By Jessica Orsini
As I write this on a Friday morning in October, the U.S. House of Representatives has been without a Speaker for two and a half weeks. This is not normal; but then, little about the House for this past year has been.
It is not normal for the majority party nominee for Speaker of the House to require fifteen rounds of voting to secure that position, as happened with Kevin McCarthy (CA-20) this past January; indeed, the last time more than one ballot was required was a century ago.
It is not normal for the Speaker nominee to be forced to yield major concessions to a small extremist faction of his party – the Freedom Caucus, in this case – in order to secure their vote, such as committee chairmanships, outsized representation on critical committees, a de facto veto on any legislation, a single member being able to call for a vote to vacate the Speaker, etc., as McCarthy was forced to do.
It is not normal for a faction of the majority party in the House to threaten to default on the national debt, and it is certainly not normal for a number of those members to actively try to make a default happen, as happened this past May.
It is not normal for the majority party to be unable to pass appropriations bills of its own design, as has happened over the past several months.
It is not normal for a small extremist faction of the majority party to vacate the Speaker for passing an appropriations bill that had the support of 95% of their caucus; it is, in fact, unprecedented for the Speaker to be vacated by a vote at all. Yet that happened on October 3rd.
It is not normal for the leading majority-party candidate to replace a Speaker vacancy to be blocked before he can even have a floor vote, as happened to Steve Scalise (LA-01).
It is not normal for the majority party to nominate a bomb-throwing agitator, a man who has not passed a single piece of legislation in his entire house career, a man who has voted for only 16% of appropriation bills (and who has never voted for a farm bill), a man who supported an insurrection over a lost presidential election and who to this day refuses to acknowledge the results of that election, to be the Speaker of the House, as they did by nominating Jim Jordan (OH-04).
It is not normal for said nominee to continue his quest for the Speaker’s gavel after twenty members of his own party vote against him in the first two votes, as happened this week.
It is not normal for House members to receive credible threats from members of their own party over their vote for Speaker, as happened to Marianette Miller-Meeks (IA-02). It is not normal for the families of House members to receive threatening calls and messages over the member’s vote, as happened to the wife of Don Bacon (NE-02).
It is not normal when – in the span of a single day – the House plans for a third vote on this nominee, then scuttles those plans in favor of an unprecedented plan to grant the acting Speaker pro tempore full (if temporary) powers of the Speaker, then to spend four hours behind closed doors yelling and at times cursing each other, then to scrap their plans for a temporary Speaker and go back to planning a third floor vote…a vote that appears as likely to fail as the first two.
None of this is anything resembling normal. Most of it is unprecedented. But then, none of this is particularly surprising, either.
It’s not surprising, because for the past dozen years the Republicans in the House have been dedicated to obstruction, not legislation. In fact, a number of them were elected specifically because of their talents for obstruction, by a base that has
swallowed rhetoric that amounts to “burn it all to the ground”.
It’s not surprising, because Donald Trump is a life-long thug and bully, surrounded himself with fellow bullies and those willing to be sycophants to him, and then vocally supported the candidacy of House nominees of the same stripe.
And it’s not surprising because, after all of this, the most likely threat to the reelection of an incumbent Republican – even those who are of the far-right contingent – is from yet farther to the Trumpist right.
I do not know how this will end. But I know that this is dysfunction such as the nation has never seen before, and that we cannot continue to operate like this.