Less than a year ago, the conservatives were crowing about being in the catbird seat after taking over Congress: the GOP majority was the largest in 84 years. They planned to wipe out all advances during President Obama’s six years and take the country back a century ago before human rights in the United States.
The first 100 days of the 114th Congress, however, did not go well. John Boehner (R-OH) was re-elected speaker but only after the biggest revolt in 150 years. The House argued about deporting children and threatened to close the Department of Homeland Security. They couldn’t even pass an anti-abortion bill and almost failed to pass a bill against human trafficking. Their priorities were passing an oil pipeline that created 35 permanent jobs, again trying to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, and pushing the usual tax breaks only for multi-millionaires and billionaires. Most of the few successful bills were supported by Democrats, and the chamber refused to discuss taking action against ISIS while it address—again—the Benghazi deaths. Within the first 100 days, two newly elected representatives resigned in disgrace.
A prime embarrassment for the GOP-led Senate was its delay in confirming Loretta Lynch as Attorney General in the longest wait for any recent AG nominee. They all agreed that she was eminently qualified, and the GOP was eager to get rid of Eric Holder in that position. Yet the GOP-led Senate stalled for 165 days, including the entire first 100 days of the 114th Congress.
The Senate decided to take over the job of determining foreign policy from the president by sending a letter to Iran, declaring that the U.S. wouldn’t live up to its agreements. Boehner invited Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress in an effort to override President Obama’s Iran negotiations and started another lawsuit against the president for his executive orders. By the end of the 100 days, President Obama’s approval rating rose ten points to 50, its best level since 2013.
As disastrous as those first 100 days, they could not begin to match the debacle for Republicans during the past week. Three huge, intersecting events created more problems for the rigidly conservative GOP agenda: Pope Francis’s speech to Congress; China’s decision to create a cap-and-trade policy that the U.S. GOP has rejected; and Speaker Boehner’s unexpected resignation the House of Representatives at the end of October.
As was expected, the pope’s positions made conservatives squirm. His defense of “human life at every stage of its development” was followed by advocating “for abolition of the death penalty,” a blow to conservatives who love the idea of killing people. GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz didn’t go quietly in his response to the pope: he called the use of capital punishment a “recognition of the preciousness of human life.”
The pope spoke against “deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society” and added that the money gained from these sales were “drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” By far the largest arms supplier in the world, U.S. domestic manufacturers sold more than $23.7 billion in weapons to almost 100 countries during just 2014—weapons that included cluster bombs and other munitions used to destroy densely populated areas, schools, and even a Yemen camp for displaced people. U.S. taxpayers subsidized a large piece of these sales, especially to Israel and Egypt. Members of Congress make $150 million a year from the arms industry.
The pope pushed for the support of immigration by saying that we are all immigrants:
“Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”
Environmentalism has been high on the pope’s list, so much so that far-right pundit George Will wrote that “Americans cannot simultaneously honor [the pope] and celebrate their nation’s premises.” Pope Francis urged Congress and corporations to “redirect our steps” to address “environmental degradation caused by human activity.” Jeb Bush accused the pope, who has a degree in chemistry, of being wrong about climate change because “he’s not a scientist.” [Jeb Bush is definitely not a scientist.]
In rejecting unfettered capitalism, the pope chose Dorothy Day as one of his four examples because of “her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed.” Her Catholic Worker Movement was a model of community organization that helped lift thousands out of poverty. Basically, Day was known as a radical social activist, a pacifist, feminist, socialist, and union supporter—all hated by Republicans.
Throughout his speech, Pope Francis expressed his concern for the poor and his dismay at growing income inequality. Like Day, he supports a just distribution of income and a “modern, inclusive and sustainable” economy. His message for lawmakers urged them to pay attention especially to “those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.” According to Francis, “the fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts.”
Last February, conservatives were livid about President Obama’s statement at the National Prayer Breakfast that while many faith communities around the world are “inspiring people to lift up one another,” we also see “faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge – or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.” The same listeners heard the same message from the pope when he said, “We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism.”
Conservatives, who claim to support religious freedom, failed to support a House resolution honoring the Pope “for his inspirational statements and actions” as well as his goals to ameliorate inequality and promote solidarity. Only 19 of the 221 co-sponsors are Republicans.
The announcement from Chinese President Xi Jinping about his country adopting a program to curtail emissions erases the argument that the GOP uses against the a cap-and-trade program in the U.S. Whenever the program has been suggested, conservatives say that it will do no good because China doesn’t have the program. Xi also pledged aid for low-income nations, a request that President Obama made to Congress for the international Green Climate Fund. During the first 100 days of the new Congress, 81 of the 144 Senate bills proposed increasing pollution.
The biggest shocker to the nation last week, however, was Boehner’s resignation. He claimed that it was to meliorate the turmoil, but there is no doubt that his action will heat up the firestorm between Tea Party and more establishment Republicans. A bill to pass the budget may avert a government shutdown on October 1—just four days away—but the issue will arise in late November because the bill is good for only two months. A new speaker may actually support a government shutdown at that time.
The question now is who will be selected to be two heartbeats from being President of the United States. Josh Israel has named four likely suspects:
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA): The House Republican Majority Leader would be the obvious choice in saner times despite his lack of political ability. Although he seemed more moderate toward immigration, his opposition to fight climate change gives him some cred among Tea Party members. McCarthy is notable for being the least experienced person of all time for the position that he holds. During the almost decade he’s spent in Congress, McCarthy has managed to pass only two bills that he sponsored, both of them renaming places in his district.
Steve Scalise (R-LA): The third-ranking Republican in the House spoke at a white supremacist rally in 2002 and was one of a few legislators to oppose making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a Louisiana holiday in 2004. He claims that immigration reform would “actually force” non-citizens who did not want to become citizens “onto an amnesty track.” This fan of debt-ceiling crises has refused to deny he wants to impeach President Obama.
Jim Jordan (R-OH): A major supporter of defunding the Department of Homeland Security also pushed to overturn DC’s same-gender marriage law and stated that the country’s founders wanted to prohibit abortion. Jordan is fully committed to defunding Planned Parenthood even if it shuts down the government.
Jeb Hensarling (R-TX): The defender of recessions as “a part of freedom” also denounces Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as “cruel Ponzi schemes.” In the House since 2003, he has the longest tenure of these four representatives. His opposition to raising the debt ceiling could also lead to more government shutdowns. As co-chair of the failed 2011 “supercommittee,” he promised to oppose “any penny of increased static revenue.”
Tea Partiers don’t want any of these possibilities, but they haven’t found anyone with enough votes to overcome the above “less radical” candidates above. Many of the crazies want the position; time will tell. While the House is in chaos, GOP presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, supported by other ultra-conservatives, called for Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to step down as Senate Majority Leader. The congressional Republicans are in for a rocky fall season.