Friday Talking Points -- Last Clown Standing

[ Posted Friday, October 13th, 2023 – 16:20 UTC ]

Personally, we could not think of a better day to elect the next speaker of the House, it being Friday the 13th and all. But the way things are going, that doesn't exactly seem like it's going to happen. As we all sit and watch the center ring of the Republican circus, just when you thought that tiny little clown car couldn't possibly have any more clowns in it... another one emerges!

That's the way it feels, at any rate. Here's an ultra-quick rundown of the events of the past week in the House of Representatives. After chucking Kevin McCarthy out of the speaker's chair and then promptly going on vacation for a week, the Republican conference met again on Tuesday. This was after Donald Trump had a brief flirtation with the idea of running for the speaker's chair himself but then decided not to, we should mention (maybe someone told him it'd be a secret ballet, so he wouldn't know who voted against him?). At the Tuesday meeting, two representatives -- Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan -- gave speeches. Wednesday, Scalise won a secret-ballot vote (113-99) and became the official GOP nominee for speaker, even though Trump had endorsed Jordan. Scalise wanted to immediately hold a floor vote, but members of his party balked at this (because being balky is what they're best at). Thursday, Scalise tried to round up more support in another meeting, but failed. By the end of the day he had withdrawn his name from consideration. This left Jordan with a clear path to victory. So today, Representative Austin Scott decided to challenge him. As we write this, the House Republicans are still huddled together behind closed doors, so who knows what the clowns will do next?

[Update: House GOP members emerged from their meeting, having nominated Jordan -- but with only 124 votes. He's got a long way to go to get to the magic number of 217, obviously. A second vote was held to see how many Republicans would support Jordan on the House floor, and 55 of them voted against him. He might have no more success getting to 217 than Scalise did... and a lot more clowns seem to be grappling in that car, trying to be the next one out, so....]

The Republican House is, in a word, ungovernable. And if they can't govern themselves, how do they expect to participate in the running of our country? That is the clear takeaway message from all of this. Over the course of the past few decades, Republicans have made the job of being a Republican speaker absolutely impossible. What's at the heart of this problem is that House GOP hotheads have been lionized ever since the rise of Newt Gingrich. Writing good legislation and getting it passed is downright boring and does not gain you fawning interviews on Fox News and the rest of the rightwing media echo chamber. What does get you attention is wrecking everything in sight. Throwing epic tantrums. Tearing down the status quo, even within your own party. Destruction is victory for these bomb-throwers, and they are rewarded with lots and lots of attention (and campaign cash, mostly from small hotheaded donors). Getting all this attention goes to their heads and they demand not just a seat at the table but a veto vote on everything. And since their entire brand is to destroy things, nothing is ever perfect enough for them. They can always make up new demands that are more radical and more insane. John Boehner found this out, Paul Ryan found this out, and now Kevin McCarthy has found this out as well. All were ousted by hotheads, for no particular ideological reason. And now the hotheads are so ascendant that they are gumming up the works of deciding on a party leader.

Republicans are truly only at their best when they are in the minority -- because it's pretty easy to be in the minority: just adamantly oppose everything the majority is trying to do. Coming up with what you want to do -- as majority parties must -- is a lot harder.

The House Republicans currently seem to be about evenly divided between those who would love to just put a hothead in control of the House and those who want some sort of actual legislator to lead them who has an actual conservative agenda (rather than just "baying at the moon"). What this means is that it may be impossible for any hothead to be elected (because saner Republicans won't vote for a hothead), and just as impossible for any mainstream conservative to get elected (because the hotheads know that such a person will eventually wind up cutting deals they don't like). This is the standoff they (and the rest of us) face.

What we are witnessing is rather historical, in one way. This is the way the party conventions used to choose their presidential nominees, in "open" conventions. One faction would build support, but another insurgent nominee would make a splash, and the voting would wind up essentially deadlocked. Either one of the candidates eventually convinces everyone to get behind them or through sheer exhaustion eventually everyone settles on some nondescript dark horse as a compromise. This could happen in the House (it would probably mean that the current acting speaker pro tempore, Patrick McHenry, would become a sort of fill-in speaker at least for the next few months).

