When I was a grad student at Georgetown, admittedly many years ago, it was easy to enter the House gallery and witness the proceedings. I spent many afternoons after class in the gallery watching bills become laws. I was in awe of the process and impressed by the impassioned speeches. I remember envying the “gravitas” and eloquence of the whole environment.
Let’s fast forward to last week’s circus on the House Floor. It took 15 ballots and four days for California Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy to gain his long-coveted Speaker of the House role. During that time, children were slouched over, babies slept, bags of popcorn were brought into the Chamber. One representative brought her puppy into the chamber to show off to her colleagues. Husbands and wives, who were there to witness the long-delayed swearing-in ceremony, were frantically rescheduling plans to remain in DC for extra days. Some representatives brought novels to read—one appeared to have finished about three-quarters of the book before the proceedings ended. A few congresswomen were knitting scarves. After the 14th round with no victory, Alabama Republican congressman, Mike Rogers, lunged at Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz and had to be restrained, preventing a true fistfight from breaking out on the floor. Nice.
As I watched this clown-show continue, I reflected on the quality of many of the elected candidates.
Gaetz, one of the leaders of the far-right pack, has been under investigation for several months for sex trafficking. His colleague, Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector, received an 11-year prison sentence.
Colorado Republican, Lauren Boebert, who received her GED—the equivalent of a high school diploma—a few months before winning her election, has had several altercations with the law. She refused to walk through a metal detector at the Capitol. She’s been cuffed for disorderly conduct at a music festival. She’s been charged with reckless driving after rolling her truck into a ditch. She has failed to show up in court a few times. Her husband has been booked on domestic violence charges and has been charged with exposing his penis to women in a bowling alley. Boebert has been charged with third-degree assault charges against her husband. During the Speaker nominating fiasco, Boebert, was Gaetz’s partner in crime, sitting next to him and smugly smiling whenever the cameras surfaced.
We’ve all read recent reports about the fraudster, Republican Congressman from Long Island, New York, George Santos, who lied about his employment, his education, his ethnicity, his mother’s death, and who Brazil is accusing of writing stolen checks. In the last few weeks, Santos came up with a scheme to charge supporters hundreds of dollars to witness his swearing in, thereby violating campaign financing laws.
The infamous Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, now expected to lead the Judiciary Committee, has been accused of knowing and doing nothing about a sexual abuse scandal when he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University. Today Jordan is best known for disrupting congressional hearings whenever the topic strays to Trump or other right-wing hot-button issues.
Pennsylvania Republican Scott Perry, Chairman of the Freedom Caucus, who is being investigated for his role in the January 6, insurrection and for other efforts to keep Trump in office, will now be in charge of initiating a series of his own investigations. The Justice Department recently seized his phone.
Before he became a congressman, Arizona Republican Eli Crane, hawked a bottle opener on the TV show Shark Tank made of spent bullet casings with an ad that encouraged others to “Shoot open a bottle in the manliest way possible.”
Arizona Republican Paul Gosar’s own family called him a traitor and urged Congress to investigate his role in the January 6 insurrection. They endorsed his opponent.
Arizona Republican Andy Biggs, who put his name in the hat to challenge McCarthy, is also under investigation for his role in aiding and abetting the activities of January 6.
And how frightening was it to witness Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene of “gazpacho police,” “our enemies are quacking in their boots,” calling for “Marshall law” as opposed to “martial law” and “peach tree dish” fame, getting Trump on the line in the late hours after the 14th try to get McCarthy elected to Speaker and watching her swing her cell phone around, encouraging defectors to speak to Trump.
Of course, let’s not forget our own Republican Congressman Andy Harris, who was one of the infamous 19 who didn’t vote for McCarthy until the final rounds, and who is legendary for bringing a handgun into the Capitol and participating in the planning for the January 6 insurrection. Harris has made it clear that he is interested in chairing the health subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee which controls billions of dollars in government spending. If he succeeds in getting this assignment, one of McCarthy’s loyal supporters or someone who should be next in line based on seniority will be out of luck.
Thanks to McCarthy’s negotiating skills, the above-mentioned so called “patriots” will have leadership roles on the Judiciary Committee, the Rules Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and more. in addition, they have received McCarthy’s promise to create a committee on “the weaponization of the Federal government” –a forum for their efforts to investigate the FBI, the IRS, and perhaps the Department of Justice. They’ve also gotten an agreement to have a vote on not raising the debt ceiling. And they’ve asked for the ability to call for a vote to oust the Speaker with only one such request—called “the motion to vacate.” Some claim that McCarthy also promised to hold votes on term limits and border security early in the year. Clearly, the Freedom Caucus will have more say over how bills are proposed, amended and passed. In Gaetz’s own words, “I couldn’t think of anything else to ask for.”
On subsequent news programs, Texas Republican Congressman Chip Roy, who voted against McCarthy for 11 rounds of voting, stated that the Freedom Caucus will use the tools of the House to enforce the terms of the agreements mentioned above. Some moderate Republicans have already stated that they will fight against McCarthy’s “deals with the devils.” This is not a promising start for the 118th Congress.
We can do so much better than this. It’s way past time that we require candidates who run for office to pass a sensible entrance exam that verifies their understanding of government processes. Physicians, lawyers, accountants, teachers, actuaries, financial planners—all are required to have bonafide credentials. It’s time we ask candidates who control the legislative agenda and manage our tax dollars to have basic credentials and at least some rudimentary understanding of how a bill becomes a law, etc. In addition, a background check, required for all kinds of employment, is not too much to require of a candidate. If one had been done on Santos, I guarantee he would not have been elected.
So, Kevin, prognosticators predict your speakership will be short and miserable. Only time will tell. Good luck. But as my mom used to say, “Be careful what you wish for.”
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of a federal human capital practice at an international consulting firm. While on the Eastern Shore, she focuses on writing, reading, gardening, piano, and nature.