A Giant And Embarrassing Defeat

[ Posted Wednesday, January 4th, 2023 – 17:01 UTC ]

As the sun sinks slowly in the west... as the stormclouds continue to gather... welcome to another episode of As The House Turns....

Sorry if I'm a little loopy, but watching six consecutive roll-call votes in the House of Representatives has done that to me. The clown parade continues, with no real end in sight, although the Republicans have now introduced a twist to the story by only agreeing to adjourn the chamber for a few hours. They will reconvene at 8:00 tonight, which is odd -- I mean, do they really want this to be on primetime television? For what possible purpose? Self-flagellation? Straight-up masochism? But then trying to figure out Republican motivations at this point is no more than a fool's game, so we'll just have to see what happens.

The best new metaphor to spring into existence while watching all this unfold (that I have heard, at least) is that the dissenting Republicans should now be called the "Chaos Caucus." Sounds about right, and we are always a sucker for some potent political alliteration....

As I write this, the House has conducted six votes for the position of speaker. Nobody has managed to win yet. Winning is defined as "gaining a clear majority of the members casting votes by surname," just to be clear. It is not a static number. Most commentators make this basic error, by definitively saying "it takes 218 votes to win," but that is not strictly true. There are currently only 434 representatives-elect (one has died, leaving a seat temporarily vacant), so half of that is 217 and a clear majority is 218, true.

But McCarthy's support continues to slowly slip -- today one Republican switched their vote from voting for McCarthy to "present," which only leaves 433 members casting a vote for an actual person. Half that is 216.5, which means the magic number to win has slipped to 217. If two more Republicans started voting "present," the number would fall another notch to 216.

The Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, has consistently gotten 212 votes, it bears mentioning. Hypothetically, if the number of Republicans voting "present" climbed to 11, then there would only be 423 members voting, half of which is 211.5. In such a scenario, Jeffries would win, with every Democrat behind him. But this is pretty farfetched, because nobody really believes that could happen (it's only barely in the realm of the possible, to put it another way). Also technically possible would be enough Democrats either not showing up to vote or voting "present" to push the numbers down (both the total number of surname votes as well as the votes for Jeffries) far enough to allow McCarthy to win with only the 201-203 votes he has so far managed to get. This is also so farfetched as to be virtually impossible, but we include it for the sake of completeness.

McCarthy seems determined to humiliate himself endlessly until the dam breaks and the Chaos Caucus comes to their senses and capitulates. The only problem with this theory is the part about "comes to their senses" though, since many of this group appear to be completely senseless. And that's putting it mildly.

We do apologize for the language used (while freely admitting that we have used the term ourselves, in private conversation over the past 24 hours), but one unnamed House Republican reportedly used his own technical term to describe why this isn't likely to end any time soon: "I love shitshows and this is a shitshow to behold."

This is the party of Trump in all its glory. No press is bad press, as the movie actors say. Getting your name out there is so much more important than why people are talking about you. You can always present yourself as fighting for the true cause and purity of thought against your enemies (take your choice): "the Swamp," "the media," "the Democrats," or (as in this case) "the RINOs." That is the true lesson of Donald Trump -- literally anything can be turned to your advantage in the media realm, at least among the true-believers out there. That is the adrenaline wave the Chaos Caucus is currently surfing on, and the dynamics of that wave don't seem likely to change.

Even Donald Trump himself -- and we should repeat that, with emphasis: even Donald Trump himself -- can't turn this tide. Trump is (rather weakly) telling the Chaos Caucus that it is time to vote for McCarthy, to no avail. Here's what he sent out on his own pet social media platform:


Of course, for Trump "shouting" in all-caps isn't noteworthy, but I did find it amusing the halfhearted nature of the endorsement -- not only is the "will do a good job" part the only part not in all-caps, but Trump is only confident McCarthy will do a "good" job. The bit about "maybe" he'll do a "GREAT" job seems pretty begrudging, at best. Seems like damning with faint praise to me....

Trump reportedly even worked the phones last night, talking to all 20 of the discordant Republicans. He didn't convince a single one of them to change their vote today. One of them even castigated Trump on the House floor today, telling him he shouldn't be calling them up -- instead he should be calling McCarthy up, to tell him to withdraw his candidacy for speaker. That's where we are, folks.

Unless the Chaos Caucus suddenly relents this evening, there still is no end in sight. If it goes on for another two days, it would mean the House would be deadlocked and voting while President Joe Biden gives a somber address to mark the second anniversary of the January 6th insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol. That would certainly be ironic.

I hate to admit it, but I have to agree with Donald Trump on the issue, at least so far. The House Republicans have successfully turned a silk purse into a sow's ear. They have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Or, as he put it, they have unnecessarily created "a giant and embarrassing defeat." What is on display is merely prelude to a rudderless House run by the weakest possible candidate for speaker in 100 years, who has absolutely zero way to control the hotheaded radicals in his own caucus.

Or, in other words: buckle up. This is only the beginning, folks. Chaos will reign supreme in the Republican Congress for the next two years.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


10 Comments on “A Giant And Embarrassing Defeat”

  1. [1] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Today will be remembered in history as the one day when not a single newspaper in the land carried the headline "Democrats in Disarray."

  2. [2] 
    andygaus wrote:

    McCarthy should be telling the holdouts, "If you don't vote for me, you'll never get to investigate Hunter Biden's laptop."

  3. [3] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    I have a question.
    Not just Elects, no member of the House is a member. The swearing-in hasn't happened yet.

    While the Constitution is clear about messing with the the paycheck of a member of the Legislative branch, does anyone get paid if no one is sworn in?

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    CW I enjoyed today’s column and largely agree with it.

    But the column title that you settled on wasn’t very imaginative, respectfully.

    I was thinking about something more snarky like, say, Kevin McCarthy’s Twelve Stations of the Cross. Six ballots over two days has to contain twelve especially brutal indignities, if not more. I watched all but the start of the second day, and all I can say is that the oppo ads destined for audiences in China and Russia simply write themselves so far in this new year.

  6. [6] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    And you know what else feels strange? Surreal even?

    For once Establishment Democrats aren’t blaming lousy election results on Progressives after fighting against Progressivism tooth and nail. I would argue that it was, in fact, passing Prog legislation is partly the reason the midterms turned out meh instead of tsunami.

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    People like Congressional staffers don’t get paid after the 15th, right off the top of my head. The downstream damage has to be much more than that.

  8. [8] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    I can't remember which clip from which network, sorry, but a senior R congressperson discussed the possibility, just a risky possibility, of getting enough people on both sides of the aisle to agree to a 'first past the post' vote (plurality wins rather than an absolute majority), with the threat to the never-McCarthyites of Jeffries winning the Speakership in that case. It wasn't clear that he was convinced the change of rules would get through or that the threat would work.

    I see these clips in my very early morning, when I am not always fully caffeinated, so details do not stick, but I think it was one of the main networks.

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    How about McCarthyism 2.0?

  10. [10] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Instead of shouting about "un-American activities" that really aren't, it's refusing to call things un-American that really, really are. Kevin has the majority share of the majority party, so he should be speaker.

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