The House has been inactive since Oct. 3, when Kevin McCarthy became the first speaker in history to be booted from office.
Past Republican speakers include Dennis Hastert, who pled guilty to federal charges of paying hush money to cover up his sexual misconduct with teenage boys; and Newt Gingrich, who paid a $300,000 fine to the Ethics Committee for misuse of campaign funds. To be fair, Democratic Speaker Jim Wright was also caught with his hand in the till.
McCarthy’s crime was putting a bill on the floor to prevent a government shutdown.
When Republicans decided to send everybody home for a week on Oct. 3, I’m sure they hoped that would be enough time to rally around a new leader. It was not. And, I’m sure they hoped no unexpected events would happen to highlight their appalling lack of leadership. Four days later, Hamas attacked Israel.
As I write this on Sunday, I have no idea how or when this stalemate ends. But I do know how and when it started.
The simmering cauldron of anger and resentment that boiled over earlier this month has been heating up ever since the creation of the Tea Party, and the off-year election of 2010.
The Tea Party formed in 2009 in response to the election of Barack Obama, and has nothing to do with herbal beverages. “Tea” is an acronym for “taxed enough already,” leading one to believe this was a tax protest group. But the racist signs at all their rallies let us know what their real beef was.
Obama had been in office for about a month when a televised rant by CNBC reporter Rick Santelli gave rise to the Tea Party. The movement spread quickly and was at the peak of its power ahead of the 2010 election.
Republicans picked up 63 seats that year, with many going to Tea Party members who had no political experience or respect for the institution. They won their seats by promising to never compromise, and kept that promise no matter the cost.
It was a good news/bad news scenario for new Speaker John Boehner. He won the gavel, but it came with a new caucus of freshmen lawmakers who would make it impossible to govern. They forced a 16-day government shutdown in 2013, and were trying to force another in 2015 to stop funding for Planned Parenthood when Boehner announced his resignation.
Paul Ryan was his reluctant successor, though he was clearly better suited to crunching numbers as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Both men now appear quite happy in their retirement.
McCarthy never had a prayer. He was so eager for the job that he forfeited all of his leverage to get it. But there is no reason to expect that whoever the next speaker is will be any more successful in leading members who refuse to be led.
After its heyday in 2010, the Tea Party began a slow decline until its demise in 2016, when all conservative movements were overshadowed by the emergence of Donald Trump. But the spirit of the Tea Party lives on in the Freedom Caucus, whose members have just as little respect for the institution as their predecessors.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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