Robin Kelly and Jan Schakowsky—D-Ill--brought tubs of Garrett Popcorn to the alleged opening of the 118th Congress. How suitable to the farcical movie unfolding around them, as the U.S. House of Representatives, with its small Republican majority, went through four days and fifteen ballots to elect a Speaker of the House. Kevin McCarthy was ready to say (and do) anything. The Talented Mr. Santos sat in isolation from other representatives, although closer to members’ children than any pathological liar should ever be.
Representatives were in particular need of Garrett treats on Friday, January 6, the second anniversary of rioters defiling the Capitol in Trump’s intended coup. On Jan 6, 2021, the disruption was a tragic, violent assault on democracy. Jan. 6, 2023, was a farcical but equally dangerous threat from within led by the same group of election deniers who had refused to certify the 2020 election. Earlier in the week Representative Matt Gaetz actually nominated Donald John Trump as Speaker.
Even some Republicans, according to CNN’s Manu Raju identify the far-right anti-Kevin McCarthy caucus as “the Taliban 20” and “the chaos caucus.”
Chaos and nihilism undermine democracy. A far-right minority with loyalty to the Big Lie of election denial have made outrageous demands that will paralyze the Speaker of the House and impede elected officials from governing. Kevin McCarthy, with the singular personal goal of becoming Speaker, has in effect been taken hostage. That’s not the way a healthy democracy functions.
The thought crossed my mind that if Kevin McCarthy really wanted to embrace chaos, he could have saved himself days of humiliation by announcing after the first ballot that he had actually won, claiming that the vote count showing otherwise was fraudulent. Why not carry forward unsubstantiated, invalid election denial to the tally of votes for Speaker—the person second in line for the US Presidency?
A better solution would have been to emulate the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, who, miraculously, elected a unifying Speaker.
The complicated PA situation was destined for the kind of deadlock afflicting Washington. In November, the Democrats, to everyone’s surprise, won a slight majority in the PA House. But one elected Democrat died, and two others resigned for higher office. All three vacancies are in deeply blue districts, so the Dems were destined to maintain the majority. But the Republicans, especially those on the far right, saw an opportunity in the weeks of their majority to force through some favorite draconian measures, suppressing voters’ rights and reproductive health. Most observers thought that a Republican speaker would be elected. But, big surprise, twelve Republicans joined the Democrats in electing Berks County Democrat Mark Rozzi, who promised to be an Independent, not caucusing with either party.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “No one walked onto the House floor Tuesday expecting Berks County Democrat Mark Rozzi to become the next speaker of the House. Not even Rozzi.”
Those not surprised were those who put the deal together. Some speculate that “traditional” Republicans in the PA House were the designers. Others hypothesize that Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor-Elect Josh Shapiro, who has a lengthy political resumé in building workable compromises, was the architect.
One thing is clear: the U.S. Congress has much to learn from Pennsylvania.