Hey, Democrats, be careful what you wish for.
The U.S. Congress has no speaker at a time when the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution because eight Republicans voted to oust Kevin McCarthy. The primary blame rests with them, but they had help in the form of 208 Democrats. That’s every single Democrat who voted in the binary vote on McCarthy.
And while it’s customary for the parties to support their own for this role, we are not living in ordinary times. Missed was an opportunity for Democrats to appear magnanimous and non-partisan.
In the end, it didn’t matter to Democrats that McCarthy had worked with them to raise the debt limit and avoid default on the federal debt, nor that he brought to the floor a bipartisan bill, one that ultimately received more Democratic than Republican votes to keep the government open last weekend. Both of those moves infuriated the Republican Freedom Caucus but weren’t enough to earn McCarthy any Democratic support when his job was on the line.
As former Republican congressman Mick Mulvaney wrote for the Hill:
“Democrats could have easily split their votes just enough to save McCarthy. They could have telegraphed that, if indeed there was a vote for speaker, that they would support their own leader, Hakeem Jeffries, but that prior to that, they would have voted to table (kill) the motion to vacate or simply abstained from the vote.”
Democratic opposition was surely fueled by comments McCarthy made assigning blame to them on a Sunday morning show, and his role in rehabilitating Donald Trump post-January 6. Also, as House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries wrote Friday in a Washington Post opinion piece, McCarthy didn’t do anything to solicit their support.
“Indeed, McCarthy publicly declared more than five hours before the motion to vacate was brought up for a vote that he would not work with House Democrats as a bipartisan coalition partner.”
It was in the Democratic party’s interest for McCarthy to be saved. That would have demonstrated maturity and sensibility at a time when both are in short supply. And it would have emancipated McCarthy to tack toward the center because he’d know that the far right wouldn’t have a veto over his speakership. And it would have isolated and denuded the far-right Republicans.
Instead, the Democrats chose grievance and anger over national interest. The Republicans lit the fire. The Democrats let it burn.
So now we are 39 days from when the continuing resolution will run out, and Jim Jordan, with the support of former president Trump, appears to be the favorite to be McCarthy’s successor. That’ll be quite a change.
Remember, Jordan now chairs the select subcommittee on the so-called “weaponization” of the federal government. McCarthy is a conservative, yes, but unlike Jordan, he at least early on said Trump bore responsibility for the Jan 6 attacks, said Trump should have denounced the mob, and called for a censure vote. Jordan never wavered in his support of Trump or his claims about the election.
McCarthy has supported federal spending for economic growth and funding for the development of renewable energy. Jordan has not.
McCarthy has supported the U.S., providing increased offensive military aid to Ukraine. Jordan does not.
In fact, as of 2022, McCarthy has an 84-lifetime rating from the conservative group CPAC, but Jordan is pure 100 – and is ranked #1 overall. The “liberal” bills they cite that McCarthy voted for that Jordan voted against – range from a COVID relief bill to the Great American Outdoors Act. It’s enough to make Democrats wistful for Kevin McCarthy.
But this isn’t over. The Democrats may have a chance to redeem themselves by supplying the votes necessary for a reasonable Republican.
Writing in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg noted:
“the only way people like [Republican Mike] Lawler can marginalize the house’s chaos-loving nihilists is to team up with moderate Democrats. That doesn’t necessarily mean crossing the aisle to vote for Jeffries for speaker. All they’d have to do is cooperate with Democrats to elevate one of the relatively moderate Republicans’ own number. Already, several democrats have signaled their openness to such a deal; one name that’s been floated is Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick, who has been deemed the house’s most bipartisan member. If a credible centrist emerged with promises to keep the government open and maintain funding for Ukraine, it would be difficult for most Democrats to explain voting against him or her.”
Perhaps the problem solvers – will nominate one of their own, and receive enough Democratic support to move the country forward.
Using the perfect blend of analysis and humor, Michael Smerconish delivers engaging, thought-provoking, and balanced dialogue on today’s political arena and the long-term implications of the polarization in politics. In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York Times best-selling author, Michael Smerconish hosts CNN’s Smerconish, which airs live on Saturday at 9:00 am ET.