Lessons from the House of Representatives

House of Representatives

As we watch the selection process for a new Speaker of the House of Representatives play out, I have asked myself to find something good, anything good, that I can see from what appears to be high drama and theatre in Washington.  Politicians and newscasters say this is a disaster of epic proportions, a circus sideshow, and many other disreputable things.

But is it?

Two groups with the lowest credibility today are politicians and news pundits.  They are cut from the same biased sackcloth and behave with no more sophistication than schoolchildren and no more integrity than schoolyard bullies.

How We Got to Here

The most extraordinary collection of geniuses ever to grace our Country were the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Having lived under a Monarchy, they were well acquainted with the good, the bad, and the ugly of political systems.  Time after time, we must be reminded of their insight to keep the Ship of State afloat.  They saw well into the future and worked to build safeguards against abuse and corruption into our Constitution.  It is not perfect, but it still works, and we all need to be thankful for their insight and foresight.

As the Country and Government have grown, the role of the House Speaker has also increased in some ways and decreased in others.  Since the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment, having a functioning House is essential.  Slowing down to decide who will be the Speaker is important since he advances and approves proposed legislation.  Theoretically, the job of the Speaker is second in line to the Presidency, and for that reason alone, having the Speaker named quickly has historically been considered essential.  A well-functioning House is more important than a speedy decision on who will be the Speaker.  The current issue is no different than if a House Speaker suddenly died in office or resigned for health reasons.  The process is messy, but the House of Representatives is the people’s house and was designed to be messy.

In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, quickly replacing the Speaker was required because the Speaker was second in line to the Presidency.  But with President Kennedy’s assassination, everything changed.  There was no provision for replacing the Vice President when that person ascended to the Presidency.  With the Cold War and an ever more complex world, it was decided that filling the position was a necessity.  The Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1967 and remedied this problem.  The official statute reads:

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

This change effectively ensured that the Speaker of the House could never ascend to the Presidency except for some extreme event.  For the Speaker to become President, the President and Vice President would need to be removed from office, or some catastrophic event would remove them both.  Since 9/11, the President and Vice President rarely appear together except under high security or unusual circumstances.  The Twenty-fifth Amendment seems to have relegated the Speaker to a theoretical ascension.

As designed by the Framers and ratified in 1788, the Vice President would have likely been from the opposing party.  So, a vacancy in the Presidency would probably shift power to the opposing party.  In 1804, candidates began running on a combined President and Vice President ticket, solving that issue.  The Twenty-Fifth Amendment further assured that the President’s party stayed in power if they also controlled Congress, and the Speaker of the House would not be in line for the Presidency.

Replacing The Speaker of the House of Representatives

A great deal has been made about the ousting of Speaker McCarthy several weeks ago and how this is an unprecedented move.  The news shows would have us believe this is a disaster and that the Government cannot function in this turmoil.  Not approving new spending bills when most, if not all of us outside Washington, believe spending is out of control is not a crisis.

Until now, the Speaker has never been removed during their term, but the Founding Fathers provided for that event.  Likely, they were thinking about a replacement for death, regular change of control, corruption, or incompetence, but they did provide a mechanism to replace the Speaker.  As far as I know, Speaker McCarthy is neither corrupt nor incompetent, just at odds with a small but vocal faction within his party on some key issues.  The Speaker can be ousted with a simple majority vote, as the Constitution provides.

A Deal with the Devil

To secure the Speakership, Representative McCarthy agreed to allow a single Representative to call for a “no confidence” vote.  I believe he knew no Speaker had ever been replaced, and his focus was to get to the position regardless of the deals he struck.  Having made the deal, neither he nor the Republicans can complain about the subsequent events.  I like Representative McCarthy and thought he was navigating some challenging waters, but he made the deal and must live with the outcome.

Other House members do not like this event because it reveals a path to replace a Speaker from either Party and, in doing so, put a check on their power.  The Democrats are just as nervous because they have significant divisive issues that might split their caucus and small groups of Representatives that could vote as a block.

Getting Real About the Issues

Most of the Federal budget is “baked in,” and delaying action by the House is more window dressing than fact.  The Military, Social Security, Medicare, debt service, and other social programs will continue without any new Bills being passed.  All the kerfuffle is just that: noise, nonsense, and posturing for power.  The immediate funding issue is the wars in Israel and Ukraine, where debate and approvals are needed. 

The Biden Administration has made this discussion more difficult by bundling the wars and border security.  This gives every Representative something to like and hate and gives them cover to vote “no” for one or more Bills.

The Real Crisis

Not having the Speaker in place is the roadblock to addressing more significant issues, our real crisis.  Our rising national debt, funding for wars, military preparedness, taxation reform, and other issues begin to get backlogged without the Speaker.  However, these are longer term and will not be solved in a week or a month.

The House and Speaker must also find a way to firmly address rising antisemitism in Congress, a new and immediate danger.  Democrats now have in their “big tent” antisemites and HAMAS sympathizers.  What will and will not be tolerated in the House needs strong leadership and enforcement.  What Jewish voters have seen from a minority of Representatives is eerily like Germany in the late 1930s.  At that crossroad, a small but vocal group aroused ordinary citizens to begin a series of disasters that entangled the world in war.  In that charged environment, people who would typically have been tolerant became hostile toward Jews. 

These events have also exposed many of our universities’ hyper-liberalism and religious intolerance.  Congress should follow the lead of wealthy donors and wholly cut off funding until those schools have a wholesale change of leadership and direction.

Righting the Ship of State

I do not like what we see in Washington and am disappointed in both parties.  The Republicans look disorganized but, at the same time, willing to work through Constitutional remedies to find the solution.  Knowing that some United States citizens who died were beheaded, raped, burned alive, or tortured should shut down any domestic support for Palestine and HAMAS.  Under no circumstances should antisemitism or HAMAS support be tolerated in Congress, regardless of source or affiliation.

In November 2024, we need a wholesale change in Washington to right the Ship of State.  Recent events scare the Democrats and Republicans because both parties look foolish and, in many ways, anti-American.  This opens the door even further to a third party in the coming election, and with 77% of voters dissatisfied with both parties, the possibility is there.  Our system works best with just two parties but can also function efficiently with more than two.  It can also operate with different leadership.

Electing a new Speaker of the House is essential, but it pales in importance to our other challenges.  Solving the Speaker vacancy is only necessary because the vacancy stands in the way of addressing real issues.  We must let this juvenile behavior play out and recognize it as political theatre and a struggle for power, nothing more.  Neither Congress nor the press are doing anything to improve their image and approval ratings.  Both are filled with schoolchildren and schoolyard bullies.