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Friday, September 15, 2023

Opinion | Speaker Matt Gaetz has big plans for the House - The Washington Post

Opinion Speaker Matt Gaetz has big plans for the House

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) listens during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on June 21. (Minh Connors/The Washington Post) 

"The Constitution designates the speaker as the presiding officer of the House of Representatives and, throughout our history, this has been the case — until now.

The House is currently being run not by Speaker Kevin McCarthy but by backbenchers Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

Two days before departing for the August recess, McCarthy (Calif.) told his House Republican caucus that they could not justify launching a formal impeachment inquiry into President Biden over unproven (and unfounded) allegations. But on Aug. 31, Greene announced that she would not “vote to fund the government unless we have passed an impeachment inquiry.” Later, Gaetz announced that he would speak on the House floor on Sept. 12, the first day the chamber reconvened after recess, to detail plans to seek McCarthy’s ouster as speaker if he impeded the impeachment of Biden. Former president Donald Trump joined in the impeach-Biden lobbying.

McCarthy, whose main strength as a leader has always been his steadfast devotion to self-preservation, recognized that he was about to get trampled by the impeachment parade. So he stepped out in front of it and pretended to be the drum major. “Today, I am directing our House committee to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden,” he announced in a hastily arranged statement outside his Capitol office on Tuesday morning — an hour before Gaetz was scheduled to deliver his speech on the floor denouncing McCarthy.

This set off a perverse competition to claim the credit for forcing McCarthy to bow and scrape: Was it Greene, who as a QAnon devotee and new congresswoman in January 2021 filed impeachment articles against Biden on the first full day of his presidency? Or was it Gaetz, subject of a newly revived House Ethics Committee investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, illegal drug use and corruption?

“When @SpeakerMcCarthy makes his announcement in moments, remember that … I pushed him for weeks,” Gaetz posted on social media.

“Correction my friend,” retorted MTG in her own post. “I introduced articles of impeachment against Joe Biden … on his very first day in office. You wouldn’t cosponsor those and I had to drag you kicking and screaming …”

Gaetz, in a conference call with reporters, raised the ante, demanding the immediate impeachment of Biden — without a pesky inquiry. “I’m for it today. I’m for it tomorrow. I’m for it the next day,” Gaetz said. “Is Kevin McCarthy? And if he isn’t, perhaps my dear friend Ms. Greene could be more persuasive with him.”

McCarthy’s very public surrender was his most pathetic moment to date in a short tenure that has had many. In a flailing attempt to preserve his job as speaker, he set the House on an ineluctable course toward deploying the gravest punishment contemplated under the Constitution against the president. He did so even though, after months of lurid probing of the financial (and sexual) dealings of Biden’s drug-addicted son, House Republicans have produced no evidence of wrongdoing by the president — only wild, unsubstantiated allegations of bribery. And McCarthy did so by unilaterally authorizing the impeachment inquiry even though he has said for years, and as recently as two weeks ago, that such a momentous act could be taken only by a vote of the whole House.

He is trying to save himself at the expense of his Republican colleagues from competitive districts, who will now be forced to defend two ludicrous claims: That the millions of dollars brought in by Biden family members trading on their famous name is a monumental scandal, but the billions of dollars brought in by Trump family membersusing similar means is totally kosher; and that Biden, the man Republicans have spent years portraying as senile and over-handled, is really a hands-on criminal mastermind.

And McCarthy’s cravenness didn’t even work! His surrender earned him no goodwill whatsoever with the far right. The next day, House Republican leaders brought to the floor the annual defense appropriations bill, which routinely passes year after year because, without it, U.S. troops would not be funded. Yet five minutes before the House gaveled in for its legislative session on Wednesday to conduct its first substantive business since July, the Republican whip’s office announced that the House would instead go back into recess. Right-wingers from the House Freedom Caucus, angry that McCarthy had not (yet) caved to their long and growing list of demands for government-wide spending cuts and policy changes, blocked the House from even debating the defense bill, much less passing it.

Throughout House offices, televisions cut from the floor to a blue screen (a familiar sight for much of this dysfunctional year) announcing: “The House is in recess subject to the call of the chair.” More than four hours later, House GOP leaders still hadn’t come up with the votes to begin debate. They called off the day’s session and shelved the defense bill for the rest of the week.

By Thursday, with the House at a standstill and shutdown fast approaching, McCarthy was reduced to shouting obscenities at his Republican colleagues about a “f---ing motion” to oust him as speaker, or “vacate the chair” in legislative parlance. “You think I’m scared of a motion to vacate? Go f---ing ahead and do it. I’m not scared,” he said at a closed-door meeting.

Asked by reporters whether he had a plan for next week, a defeated McCarthy replied: “I had a plan for this week. It didn’t turn out exactly as I planned.”

Across the rotunda, Republicans in the Senate (which is moving all 12 of its annual appropriations bills with broad bipartisan support) looked with pity on the powerless speaker. McCarthy is “under a lot of pressure over there,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) told reporters. Ya think? With two weeks to go before the government shuts down, the hard right in the House has bottled up 11 of the 12 appropriations bills, as well as all attempts so far at a short-term patch to keep the lights on.

Freedom Caucus hard-liners scoffed at the notion that McCarthy’s impeachment gambit would make them more flexible in their hostage-taking. “Him starting an impeachment inquiry gives him no — zero — cushion, relief, brace, as it applies to spending,” Rep. Bob Good (Va.) told Politico. It was foolish of McCarthy even to try, because these far-right saboteurs will never be appeased. First, they forced him to renege on the spending agreement he reached with Biden in the spring. Then, they sent him a pair of ransom letters over the summer with ever-zanier demands: Deeper cuts to spending! A radical crackdown on asylum seekers! Defund the FBI and the Justice Department! Cut off military aid to Ukraine! Lard up the spending bills with poison-pill, culture-war provocations — and shut down the government if the Senate and the president don’t swallow them.