Or things could get completely bizarre and a longshot answer to the crisis might emerge. This is one of those things that are so far-fetched they're not even normally worth discussing. But we've already had the first speaker deposed in American history and an ex-president (who is running for the job again) considering doing a quick stint as House speaker, just for the fun of it. So we've already crossed the border into the land of the far-fetched.

At some point, enough Republicans might get so disgusted with the inherent ungovernability of their own party that they start talking with Democrats. This could have one of two positive results. The first would be for a group of centrist Republicans (and it wouldn't take many) to declare that they are switching parties and will now join the Blue Dog Democrats as the most conservative Democrats in the House. The price for their switch in allegiance might be some choice committee seats, one has to imagine. But whatever deal they strike, their defection changes the balance of power in the House, and when the speaker election is held Hakeem Jeffries emerges triumphant.

Less far-fetched than that outcome is some sort of power-sharing agreement. Democrats could demand from Republicans big rule changes to defang the GOP hotheads. At a minimum, this would require changing the rule for the "motion to vacate the chair" so that it takes a lot more than just one member to call for it. Also, something would have to change in the Rules Committee which would allow bipartisan legislation to come to the floor. If an overwhelming number of Democrats and a solid faction of Republicans are for a bill, it would get a vote -- even if the majority of the Republican Party was against it. This would solve a lot of the budgetary games (such as shutting down the government) that have stalled the current House. In return, enough Democrats would either vote for a moderate, non-hotheaded Republican to be speaker, or they would vote "Present" during the speaker vote, which would allow for more breathing room for the candidate on the Republican side (so a speaker could win even if more than four Republicans voted against him or her).

In either case, sanity would once again rule the day in the workings of the House. Tantrums and hissy fits would no longer be the only order of business. Things could get done. But, alas, this idea probably makes far too much sense for it to actually happen. At least right now -- although if we go through another week like the last one, then the far-fetched might begin to look a lot more plausible.

We'll just have to see how many more clowns come out of that clown car in the meantime. Who will be the last clown standing? Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, a war has broken out after a surprise attack on Israel by Hamas. Normally, this would be a time for Washington politicians to close ranks around their ally Israel and both express their support as well as send some military aid. President Joe Biden has been doing both of these things (two aircraft carrier groups moved offshore, in a display of solidarity), but Congress has not. The House can't do anything until they elect a speaker -- not even pass some resolution restating American support. At a time when many in the world are looking to America for some sort of leadership, Biden is doing what he can while the Republicans prove how unfit for governing they truly are.

Donald Trump reacted to the news by first largely ignoring it (while taking the time to rant about the prosecutors who are bringing court cases against him), and then when he finally did address it, Trump praised the terrorist group Hezbollah while airing his (probably made-up) grievances about Israel's leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. This actually earned him some denouncements from the other Republicans running for president (for once).

Speaking of Republican presidential candidates, the field narrowed by one this week, as Will Hurd officially dropped out. You can be forgiven if you weren't even aware he was running (he didn't qualify for either debate), but it is still something to be applauded. The next candidate who really should face reality and drop out is Asa Hutchinson (who made the first but not the second debate). On deck after Hutchinson is Doug Burgum, but he's self-financing his campaign so this might not happen for a while.

On the other side of the aisle, Robert F. Kennedy Junior announced he is dropping out of the Democratic primary race and instead will run an independent campaign. Up until this point, rightwing media has had nothing but kind words to say about R.F.K. Jr., as boosting his candidacy meant a big thorn in Biden's side. But now that he's set his sights on the general election, they have all realized that R.F.K. Jr. might take more votes away from Trump than from Biden, so they all have now turned on him. As have more than one of his relatives. A group of them which included Kathleen Kennedy Townsend put out a statement which said, in part: "Bobby might share the same name as our father, but he does not share the same values, vision or judgment. Today's announcement is deeply saddening for us. We denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country."

