December 6, 2023

vs the ghost of Madison

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Extremists vs. the ghost of Madison
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — A handful of hard-Right Republicans think it is a fine idea to shut down the government if they do not get what they want. This is crazy politics, but their recklessness could bring about the best news American democracy has witnessed in more than two centuries.
          The GOP’s inability to broker a deal that can pass the House of Representatives with only Republican votes could force a bipartisan compromise.
          It may be the only way Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., can get out of his self-created box. With a slim majority, he can only lose a handful of votes and Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, the leader of the hard-Right GOP faction, says they will call for McCarthy’s removal as speaker, a procedure known as “vacate the chair,” if McCarthy works with Democrats.
          McCarthy should call their bluff. If these few lawmakers can bring the government down over extreme demands that will never become reality with a Democratic Senate and Democratic President, it is time to sideline the outliers and get back to governing.
          And the way is with legislation that can muster most of the Republican votes and enough Democratic votes to cancel out Gaetz and his crazy far right Freedom Caucus friends.
          It has been done before, most recently with Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who relied on Democratic votes multiple times to pass critical legislation to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government funded.
          In his five years as Speaker, Boehner put more Democratic votes on the board than Republican votes on five occasions, a violation of the so-called Hastert rule, named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., which says legislation brought to the floor should have support from “the majority of the majority.”
          Hastert said later it was a goal, not a requirement, but it has become enshrined among Republicans.
          Boehner was about to be “vacated” when he skipped out the door in February 2015 singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” resigning as speaker and saying he had enough of the far right fun and games, and the idea of bipartisan government went with him.
          Democrats were prepared to provide their votes to keep him as speaker, which is a potential scenario on Capitol Hill if McCarthy has the courage to negotiate with Democrats. The minute he does, Gaetz will call for McCarthy’s removal as speaker, and if this unfolds like it might in the best of possible outcomes, the Gaetz crowd will be sidelined and Democrats – as many as needed – will step into the breach and save McCarthy.
          This has a lot of moving parts, and it is risky to get too optimistic about anything in Congress. But Republicans owe their slender majority to six traditionally Democratic seats they won in upstate New York, and McCarthy needs to do something to get out of the mess he is in.
          One of those upstate Republicans, Mike Lawler, a rising star with a media presence, blasted his hard-Right colleagues, saying, “This is not conservative Republicanism. . . . This is stupidity . . .  these people can't define a win; they don't know how to take yes for an answer. It's a clown show.”
          For good measure, he added that if Republicans “keep electing lunatics, this is what happens.”
          The Founding Fathers made no mention of political parties, but James Madison, the father of the Constitution, wrote with prescience in 1787. In the Federalist Papers – written along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to gain acceptance of the new Constitution – he imagined various factions coalescing around various legislation and thereby prevent any single faction from dominating the entire process.
          What might unfold on Capitol Hill would be a fulfillment of what Madison imagined. Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York and his allies have been in talks with McCarthy and his allies, though it may all come to naught. After all, they only have until the September 30 deadline to pass government funding.
          But should such bipartisanship come to pass, the center will have prevailed over extremism. Madisonian democracy will have been rediscovered following a 236-year lapse.
          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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