On Thursday January 3, 2019 the new Congress takes their seats. The Republican House Caucus will find itself in the minority for the first time in eight years and more radical than ever. Some time ago the Tea Party faction rebranded itself as the Freedom Caucus. Call them what you may they are just as much a danger to America as ever and now they are even more powerful within the House Republican Caucus. Let’s explore.
With Paul Ryan’s retirement the Republican House Leader position was open. With the Republicans going into the minority in the lower chamber the top position available to them was no longer the Speaker of the House. Kevin McCarthy of California was elected Minority Leader over Jim Jordan of Ohio by a 159-43 count.
Steve Scalise of Louisiana, like McCarthy, stayed in his relative leadership slot, and was reelected as the House Republican Whip. The only newcomer to leadership is Wyoming’s Liz Cheney (daughter of Dick Cheney) who takes over from Cathy McMorris Rodgers as Conference Chair. (I think the Republicans are still calling the position Chairman. How tone deaf are they and what does that say of Cheney?)
Scalise has always been one of the more radical members of the House Republican Caucus and was originally brought into leadership as a concession to the Tea Party. Dick Cheney was, shall we politely say, always lacking in character and candor. Let’s just say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree and leave it at that.
Being in the minority the Republicans will no longer chair committees so the ranking member will be their senior positions on them. It certainly appears that the Democrats will be investigating some of the plethora of wrongdoings of the Trump administration and ranking members will be the “grittiest sand” the Republicans have to “throw into the gears”.
Tea Party (oh, excuse me) Freedom Caucus leaders Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jordan are trying to change the internal Republican rules on committee assignments to have themselves named the ranking member of the Oversight and Judiciary Committees respectfully. Jordan and Meadows are two of the most radical members of the House and are both fact free Trump allies.
Incidentally the 43 votes Jordan received in his challenge to McCarthy are just about the size of the Freedom Caucus which is so proud of itself that it never actually releases a membership roster. It’s kind of like the Ku Klux Klan; most people think they know who the members are but actual membership is never released to the public.
To switch to the Democrats for a moment, it appears Nancy Pelosi will become the next Speaker of the House. As of this writing the only other declared candidate for the slot is Ohio backbencher Marcia Fudge. I’ll forgive you if you never heard of her; I don’t recall hearing of her until today.
The 116th Congress will be a tricky one to navigate. The Democrats have not done a good job of getting their “bench ready to play”. The biggest knock on Pelosi is that she is old. The problem is that same criticism can be made of the rest of the House Democratic leadership team. The only person they were grooming for the top slot was Debbie Wasserman Schultz but she is now out of favor with too much of the Democratic establishment; (some of that her fault, but much of it being a victim of circumstances and a convenient scapegoat.) My suggested solution and wish is that Pelosi announce that this is her last term in the House and as Speaker. Then the Democrats have to groom one of their younger House members to take over the Speakership, hopefully under a Democratic President in 2021.
We have to get past the lame duck session first – and it will be eventful – but we are looking at a better, if rocky, situation after January 3rd. One thing the Democrats can’t do is expect any help from the House Republican Caucus!
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