There wasn't a whole lot of "Trump legal woes" news this week, but next week might prove livelier. Prosecutors in various Trump cases made various legal motions, but nothing has been ruled upon and Trump skipped the whole week of his business empire/fraud trial in New York City. There are rumors, however, that he's going to show up again next week, to personally confront a key witness against him: Michael Cohen. The two men will face each other for the first time since their epic falling-out, which could lead to some fireworks. Or perhaps just glowering looks across the courtroom, who knows? There won't be any cameras in the room, but we do look forward to the courtroom artists' renditions.

Representative George Santos, serial liar extraordinaire, got hit with 10 more felony charges this week, in the midst of the speaker circus. He's charged with stealing identities and credit card theft among other things. By week's end some of his fellow Republican House members from New York were calling for his ouster. Santos remained unbowed and swore he wouldn't accept any sort of plea deal. Republicans desperately need his vote right now, so we're pretty sure the motion to expel him will fail (that is, if it ever even gets a vote -- which would require a new speaker).

Joe Biden made some legal news this week, as it was revealed that he has sat for interviews with the special counsel who is investigating his retention of classified documents. This is a step that normally happens at the very end of the investigation, so a report (and any recommendations) may appear within the next few weeks or so. Biden, unlike Donald Trump, didn't intentionally try to hide such classified documents (or lie about them) so it's doubtful he or anyone else will be charged (for the same reason Mike Pence wasn't charged).

And to close out the week, California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill from his state legislature that would have decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms. According to Newsom, more studies have to be done before taking this step, but at least he didn't completely slam the door on the idea.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

Almost by default, we have to give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to President Joe Biden.

Biden, as president, is limited in what he can do, of course. But Biden did what he could to show America's support for Israel this week, moving not just one but two aircraft carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean. This is more posturing than actual military support -- American planes are not flying missions bombing the Gaza Strip or anything -- but it does send a strong signal to Iran and any other foreign groups that might be thinking about joining the war.

Biden also gave a speech on the war, and while it wasn't watched by many here at home, it was in Israel -- where millions tuned in. Biden denounced in the strongest language Hamas and their sneak attack, and offered full American support to Israel.

Some Democrats won't agree with Biden's stance, of course. We personally try to avoid weighing in on the subject of Israel and the Palestinians, since we don't have anything original to say on the matter. Some leftists are huge critics of Israeli policies and politics, and they all had to walk a very fine line this week in what they said. Some of them did this better than others.

Pointing out that Israel is not completely blameless in the entire situation is not a very popular stance to take right now. There is context to what is happening that is not being presented to the American public, but at the same time there are all sorts of atrocities happening right now. The whole war is an atrocity, when you get right down to it.

But in American politics, support for Israel is almost completely bipartisan now. Republicans support Israel for their own reasons, as do Democrats. Which means that Biden must speak for this bipartisan majority. His speech struck the right tone to do this -- Biden did not mince words when condemning the evil of the attack.

Agree with him or not, it was still an impressive performance. It was even more impressive for the fact that the Republican Party right now is so dysfunctional that they are lost in internecine squabbles that prevent them from offering any support to Israel (whether rhetorical or military).

So for speaking with one voice while his opposition cannot, and for being unequivocal about standing with our ally, President Joe Biden is the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Congratulate President Joe Biden on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Once again, we have to award Senator Bob Menendez with this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

Here's the (continuing) story, for those who may have missed it:

The Department of Justice charged Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) with illegally acting as a foreign agent for Egypt in a superseding indictment released Thursday.

Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, already faced charges of accepting bribes from an Egyptian American businessman and his associates in exchange for using his official position as both the senior senator from New Jersey and the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee to help them and the Egyptian government.

The superseding indictment alleges that the Menendezes and businessman Wael Hana engaged in a conspiracy from 2018 to 2022 to have a public official, Bob Menendez, illegally act as a foreign agent. The original indictment detailed how Nadine Menendez and Hana allegedly set up meetings between the senator and Egyptian military and government officials who wanted his help in releasing U.S. military aid that had been placed on hold following accusations of human rights abuses.

Got that? The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is accused of being a foreign agent. That's shocking and shameful, if true.

Menendez is still refusing to resign and refusing to even say whether he's running for re-election next year. He has stepped down from chairing the committee, at least, but that's not really good enough.

He needs to announce he is stepping down from his Senate seat, "in order to spend more time with my lawyers." At the very least, he needs to announce he will not be running for re-election.

