The Airing Of The Grievances

[ Posted Thursday, October 12th, 2023 – 15:00 UTC ]

I admit that I've been something of a monomaniac this week, but the struggle for control of the Republican conference in the House of Representatives is absolutely fascinating to me, since it exposes the wide rifts within the party right now. I realize there's a brutal war being fought in Israel, but I have long shied away from commenting on that particular situation (because I feel I really don't have much of anything to add on the subject). And in domestic politics here at home, there's really only one thing going on: utter chaos in the speakerless House.

For House Republicans, 2023 is the year Festivus came early. It's hard not to conclude this, after yet another session of what can only be called "the airing of the grievances." Upon exiting today's GOP-only closed-doors meeting, here's what one of them had to say:

As Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) left a meeting where House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) is trying to shore up support within the Republican conference, he told reporters, "This business of just having a struggle session doesn't really work."

Asked to describe the meeting, Biggs said, "We wandered around the barn about 10 times."

Maybe they should just move on to the "feats of strength"? Might be more entertaining....

Seinfeld snark aside, it is looking more and more like the chances a speaker will emerge sometime this week are growing awfully dim. Next week doesn't look a whole lot better either. And the clock is ticking on reaching some sort of budget deal (the deadline is mid-November), meaning House Republicans really don't have whole weeks to waste.

As I write this, things are once again solidly in Limbo. The House convened today only to immediately retreat into recess once again. Just afterwards, the Republicans all got together behind closed doors and held their grievance-fest. Hours later, they broke up and Steve Scalise began meeting with holdouts in his office, in an attempt to woo them to his side.

Scalise swears he's not cutting any of the type of deals that Kevin McCarthy had to cut to gain the speaker's gavel, but that's a little hard to believe. When you call someone in to your office, ask them point-blank: "What would it take to get your support?" and they answer, how can you not offer them at least reassurances (if not outright promises)?

Scalise's problem is the Republican Party's basic problem in a nutshell (and we do mean "nut"). There aren't even really what you could call cohesive "factions" that must be dealt with. Individual Republicans all have their own sticking points, and while some of them do overlap with others (such as those still backing McCarthy, who are totally cheesed off that Scalise would even run for speaker after the way McCarthy was treated), most are just stuck on their own personal bugaboos with the way the GOP House operates. Some of the more MAGA Republicans are still backing Jordan, while there is also a group of (to be polite) "mavericks" who are charting their own particular courses.

The Republican House conference is so splintered that they can't even agree on how to move forward -- either by continuing the closed-door meetings until they achieve total consensus (to be elected speaker, a candidate can only lose four Republican votes, out of over 220); or by moving the whole fight to the House floor, so they can get each member on the record (the closed-door meetings rely on secret ballots, meaning anyone in the opposition can remain anonymous). From the reports today, it seems they are about evenly split between the two ideas.

Because Scalise has not been able to muster enough support and because there are probably an equal number of House Republicans who would never vote for Jim Jordan (for various reasons), at this point others are contemplating making their own bids for the speaker's chair. None of these has formally announced their candidacy at this point; they are instead waiting for the Scalise/Jordan options to fall apart on their own -- so that someone acceptable to all can then ride in on a white horse and save the day. The only problem with this concept is that part about "acceptable to all," since it is hard to see how any Republican could really fit that bill. House Republicans are so all over the map on what they want next that it doesn't seem like we're at a "Paul Ryan moment" (Ryan got the speaker's job as a compromise candidate when Kevin McCarthy's first bid flamed out).

Then there's an "off-ramp" idea circulating within the party as well, and as more time elapses with nobody securing the necessary votes, it might start to look a lot more appealing to a lot more Republicans. Hold a vote on the "acting speaker pro-tempore," to make him some sort of "official speaker pro tempore" who has full powers to run the House (rather than just the authority to hold speaker votes). Some are even suggesting Patrick McHenry should be given this expanded power until the end of the year -- which certainly would give them all a lot more time to have their intra-party fights.

Democrats have reportedly also proposed a sort of power-sharing agreement where the Republicans defang the radical lunatics within their own ranks, which would allow bipartisan bills to come to the floor and pass (without all the drama). This isn't being seriously considered by Republicans -- at least, not yet. But who knows? A way out of this mess that pretty much guarantees that these messes won't just continue to happen over and over again might begin to sound pretty convincing to the moderate Republicans (who are already worried about running for re-election in their swing districts).

The longer this all goes on, the more House Republicans prove to the country that they just should not be allowed to govern -- because they quite obviously can't. This entire period has been a gigantic campaign ad for any Democrats running for House seats next year. "Do you want pointless chaos, or do you want people who know how to get things done?" is a powerful argument to voters, one would think.

The most appropriate quote I heard today was one of those "Washington gaffes," where a politician almost accidentally admits the honest truth. When Representative Tom Emmer was asked about the story circulating that he might be considering making a bid for speaker, he responded: "I support Steve Scalise. Nobody should want that job."

It's hard to argue with that, given the state of the House Republicans these days.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


7 Comments on “The Airing Of The Grievances”

  1. [1] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    "Do you want pointless chaos, or do you want people who know how to get things done?"

    Depends on whether the "things" are sensible and economically sound, or whether they are stupid and counterproductive, right?

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    Unfortunately for you, the only choices on offer right now are Keynesian, batshit crazy, or both.

  3. [3] 
    andygaus wrote:

    And of course, Scalise has now dropped out, saying he couldn't get the votes. My guess is that McHenry will end up having to take an active role.

  4. [4] 
    andygaus wrote:

    [1] Are you saying maybe pointless chaos is better? It won't be better when a budget needs to be passed.

  5. [5] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    When I read Chris' comment that the House GOP has no coherent factions any more, just hundreds of manic individuals each with their own demands and interests, I was reminded of this delightful old chestnut from the Gilded Age,

    ' day when Adams was pleading with a Cabinet officer for patience and tact in dealing with Representatives, the Secretary impatiently broke out: "You can't use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!"' (Education of Henry Adams, Ch.17)

  6. [6] 
    dsws wrote:

    They wouldn't need someone who's acceptable to all. They could instead look for someone who would be acceptable to Patrick McHenry (who has the gavel), about twenty other Republicans (who should be easy to find, out of 200+), and Hakeem Jeffries (who could get the rest of the votes, given suitable assurances from the prospective speaker). At that point, the Chaos Caucus could go sulk, and it wouldn't matter.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    That sure would make a lot of (uncommon) sense!

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