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My Nancy Pelosi shirt reads — “Miss Me Now?”
The former Speaker worked with a majority just as narrow as the one now in the hands of the Republicans.
Like the Republicans, she had a high-energy group of rebels ready to challenge her — though her lefties were a more diverse bunch than the white men who dominate the GOP’s far-right Freedom Caucus.
But Pelosi kept disparate factions of her team together, leading them on a successful two-year run of major legislative wins. She made government work. She limited her party’s losses in the midterm elections.
Compare Pelosi’s leadership to the dysfunction displayed last week by the new Republican majority, which eventually elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker on the 15th round of votes.
McCarthy has been reduced to a weakling. He will be constantly cringing under fear that a snap vote by the far right will oust him. Such a vote can now be called if even one GOP member asks for it.
The GOP’s far-right also won concessions over a whole host of arcane but important matters such as the make-up of the vital Rules Committee and the Speaker’s power to limit debate and amendments.
Without those levers of control, the GOP leader will be a potted plant in the Speaker’s Office.
McCarthy’s problems began when he and former President Trump failed to deliver on the “red wave” of victories they predicted for Republicans in last November’s midterms. The GOP barely won a House majority, gaining only 9 seats. This gave the fringe of the party, however small, leverage over selection of the Speaker.
They have picked a Speaker but they have no real leader.
And with Trump in decline, there is no national leader of the party going into the 2024 cycle.
With fringe personalities in the lead, the GOP has no agenda other than insults and outrage, chaos, confrontation, and obstruction. Republicans stand on the sidelines, hooting at people trying to make government work.
Looking back to 2021, President Biden made the right call by not negotiating with hardline House Republicans during his first two years in the White House.
He relied on Speaker Pelosi.
Even with a narrow majority, her expert leadership freed him from the chaos politics of the GOP’s far-right.
Biden trusted Pelosi to manage the narrow Democratic majority in the House. And he made deals with Senate Republicans willing to invest in making government work.
Who guessed that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a hardball conservative, could ever look so reasonable? But unlike the House extremists, McConnell recognizes his interests lie in showing voters he can get things done.
There is no leader equal to McConnell in the current House GOP.
McConnell and Biden showed the value of dealmaking last week. They appeared together to celebrate funding for repairs to a decaying bridge between Ohio and Kentucky. The money came from a bipartisan infrastructure bill passed through Congress in 2021 with only 13 votes from House Republicans — seven of whom are now gone from Congress.
The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page recently described the House radicals’ lack of interest in good governing this way:
Too many of them are “more comfortable in opposition in the minority…which is easier because no hard decisions or compromises are necessary. You can rage against ‘the swamp,’ without having to do anything to change it. This is the fundamental and sorry truth behind the Speaker spectacle and the performative GOP politics of recent years.”
That is a reprise of a theme sounded more than a decade ago in a Washington Post column by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. The column, and a book by the two think-tankers that expanded on the theme, appeared in 2012, when populist rage had begun to infect the GOP.
“The GOP…is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition,” they wrote. “When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”
That was true in 2012 and it is true today.
Since 2012, the GOP base has been giving donations, media prominence and votes to grifters, extremists and political performance artists.
Conversely, it has punished and purged moderates and serious legislators willing to compromise to govern.
You can draw a straight line from the McCarthy debacle back to the racist backlash against then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy in 2008.
That was the year when an unqualified conservative provocateur, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, became the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee.
By the latter part of Obama’s second term, the Freedom Caucus would hound Republican Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) out of office for trying to do the deals necessary to make government work.
Then came the GOP embrace of Trump and further license for extremist chaos.
Boehner’s successor as Speaker, Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), would also be undermined by the far-right to the point where he too walked away.
It is time for all who love America and care about this democracy to figure out how we deal with the GOP rot in Congress.
Come back, Nancy!
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.
2022 midterm elections