Because he hasn't and because of his new indictment, Bob Menendez is easily this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Contact Senator Bob Menendez on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 726 (10/13/23)

We've got a theme this week, and the theme is: eating popcorn, while watching the Republican circus.

That pretty much sums it up, so let's get on with the show!


   The whole world is watching

Shades of the 1968 convention...

"This is an absolute disgrace. The United States House of Representatives is completely out of control. At a time when American government should be coming together and putting partisan politics aside so that we may show our solid support for Israel, instead we get endless partisan bickering within the Republican Party. This isn't even Democrats-versus-Republicans, instead it is Republican-on-Republican violence. They can't even get their own act together in a time of crisis. Right now, the whole world is watching Republicans prove that they should never be allowed anywhere near the levers of power in Washington. All they know how to do is grandstand and throw tantrums for the rightwing media audience. This normally wouldn't be all that big a deal, but during this crisis the whole world really is watching us... and I am downright embarrassed at what they are seeing."



They've more than earned this one.

"House Republicans are ungovernable. They gerrymander their districts so well that the only challenge they'll ever face at the ballot box is from more-extreme members of their own party. Many of them feel free to be as extreme as possible, to fend off such challenges. And these extremists are now in total control, it seems. Their only problem is that they are actually too extreme for their own party now. The few Republicans in actual competitive districts don't want to follow the crazies down their extreme path. The two sides don't look like they'll even be able to agree on who is going to lead them -- much less where that leader will lead them. They are clueless, utterly incompetent, and completely ungovernable."


   Republican civil war

Call it what it is.

"You know it's long been a running joke that the media loves to spotlight any divisions within the Democratic Party with the headline: 'Democrats In Disarray.' Now they're being forced to acknowledge that a civil war has broken out between factions in the Republican Party. Republicans are now eating their own, folks. They are in 'circular firing squad' formation. Or maybe 'no holds barred cage match' formation. The differences run deep between the two sides, and neither looks likely to back down and accept a leader from the other side. Because of their slim majority, this could mean it will be impossible for any one of them to become speaker in the usual way. This isn't just 'disarray' the Republicans are in right now -- it is an open civil war."


   Voters, please take note

A pretty easy case to make, really.

"You know what Republicans stand for these days? Utter chaos. From Donald Trump on down to the lowliest House member, they are all heading off a cliff together. But you know what? The voters are paying attention. They see what electing too many Republicans does -- it just leads to endless chaos. Republicans can't be trusted with running the government because they can't even run their own party. All they can offer you is more and more chaos. Who would vote for that? Voters who might have given some moderate Republican the benefit of the doubt in the voting booth now have to face the reality -- giving Republicans control of anything just leads to chaos. And you can bet your bottom dollar Democrats will be reminding the voters of this from now right up to Election Day."


   MAGA extremists

Biden was right -- use this label as much as possible.

"You know why the House of Representatives has ground to a halt and all the Republicans can do is further beclown themselves? Because the MAGA extremists are driving the Republican bus. These nihilists have no clue what they even want, they just know that throwing lots of tantrums gets them on Fox News. That's all they stand for -- their own personal 'brand.' They don't really care about the Republican Party, they don't really care about their country, and they certainly don't care about the voters. All the MAGA extremists care about is themselves. This is the lesson that Donald Trump has taught them all -- being outrageous gets you lots of attention. They are a group of two-year-olds throwing tantrums. That's where the MAGA extremist path leads, folks, and we are seeing undeniable proof of it in the House of Representatives right now."


   This won't be the last time, either

This could become a regular occurrence, in fact.

"Even if some compromise speaker eventually emerges from the Republican dumpster fire, their days may be numbered in that job. What's going to happen next month when the continuing resolution turns into a pumpkin and we face another government shutdown? What's going to happen when some sort of deal with Senate Democrats and the White House becomes a necessity? My guess is that the same thing that happened to Kevin McCarthy will repeat itself all over again. McCarthy got the boot because he did something responsible. When the next leader is forced to do something responsible, what is going to stop the hotheaded MAGA extremists from running this whole scenario all over again? So to whomever emerges from the Republican leadership fistfight, all I can say is: 'Enjoy it while it lasts.' Because it might not last very long at all."


