The Speakership Mess: A Modest Proposal

By Dr. Harold A. Black

The Republican caucus is a mess. Unlike the Democrats who seem to be able to vote unanimously on most issues despite some ideological differences, the Republicans have difficulty getting their act together. Being speaker for them is like trying to herd cats. Contrast what the Republicans were doing with the relative ease that Hakeem Jeffries was voted in as minority leader, replacing Nancy Pelosi. Although Pelosi was an anathema to most Republicans, she was the unchallenged leader of the House Democrats. When she was challenged in her congressional races, it was always from the left who asserted that she was too moderate and not progressive enough. Yet she was elected speaker unanimously by the Democrats. Jeffries is in the same mold. Although many on the right try to paint him as a socialist, he is anything but. By New York standards he is a “moderate” and actively campaigns against candidates of the Democratic Socialists of America. He would like nothing better than the socialists to lose in state races and in particular in races for the House. It is clear that he does not care for Jamaal Bowman and would like to see him defeated. I have written previously of how the Democrats could enact certain parts of their agenda even with the House Republican majority. All it would take would be seven defections from the Republicans and a unanimous Democrat vote. Given the mess in the Republican caucus, I would not have been shocked if a few Republicans defected to make Jeffries the speaker. Thank goodness the Republicans finally elected a speaker, Mike Johnson of Louisiana. Who? Mike Johnson. Perhaps Johnson was the beneficiary of fatigue and exasperation, but finally we have a speaker. None too soon. The world is blowing up, the government shutdown is looming and the image in my mind is Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burns.

Johnson is a devout Christian with solid conservative credentials. He voted for McCarthy. He did not join Gaetz’s gang to ouster McCarthy. But he voted against the Ukrainian supplemental appropriations bill and supported the Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the Trump defeats in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Johnson also voted for the resolution to impeach Joe Biden and is an advocate for single appropriations bills rather than the omnibus bills of Nancy Pelosi that no one had the time to read. Remember “We will find out what is in the bill after we pass it?” No wonder Trump endorsed him – but of course, he also endorsed McCarthy. What will be interesting is that Johnson has only been in his fourth term making him one of the least experienced speakers in history. Hopefully he can successfully herd cats.

I liked Steve Scalise but I guess he was too establishment for those on the far right of the party. There was no possible way for Jim Jordan to be the speaker and I was puzzled that he would try. Jordan has been a nonproductive member of Congress for 16 years with a dismal legislative record. He is famous for yelling at people and does not build coalitions. That Jordan lost votes on every ballot was not surprising. I suspect that Matt Gaetz and his cohorts (including our own Tim Burchett) staged their coup in order to get Jordan the speakership. However, their actions alienated enough other Republicans that it is doubtful that anyone aligned with Jordan’s Freedom Caucus would become speaker.

At least the Republicans tired of as my mother would say “making a fool out of themselves” and elected a speaker. I had suggested earlier that when they were at an impasse that they could elect someone who was not in Congress – someone who was super smart, a superb legislator with a solid conservative record and had emeritus status in the party, my University of Georgia economics tutor, Phil Gramm.