Katie Porter, California congresswoman doing the work of the people during the January 6, 2023 vote for House Speaker
Congress will Remain Pathetic if we are Apathetic
The 118th Congress is now in session. Anyone who was paying attention during the opening week had a ringside seat to how our legislators operate. The Republicans struggled through 4 days of voting and 15 ballots to elect a Speaker by a one vote margin. Democrats were united unanimously behind their candidate through all 15 votes.
The dishonest media performed as expected. Their take: Democratic unity showed the country they are well-equipped to govern. Republicans are broken and in an identity crisis. They cannot govern if they can’t even elect a leader, the easiest task on their “to do” list. Nancy Pelosi was touted for having ruled with an iron fist to keep her members in line. The truth: Debate and disagreement are hallmarks of liberty and marching in lockstep is an enemy of effective governance. Washington is broken.
20 members of the Republican Freedom Caucus wielded the power they had to thwart Kevin McCarthy’s election to Speaker until they won important concessions. With a slim Republican majority in the House, all but 4 of their votes were essential to the Speaker’s election. The media characterized their defiance as petty grievance. As we learned more about what the Caucus was trying to accomplish, it became apparent we need more of them; they are not the crazy fringe the media, Democrats and some Republicans tried to label them. Standing on principle is unrecognizable in Washington.
These members understand that the House operating rules are at the heart of some of its dysfunction. They used their vote to force real change. It was the only tool they had in a mammoth bureaucracy that swallows up new members and kills off their promises to work for the people.
The 4,000-page, $1.7 trillion spending bill that was passed by Congress in December is a tutorial in what the Caucus is trying to change. It was drafted by a select few and released in the dead of night with the expectation it would be voted on in 24 hours. It was impossible for members to read it prior to voting. It was loaded with earmarks and bundled 12 annual appropriation bills into one huge package. 230 of the 435 members of the House went home for Christmas and voted by proxy. Biden laughably called the passage of the bill proof that Republicans and Democrats can come together to deliver for the American people.
We don’t know all the details of what the New York Times called McCarthy’s “concessions to the hard right.” We do know some of what the Caucus is seeking:
Any member of the House can call for a no-confidence vote on the Speaker, known as a motion to vacate the chair. The media has tried to make this sound extreme, but it was the rule of the House until Nancy Pelosi changed it in 2019.
The House will vote on bills important to conservatives, including a balanced budget amendment, congressional term limits and border security.
Efforts to raise the debt ceiling must be paired with spending cuts.
The 12 annual appropriations bills will be voted on individually.
More Freedom Caucus members will be on influential committees, including the Rules Committee which governs House operations.
Members will have 72 hours to review bills before they come to the floor.
Members will have the ability to offer amendments on the House floor.
Members must be present to vote. Proxy voting will not be allowed.
Cameras from C-SPAN covered the vote for Speaker from all angles. Many of us had no idea unrestricted access is not typically allowed. We were able to observe the unfiltered behavior of the members; something we should demand in all future proceedings. Paul Ryan argued against this during a CNN interview last week, Members on both sides of the aisle oppose it. Whatever excuses legislators conjure up to work behind closed doors pale in comparison to our right to observe them doing their jobs.
The term “uniparty” is gaining popularity to describe establishment Republicans, Democrats, and media who are all invested in maintaining the status quo. There are no meaningful party differences and principled leadership is nearly nonexistent. If we are serious about real change, members of the uniparty will have to be replaced with those who will work for the people. The performance of Congress is pathetic, and it will remain so if we are apathetic.