   We welcome you with open arms!

This is just taunting them, but what the hey....

"I'd like to extend an invitation to all the Republicans who represent districts that Joe Biden won, as well as all Republicans who are in very purple districts as well. Are you tired of the constant bickering and chaos on your side of the aisle? Do you want the House to work again? Do you want to see the MAGA extremists completely and utterly defanged? Well then, you should seriously consider switching parties. Democrats will welcome you with open arms, into a 'big tent' party. You could join the Blue Dogs or form your own caucus if you want, it's OK with us. But let's get someone who can get things done running the place again, what do you say? Let's put an end to the chaos. C'mon across the aisle, we'll be happy to have you over here!"

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground


14 Comments on “Friday Talking Points -- Last Clown Standing”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Addendum to tp7: if you're not comfortable causing with us, at least form a faction in your own party who will actually respect us and commit to finding common ground.

  2. [2] 
    andygaus wrote:

    I predict the Patrick McHenry solution. By voting for him, they aren't committing to anyone including him. It would be the easiest way to make a deal because everybody would have a good excuse for having done so and anyone could say he wasn't really the right person.

  3. [3] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    andygaus may well have it right. Another 'solution' would be to elect someone who is retiring or stepping down at the end of this term. Sure, that would just delay facing the issue, but a different mix after the next general election might make all the difference to selecting a leader. And either of these is too rational for the extremists.

    One would hope the House Rs can't get worse after the next election, but.... And of course one hopes they would have deservedly lost the majority.

  4. [4] 
    dsws wrote:

    I don't see why it matters whether one representative can enter a motion to vacate the chair. It matters whether there is any motion they can enter repeatedly, delaying all other business like a pre-1970s filibuster. But if there are ordinary rules saying that once your motion has been voted down it's someone else's turn to enter a motion, then who cares? The problem isn't that they could enter the motion. The problem is that, either until there's some modicum of bipartisanship or until the next election, they have the votes.

    I also don't see the Republicans having any kind of trouble. This is what they do all the time. It's a more extreme version of what they do all the time, but that itself is what they do all the time: they get more extreme. The "mainstream" Republicans always go along with whatever the more-extreme Republicans want, thereby becoming the new batch of "mainstream" Republicans. That's what they're going to do this time, too. Rinse and repeat.

  5. [5] 
    italyrusty wrote:

    I missed this news at the time, but I nominate for at least a retroactive honorable mention for MIDOW to the California Attorney General (Did you miss this news about your home state, too, Chris?).
    'Joined by California Governor Newsom, California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced the filing of a lawsuit against five of the largest oil and gas companies in the world — Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP — and the American Petroleum Institute (API) for allegedly engaging in a decades-long campaign of deception and creating statewide climate change-related harms in California. Filed in San Francisco County Superior Court, the complaint asserts that although the companies have known since at least the 1960s that the burning of fossil fuels would warm the planet and change our climate, they denied or downplayed climate change in public statements and marketing.'

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Reminds me of Margaret Atwood's mad Adam series and the Church of the holy petroleum

  7. [7] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Remember pumping oil does not contribute to global warming in the slightest, it's only the BURNING of fossil fuels that puts carbon in the atmosphere.

    And in case you haven't noticed, those "largest oil and gas companies in the world" are NOT the ones burning the stuff - that's you and me!!

  8. [8] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    Not true. A lot of methane is released during oil extraction and is greenhouse gas more damaging than CO2...

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    If you're truly concerned about methane I hope you're vegan.


  10. [10] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    And I hope you don't eat rice.

    All the sources of human produced methane are large slices of the pie, animals happen to be the largest slice but only by little bit...

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    There is no point in being vegan, thank God, until we stop burning fossil fuels.

    Is there some place we can discuss the Middle East?

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Yeah, we're all responsible when it comes to the burning of fossil fuels - some of us a lot more so than others.

    My carbon footprint is extremely small, bordering on the negligible. :(

  13. [13] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Sounds good to me. I've always been attracted to girls with small feet, and large, er, upper dimensions!

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


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