May 19, 2024

Right Blackmail

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Far-far right blackmail
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — There are 435 members of the House of Representatives, a body devoid of any real membership requirements other than ballot success by people at least 25 years of age. Neither education, competence, experience, nor patriotism play a role. And although there have always been what we call bomb-throwers in the House who are more interested in gaining attention than participating in any real policy work or legislating, today, that body has sunk to a new low where a mere five far-far right members of the far right Freedom Caucus of the right-leaning Republican Party can hold the country hostage.
          Known for their outlandish views and outrageous tweets, the ringleaders of the group – Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz – wield outsized power. But for them and two others of their ilk Kevin McCarthy’s razor-thin four-member Republican majority could not have elected him Speaker of the House, a position he continues to hold only at their pleasure.
          If he makes a deal to raise the debt limit without securing the cuts this minority of a minority of a minority is demanding, they will oust him as Speaker. And the cuts are as outlandish as they are: rescind President Biden’s Inflation Adjustment Act, withhold funding for the IRS, etc.
           “America is not a deadbeat nation,” President Joe Biden declared, assuring Americans that he will not allow default to happen. How he makes good on that pledge is the issue.
          He initially said he would not negotiate, and now he is negotiating.  With a minority of a minority of a minority driving the talks, is there a difference between a bipartisan negotiated compromise and pure blackmail?
          Whatever McCarthy might agree to could cost him his job, a trap with only two ways out: Democrats come to his rescue or five members of the far-far right cave in.
          This takes us back to the Founding Fathers who failed to envision political parties and thought in terms of factions where people of like minds would align at different times on different issues.
          Now, given the dysfunctionality of Congress the Founding Fathers’ principles are relevant today behind the scenes where some Democrats are floating the idea of backing McCarthy and saving his Speakership if he makes a deal with Biden that far-far right Republicans reject. Marginalizing the extremes and coming together to save the nation from financial default is exactly the sort of scenario the Founding Fathers intended.
          When asked if anything like this is going on between the parties, McCarthy denounced any cooperation with the Democrats, and said he had heard nothing of the sort. That may be true, but if not it is also what McCarthy must say given the nature of the politics he faces.
          This is not unique. Former House Speaker John Boehner survived numerous close scrapes by relying on Democratic votes for must-pass measures, a chapter he was happy to close when he announced his resignation in 2015 singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”
          Former President Trump in his recent CNN town hall said Republicans should go ahead and default if they do not get the cuts they demanded in talks with the White House. Trump, the godfather of far-far right zealotry, gave them his blessing to take the country over the economic cliff.
          Like many of the far-far right, Trump does not believe default is a big deal even though he thought otherwise when the debt ceiling was raised three times during his White House tenure. What changed his mind? “I’m not president anymore,” he said with a smirk.
          See Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2023 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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