On the surface the big story of the week just ended is Nancy Pelosi’s decision to step back from House leadership. To stop there is folly. There is so much more happening in the lower chamber of Congress.
Last week it was established that, as widely assumed, the Republicans will be in the majority in the next House of Representatives. With several races yet to be called the exact margin at this point is to be determined, however we know it will be very, very narrow.
I am among the many who feel the Democrats needed to make a generational change in leadership and obviously Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn agreed. They are all pledging their support to the proposed (and I’m sure will be elected) new blood leadership team of Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark and Pete Aguilar. I’m sure a bunch of factors contributed to the timing one of which is that Pelosi is keeping a promise she made.
Contrast that with the Republicans who are keeping the same House leadership team intact. If we look at the 2022 election the Democrats over performed while the Republicans underperformed. I know I’m going into the other chamber but Ron Johnson was reelected to his third term. When he initially ran, he promised the people of Wisconsin that he would limit himself to two terms. Ponder all that for a bit.
I will admit I never thought it would happen, but it appears Kevin McCarthy will be the next Speaker of the House. Initially Donald Trump will be pulling his strings – probably via people like Marjorie Taylor Greene – from afar. Much has been written and said about how nobody can control a caucus like the incoming Republican one especially with a thin margin for defection. McCarthy may be many things but an extremely talented political leader is certainly not one of them! Less radical Republican caucuses ran the much more talented (hey, everything is relative) John Boehner and Paul Ryan out of town and they had larger margins to work with.
The Senate is staying in Democratic hands (possibly adding one seat in the process) while the House shifted control as a result of the same election. You ask, how can that happen? The answer is actually simple: gerrymandering. You can gerrymander a district but you cannot gerrymander an entire state. There are other examples but just the states of Florida and New York more than account for the projected Republican margin. In Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis personally gerrymandered four seats. In New York the Democrats got too greedy and the courts (there are real courts in New York) slapped them down producing a map that gave the Republicans four seats.
One of the biggest reasons I touched on gerrymandering is because I believe the Republican caucus will be more extreme than ever. Before we hit Independence Day, we will have several new household names of freshman Republicans. Not because they are such good legislators but because they are so extreme. Most of the radical candidates for high profile, statewide office went down. However, many survived in the smaller congressional district races especially in gerrymandered districts where voters are heavily skewed to a given political party and that party can run almost anyone and still win.
Looking ahead to 2024 I see the House flipping back mainly because I have no confidence in anything productive coming out of a Republican controlled House in the run up to a presidential election. Their first objective will be to obstruct and, in the process, make Joe Biden and the Democrats look bad in the less well-informed voters’ eyes. We have seen this “Party of No” act before. One of their plays will be expensive but useless and fruitless investigations. It will be Benghazi 2.0.
My big question, and it is way too soon to answer it, is whether the Republican will take the Senate in 2024, which a first glance would tell you they should. I think Mitch McConnell will try and thread the needle in withholding support from some or all of those who tried to oust him (and are up in ’24) while supporting just enough challengers to vulnerable Democrats to arrive at 51 seats. (I doubt McConnell will gamble on 50-50 and the White House, at least not early on.)
I’ll end today with a not so bold prediction: Kevin McCarthy may be the first Speaker in the 118th Congress but he won’t be the last one.
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