Professor, Author: Republican Infighting Exposes Party Divisions, Snarls Effort to Resume Governing
AP Photo by Alex Brandon
One branch of the U.S. government remained out of order for the 16th straight day as U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) debated whether to take a third run at speaker of the House on Thursday on the heels of two failed ballots.
Republicans also dropped a rushed plan to give the interim speaker, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), more powers, extending the delay on bankrolling federal operations as a shutdown looms and on funding other priorities like military aid for Ukraine and Israel.
House Republicans have no clear path to reaching the magic number of 217 “yes” votes to seat a speaker, leaving the nation in a precarious spot, says Kris Miler, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland who has published a pair of books on the operations of Congress and how politicians represent their constituents.
She talked with Maryland Today on Thursday afternoon about the unprecedented series of events and what comes next.
In the sweep of American political history, just how bizarre is this unfolding episode?
We have no historical examples of being unable to fill an empty speakership. But we certainly have precursor events that make what’s happening now less than shocking: There was the political theater back in January of going through 15 rounds (of votes) to elect Rep. (Kevin) McCarthy (R-Calif.) as speaker. Some of the divides within the Republican Party in the House were first really put on display there.
Regarding the threats that some representatives who didn’t support Jordan were hearing, there’s been an increase over the past five to 10 years in terms of concerns about physical violence toward members of Congress and their staffs—a change in civility. Rep. Steve Scalise, who was the Republican speaker designee just last week, was seriously shot in 2017 at the annual Congressional baseball game; we saw the attack on (then-)Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband in 2022, and of course, Jan. 6, 2021, was a pivot point in terms of both rhetoric and actual violence.
What’s next? And what does this impasse mean for the nation?
In the short term, the bad news is that the House won’t be able to move forward and do its job for at least a little bit longer. Big picture, the challenge is that the Republicans don't seem to be able to come together behind anybody. It is unclear who the candidate is that’s going to get to 217. I have to believe that there is a path forward, but then again, there are no names being floated that by the (potential vote) counts I'm aware of would get us there. It's really hard to only lose four or fewer votes—which is what the Republicans would need to pull off to have a majority without any Democratic assistance. This really illustrates the depth of the divisions in the Republican Party, which is not a good place for the party or for the country.
What about a bipartisan deal to elect someone?
That probably doesn't play well because in order to get Democrats on board, one presumes, there'd have to be some type of power sharing. Republicans would find that very unappealing. And as you know, it's not an environment of a lot of bipartisan cooperation in general, even on much less consequential things.
What are the consequences of a merry-go-round of failure to elect a House leader?
If the House can’t move legislation forward except in dire circumstances like government shutdowns and wars, we have obvious problems. As we enter an election year, this could highlight even more the divisions within the Republican Party. Internationally, the world is watching what happens as we struggle to function as a democracy, and countries are thinking about how this affects the potential U.S. role in their part of the world—also something that could be problematic.
Is there any momentum for reform that could stave off future breakdowns?
If voters punish holdouts or those who aren't willing to compromise, and instead put in people who say, “Here are my principles but I’m going to compromise because I’m interested in governing,” that could certainly help. Members of Congress act the way they do because they often think there’s an audience for it, so voting, contacting your representatives, all of these things have an effect.
You mentioned an interest in governing. Do some House Republicans, like those in the Freedom Caucus, want to instead bring government to a halt?
I’m not sure the belief “I think government is too big” carries over directly to something as dysfunctional as not wanting to have a House speaker. Overwhelmingly, Republicans and Democrats in Congress don’t like where this has been going. But perhaps there are a handful of exceptions who relish the role of spoiler even after all this.
How will this alter the Biden presidency and his legislative agenda?
I don't think the administration had incredibly high hopes for the president’s top agenda items, given that the House is majority Republican. Of course, there are some things like foreign aid and military assistance and a federal budget that surely the president would like to have.
Anytime these political games of chicken occur, it’s how the voters perceive it. If they’re upset enough to blame the Republican party writ large, it could shape electoral dynamics for the Biden administration going forward to next November.
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