What's The Game Plan, Moderates?
You now hold the balance of power in the House Republican Conference.
Feathers of Hope is a network of ordinary citizens who joined together around a shared commitment to diminishing the power and influence of MAGA extremists in the House of Representatives.
Since January, we have been urging moderate Republicans and Democrats to form a bipartisan majority voting bloc for the purpose of electing a new Republican Speaker, one who owes nothing to the minority MAGA group.
On Wednesday, October 25, Republicans made a different choice. Rejecting the idea of a cross-party alliance, they voted unanimously to elect a MAGA-affiliated Speaker.
We remain committed to defending the institution of the House of Representatives.
We remain committed to diminishing the power and influence of MAGA extremists in the People’s House.
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The House Republican Conference Remains Splintered.
After months of increasingly bitter confrontations between Republican factions in the House of Representative, there was one brief moment of unanimity a few weeks ago. In a move unanticipated by even the most informed observers, every single Republican representative voted for MAGA-affiliated Mike Johnson (R-LA) to become Speaker of the House.
As the old aphorism has it, those who know won’t say and those who say don’t know. I include myself among the latter, but for what it’s worth you can find what I had to say about it here: Making Sense of the Speaker Choice
However it came about, the fact remains that there are deep and abiding differences between the moderate traditional faction and the MAGA/Freedom Caucus faction. Broadly speaking, the moderates are more aligned with the majority of Senate Republicans who’ve been diligently working with Democrats to pass appropriation bills essential to funding the government.
Despite progressive/liberal Democrats’ hand-wringing over Mr. Johnson’s MAGA connections, and his ascension to the Speakership, there has been a decisive power-shift in the chamber away from the extremist faction.
In January, Kevin McCarthy made concessions to MAGA forces in order to win their votes to become Speaker. But now, the tables have been turned. Unable by themselves to elect their high-profile leader Jim Jordan (R-OH) to the position, MAGA has been exposed as powerless beyond an ability to obstruct and disrupt.
Consequently, traditional moderates were able to extract concessions from MAGA in order to elevate a weak and inexperienced back-bencher. With no base of his own and no history of leadership, Mike Johnson is ill-equipped to persuade savvy moderate establishment members to cast votes they can’t defend back home.
It’s worth noting as well that while traditional moderates were coalescing around opposition to Mr. Jordan, the Freedom Caucus continued to fracture.
Only six of the estimated forty-five members voted to remove Kevin McCarthy as Speaker, leaving a residue of simmering anger within the caucus over the entire episode. This comes on top of rumored moves to expel the half-dozen or so members who voted for Mr. McCarthy’s compromise Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) to lift the debt ceiling last Spring. (Notably, Mike Johnson voted for the FRA.)
Republicans hold only a slim majority in the House, and even that is soon likely to be reduced by the expulsion of George Santos (R-NY) when the Ethics Committee presents its findings November 17. While there is a MAGA-affiliated Speaker in the chair, it’s a hollow and weak victory.
As the most unified faction in the Conference, traditional Republicans now hold the balance of power.
Of course, there’s a vast difference between holding power and exercising it. Moderates by their nature are inclined to be cautious and deliberate. Their choice to form an alliance with the MAGA/Freedom Caucus to elect Mr. Johnson as Speaker, exemplifies this inclination. Rather than join with House Democrats to elect one of their own, they again placed greater value on party “unity”, no matter how illusory that unity may be.
In the end, nothing has really changed.
The factions remain, their differences remain, and Speaker Johnson is even less likely than his predecessor to produce a Republican consensus on appropriation bills. All this week there has been more bickering over unrelated amendments and radical spending cut proposals that moderates refuse to support. The result once again is stalemate.
With the threat of a government shutdown only one week away, attention will now shift to arguing over a Continuing Resolution (CR) — again . Because of Mr. Johnson’s MAGA pedigree, passing a CR with Democratic votes will probably not trigger a motion to vacate the chair as it did for Mr. McCarthy last month. But no progress is no progress, and providing more time to accomplish nothing still accomplishes nothing.
And it must not be forgotten that this is all a charade in the first place.
The much celebrated debt ceiling negotiations last Spring between then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden resulted in an agreement that set spending limits for the coming fiscal year. These were codified in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, signed into law by President Biden on June 1. At the time, it was thought that there’d be no more threat of a government shutdown, since budget parameters had already been set.
But almost immediately, Mr. McCarthy and his far-right colleagues disavowed the agreement. In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats have been writing appropriation bills in accordance with the FRA. But Republican extremists in the House have been insisting on spending limits far below the agreed upon levels.
Ever since the House returned from its Summer recess, there’ve been multiple disputes between moderate and extremist Republican factions over passage of appropriation bills. But none stand any chance of being passed by the Senate or being signed by President Biden. It’s all an act, a performance.
The solution is obvious, and it’s what we’ve long been advocating.
The only feasible solution to the current impasse is for traditional moderate Republicans to join with Democrats and pass funding bills in accordance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
During the three weeks when the House was without a Speaker, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) consistently made the same point:
“We've got to find a way to come together, restructure the House in a bipartisan way, designed to allow for common sense things to come to the floor, receive an up or down vote, to be able to actually move legislation that emerges from the Senate that is bipartisan in nature.
We are inherently reasonable about what we think can occur, but we just require Republican partners in order to do it.”
There really is no other way to proceed. A clear majority in the House is ready to pass all the Senate appropriation bills, as well as provide aid to Israel and Ukraine. But those bills can’t come to the floor so long as moderate Republicans continue to paper over the fractures in their conference, chasing the ghost of unity.
Eventually they will have to recognize the futility of doing this. And when that happens, Leader Jeffries will be extending his hand:
“I'm hopeful that my traditional Republican colleagues who are interested in governance, who care about the institution of the People's House are willing to sit down and talk with us about finding an enlightened path and agreement that allows us to do the business of the American people and solve the problems for hard-working American taxpayers.”
This is a network of ordinary citizens. In a democracy, we exercise our power by raising our voices. To be silent is to be powerless.
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