I mean, look, we get wrapped around the axle on a lot of nonsensical things. But, yes, the world is burning around us. We’re fiddling. We don’t have a strategy.”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a prominent foreign policy hawk like McCaul, agreed that the lack of a speaker “could” make the United States vulnerable on the world stage.
While many of these members come from the more institutionalist wing of the party, perhaps the most undersold and colorful review came from someone on the other side. It was from Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), who was one of eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy.
“I don’t think a lot of people here in this conference actually give a s— what the American people want,” Crane told The Washington Post on Thursday, as his party was rejecting Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for speaker.
Republicans don’t care about what Americans want them to do. They’re embarrassing. They’re acting dangerously. They’re falling down on the job at a critical time. They’re even helping nefarious foreign strongmen. Back during the drawn-out process to elect McCarthy in January, it was Democrats like President Biden saying these kinds of things; now it’s Republicans themselves.
It’s a reflection of just how dire the situation is. The strategy here is clearly to say these kinds of things to inject some urgency into the process — to get the 217 out of 221 House Republicans necessary to elect a speaker to come together and bring this sorry exercise to a conclusion. But before the party can get to that point, it apparently needs to have a bunch of prominent members going on the record to talk about how feckless it is and how perilous what it’s doing is.
And all the while, they strengthen the case Democrats will make during the 2024 election about how Republicans are the governing gang that can’t shoot straight.