When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his resignation, Republicans went into a tizzy, trying to figure out who would replace him. That tizzy moved into chaos last week when the House Freedom Caucus revolted against House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), inept heir apparent to the top job. McCarthy claims that he took himself out of the running because he wanted more than the obligatory 218 votes, but rumors allege that he has been having a long-term affair with a colleague, perhaps Rep.Renee Ellmers (R-NC). Before McCarthy took himself out of the running, the 40 Tea Party “Freedom” voters had promised to vote in a block for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL). The loss of 40 votes means that the “establishment” GOP would have only 207 votes unless Democrats decide to join them in selecting someone other than Webster.
The Freedom Caucus says that they want “democracy” in the House, but a “questionnaire” from the group shows what its expectations for the next speaker. Freedom’s Speaker must tie any increase in the debt ceiling to cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The debt limit arrives on November 5; without an increase, the U.S. could default on its obligations, sending both the country’s and the world’s economy into a tailspin. When the Tea Party contemplated not raising the debt ceiling in 2013, the Treasury Department reported that “default could result in recession comparable to or worse than 2008 financial crisis.”
Another requirement for a new speaker, according to the Freedom Caucus, is to not fund the government without an agreement to defund “Planned Parenthood, unconstitutional amnesty, the Iran deal, and Obamacare.” December 11 is the deadline to pass a budget to keep the government from shutting down. The Freedom Caucus also requires the next speaker to oppose any “omnibus” bill and instead fund the government by separate bills.
Joan Walsh explained the background for the House GOP chaos following Boehner’s decision not to lead the motley crew that state gerrymandering has sent to Washington. After wealthy billionaires led Tea Party members in their position of hating government, governing, and compromise, the GOP establishment decided that these people would be useful. To keep their leadership, Boehner and his sidekicks offered the possibility of repealing the Affordable Health Care Act, hold the debt ceiling hostage, defund Planned Parenthood, stop the Iran deal, and other radically extremist views. Along with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP leaders even recruited the extremists through their “Young Guns” program.
Every failure for Boehner sent him to Democrats for a bailout from disaster, leading the angry Freedom Caucus to feel a greater and greater sense of power. Unfortunately, Boehner didn’t look for bipartisanship often enough. If he had involved Demcrats business such as voting on the Senate’s immigration bill and other measures, he could have shown the extremists that they were not in charge of the House while doing the nation’s business.
Highly conservative, Webster presided over both chambers in Florida’s legislature when it overrode a veto restricting “partial birth” abortions, created “Choose Life” license plates, and required doctors to notify parents of minors seeking abortions. The legislature also passed bills mandating pre-marriage and pre-divorce counseling. Webster supported legalization of homeschooling to spare children in evangelical families from a “Godless” public education.
Webster’s alignment with the Religious Right puts him in alignment with groups and people who want to apply biblical law to law, including wives submitting to their husbands. His history with Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) shows his belief that God has made sure that he got elected. Gothard’s teachings with their emphasis on a culture of fear and extreme patriarchialism influenced the home education of the Duggars (19 Kids and Counting), and, like the oldest Duggar son, Gothard has been accused of multiple sexual harassment and abuse.
In the U.S. House, Webster has had little effect, introducing only 18 bills. Of these only two had co-sponsors, and none passed. He will most likely not be reelected to the house because of the likely dismantling of his Orlando district, but Webster is counting on God’s help. In the past, he said that he prayed for anyone considering a run in his district to “lose interest,” saying “that hedge of thorns has protected me all these years.”
Another person with “some support” from Freedom voters is Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who headed up the Planned Parenthood hearing debacle where Cecile Richards was grilled for five hours and interrupted 51 times—ten times each hour—with sexist remarks and character attacks. In his bid for Speaker, Chaffetz promised to default on the debt and shut down the government if the GOP didn’t get what they wanted. He also demanded that the White House appoint a special prosecutor to open up “a criminal probe” investigating his claim that the Secret Service leaked his personal information to intimidate him. The issue was a leak to media outlets about Chaffetz’s rejected application for a Secret Service job in 2003 and the particulars surrounding the decision.
One desperate method of selecting a speaker came from Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) for a “bipartisan coalition,” again asking the Democrats for a bailout by expecting Democrats to vote for a Republican House Speaker. Before they go that far, however, the less extreme—but still conservative—Republicans are literally begging Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to take the position.
Thus far, Ryan has largely ignored the suggestion, obviously knowing that to do so would end his career for any other political position. In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait wrote, “No other figure within the party combines Ryan’s philosophical radicalism and tactical pragmatism” and called him “the president of Republican America.” If Chait is right, “America” is in big trouble.
Ryan came into power with a strong opposition to abortion and Todd Akin-like comments about rape that kept the Missouri candidate out of Washington. He then advocated Social Security privatization and the Iraq War. His horrific budget blueprint brought criticism from Catholic leaders because of its harshness toward the poor, who he describes as “lazy.” Ryan was a big part of Mitt Romney’s failure with his campaign of huge tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy compared with austerity for the poor. The Ryan/Romney ticket couldn’t even win Ryan’s home district.
Ryan held his celebration, after he won his congressional race, at The Cottonpicker in Burlington (WI) highlighting his exploitation of racial divisions, union collapse, and economic anxiety. His Ayn Rand view of economics focuses on “makers and takers” that appeals to angry white people. Ryan talks about the “catch and release” of Mexican immigrants, derides “anchor babies,” and makes other insensitive and inflammatory remarks in his town hall meetings and campaign appearances.
And the Tea Party members call him too “left-wing” to represent them!
In an effort to wield the Tea Party power, the Freedom chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), said that his caucus would “look favorably” on Ryan for speaker if he does what they want. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) said that the Freedom caucus won’t drop support for Webster for an undeclared candidate. The Tea Party demands a Speaker who will never compromise—on anything! They want a “leader” who will shut down the government until they get what they want.
Only 22 percent of people in the U.S. agreed with the Tea Party agenda, according to last month’s CBS News/New York Times poll. Chris Christie, GOP presidential candidate, claims that “nobody cares” who the House speaker is. “What they want is a Congress who is actually going to do something,” he said. To Christie, doing anything—even if it’s wrong—is better than doing nothing. Right now, the House is doing nothing because they’ve left Washington for a ten-day recess. Upon their return, they have two weeks to avert a government default on its debts.
Speaker Nathaniel Prentice Banks, 1855-1857, required 133 ballots to get accepted at a time when the House could not agree on slavery. If the current House follows this pattern, Boehner may decide to remain. If he doesn’t, or if he’s thrown out in a coup, Boehner can select a person to be Speaker pro tempore. Right now at least 21 House members have said that they want to be Speaker, four of them from Texas. Will all but one back down with consensus for the last man standing? Or will it be a free-for-all? We won’t know for at least a week because the GOP House members want a vacation this week.