Rise of the Moderates?
I think I was wrong.
Earlier this week, I predicted that Kevin McCarthy would become Speaker of the House because there seemed to be no one else who could muster the necessary votes. Well, six ballots later (at last count), it now seems that McCarthy can’t muster enough votes either.
That brings us to the problem of a viable alternative. Rep. Hakim Jeffries (D-N.Y.) has been the consistent runner-up in the voting with the 212 votes of the incoming House Democrats. But Jeffries, the new leader of House Democrats, isn’t going to get any Republican votes to put him over the top.
On the Republican side, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Steve Scalise (R-La.) have been mentioned as possible alternatives to McCarthy, but neither was on the most recent ballot. Instead, the 20 rogue Republicans nominated Byron Donalds (R-Fla.)
At this point, none of the three sides has the ability to win the speakership. It seems less and less likely that McCarthy can cobble together a coalition that will win the 218 votes that he needs without giving the Freedom Caucus members effective control of the chamber. Likewise, Democrats have no real hope of winning Republican votes for Jeffries. The rebellious faction of Republicans also has no chance of electing their candidate, but they can continue to act as spoilers to prevent the larger McCarthy faction from winning.
I’ve never been a fan of Kevin McCarthy, and after he was endorsed by both Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-Ga.), I’d have to vote against him as well. The problem is that I’d also find it difficult to support Jeffries and the rest.
What seems to be a disaster for Republicans might turn into a blessing in disguise. If the GOP continues to be divided, there might be an opportunity for some of the more moderate members of both parties to join together to elect their own consensus candidate. This strategy was recently endorsed by former 2016 presidential candidate and Ohio governor John Kasich.
A block of House Republicans should get together with Democrats to pick a speaker to run a coalition government, which will moderate the House and marginalize the extremists.
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) January 3, 2023
The question is who the consensus candidate would be. Keeping in mind that the Speaker does not have to be a member of the House, the possibilities are practically endless, but most likely a successful candidate would be a member of Congress who is respected by both sides.
A successful candidate would almost certainly also have to be a Republican. It would be much easier for Democrats to vote for a moderate Republican, knowing that no Democrat has a chance of becoming Speaker, than for Republicans to vote to hand the speakership to the minority party.
One possible place to look for such a person is the House Problem Solvers Caucus. This bipartisan group is dedicated to reaching across the aisle to break the gridlock and find solutions. And a solution is what is needed now.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) is one of the co-chairs of the caucus, which makes him a potential pick. Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) is another name that often surfaces in discussions about a compromise candidate. If consideration is extended to former congressmen, Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Justin Amash (I-Mich.) are names that frequently pop up. Lynn Cheney’s (R-Wy.) name has also been bandied about, but I don’t think enough Republicans would support her.
Whoever the compromise Speaker turns out to be, there might be some clear advantages to having a less partisan, politically weaker leader of the House.
Most recent Speakers have used the post as a bully pulpit to hammer the opposition and restrict legislative initiatives by the minority party. Nancy Pelosi’s inclusion of Republicans in the January 6 Committee was one of the few memorable attempts by a Speaker to get the parties to work together.
Kevin McCarthy was not going to be any different. The man who would be Speaker has called for a number of investigations by the new Congress, including threats to investigate the investigators of the January 6 committee, Dr. Fauci, and of course, Hunter Biden’s laptop. Back in December, McCarthy tweeted, “Accountability is coming,” suggesting that the new GOP majority was more interested in investigating than governing.
A compromise Speaker could help us to avoid all that and maybe set a new precedent for how to get things done in Congress. For starters, a Speaker who represented both parties would be less likely to engage in partisan fishing expeditions. I’m not going to suggest that all investigations are bad, but both parties have abused the process.
A compromise Speaker might also be able to bring together bipartisan coalitions on legislation. Again, both parties have lost the ability to compromise and with it, the ability to get things done. Very little of consequence happens in Congress except by a party-line vote. As a result, most of the government’s business is passed by omnibus bills that no one has the time to read but that most are afraid to oppose because there are so many must-pass items inside.
A compromise Speaker might be able to change that. A leader backed by a bipartisan coalition would be more likely to listen to ideas from the minority party and help to build bridges of compromise across the aisle to assemble a bipartisan majority to pass smaller bills on specific topics.
This is the way Congress used to work before the “pen and phone” era. Now “compromise” is a dirty word and partisan wingnuts campaign on their refusal to work with the other party.
Another benefit of a moderate, bipartisan candidate is that it would, in Kasich’s words, “marginalize the extremists” in both parties. Right now, the Republican gang of 20 is able to block the speakership of the Republican favorite. The inmates are running the asylum.
However, in the case of a moderate Speaker, the radicals would lose their power as the House’s center of gravity shifted to the middle. As an added benefit, the shift would not be so far as to empower the radicals on the Democratic left. The power would be at the center-right, which is where most Americans are.
Some folks will tell you that all Democrats are radicals. I disagree. I think a lot of rank-and-file Democrats are decent, sensible people. If you look at GovTrack’s ideology scores, you’ll find that there is a lot of overlap between moderate Republicans and Democrats. It’s just that the squeaky wheels of the camera-seeking radicals get the grease of national attention.
I don’t like Kevin McCarthy and I don’t want him to be Speaker. I also don’t like any of the other candidates that have been put forward.
I do like the idea of impeding the radicals in both parties and empowering sane moderates. As it seems more and more likely that Kevin McCarthy is not going to be the next Speaker, I hope that there are some quiet discussions going on about a bipartisan compromise candidate.
It may be that the nation is surprised when an unknown congressman suddenly becomes Speaker before anyone knows what is happening. Expect a moderate surprise attack.
The alternative might be to keep voting down Kevin McCarthy until after the next election.