Even after McCarthy’s cave on impeachment, Gaetz still went to the House floor an hour later to deliver his previously scheduled jeremiad. Before a nearly empty House (one of the few members in attendance was George Santos, in the front row) Gaetz waved his hands theatrically and ticked off still more demands of the speaker: votes on term limits, a balanced-budget amendment, Biden’s immediate impeachment, cutting off funds for special counsel Jack Smith.

“Mr. Speaker, you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role,” Gaetz accused. “The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate total compliance or remove you, pursuant to a motion to vacate the chair.” The terms of this “agreement” McCarthy supposedly violated are shrouded in mystery, because the right-wingers won’t produce its text. Asked about it on his conference call, Gaetz claimed that “Chip Roy holds my copy.”

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), asked about this later, replied, “Yeah, I’m not going to get into that.”

The terms don’t really matter, because Gaetz and his co-conspirators just keep adding more demands — and insults. “Much of the McCarthy regime has been a failure theater,” Gaetz said, and he threatened to call for a vote to oust McCarthy every day if the speaker doesn’t bend to the far right’s various spending demands. “If we have to begin every single day in Congress with the prayer, the pledge and the motion to vacate, then so be it,” the Florida congressman said on the call.

McCarthy responded with a low blow befitting his lowly stature, alluding to Gaetz’s alleged sexual misconduct with a minor. “Matt is upset about an ethics complaint,” he told CNN’s Manu Raju.

It seems clear that the far right desires a shutdown — or, as Rep. Scott Perry (Pa.), head of the House Freedom Caucus, put it this week, “a pause in government funding.” Another of the firebrands, Rep. Andrew Ogles (Tenn.), told a group of reporters that the “fearmongering” about a shutdown from “woke folks” is misplaced: “A temporary shutdown isn’t going to stop Social Security checks from being delivered. It’s not going to stop veterans benefits from being delivered. And quite frankly, if the government is not open, we’re not wasting taxpayer dollars.”

This would explain the vague and disorganized list of spending demands outlined at a Freedom Caucus news conference this week. Cheered on outside the Capitol by right-wing activists, including the mother of slain Jan. 6 rioter Ashli Babbitt, the lawmakers’ grievances were all over the lot.

“A government that tells you you can’t buy the stove you want or drive the car you want is a government of tyranny, and there is no freedom in America,” Perry offered.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), joining his House counterparts, howled about excessive spending yet also incongruously complained that the federal government won’t “give money to my farmers and my ranchers for the hurricane.”

Roy expressed outrage about, in no particular order, “covid tyranny,” “the Wuhan lab leak,” sex trafficking and parents’ rights.

Curiously, one of the Freedom Caucus lawmakers at the event, the usually outspoken Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), left early, without speaking. Shortly after the event, a possible explanation emerged: The Denver Post broke the news that she was escorted out of a performance of the “Beetlejuice” musical in Denver two nights earlier, accused by the venue of vaping, singing, recording and “causing a disturbance.” Police were summoned and reportedly remained “until Boebert and her companion left.”

The wrath of the right is so scattered that it hits even friendly targets. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), a member in good standing of the House Freedom Caucus, admitted with ill-advised candor to MSNBC on Sunday that “the time for impeachment is the time when there’s evidence linking President Biden — if there’s evidence linking President Biden — to a high crime or misdemeanor. That doesn’t exist right now.”

For this bit of truth-telling, Greene, who has called for “a very tedious impeachment inquiry” (one wonders whether Ms. Gazpacho Police knows what “tedious” means) proposed that Buck should be stripped of his committee assignment. “I really don’t see how we can have a member on Judiciary that is flat-out refusing to impeach,” she told CNN. Greene, in a fundraising solicitation trumpeting the impeachment inquiry, is now seeking campaign contributions of up to $6,600 from people who want to be on her “Impeachment Team.”

Buck backpedaled, telling NBC’s Sahil Kapur that it was “a good idea” for McCarthy to launch the impeachment inquiry.

But no one has surrendered his integrity as utterly and as openly as McCarthy has — jettisoning principles he held deeply just 12 days earlier.

At a Wednesday news conference, CNN’s Raju asked McCarthy why he changed his position on requiring a House vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry.

“I didn’t change my position!” McCarthy replied, literally standing in front of a potted plant.

McCarthy on Sept. 24, 2019: “Speaker Pelosi can’t decide on impeachment unilaterally. It requires a full vote of the House of Representatives.”

McCarthy on Sept. 1, 2023 to Breitbart News: “If we move forward with an impeachment inquiry, it would occur through a vote on the floor of the people’s House and not through a declaration by one person.”

Second place in the lost-integrity contest goes to James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which will lead the impeachment inquiry.

At Wednesday morning’s news conference by House GOP leaders (where Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik had just accused Biden of “the biggest political corruption scandal in our nation’s history”), Comer tried to make his case for impeachment. “This is why Speaker McCarthy launched the impeachment inquiry, and I think the CNN poll two weeks ago that showed 63 percent of Americans believe Joe Biden was involved in his family’s business schemes is reason why we should be investigating this,” he said.

So McCarthy launched the impeachment inquiry because of a poll — a poll no doubt influenced by the constant, unsubstantiated allegations made by the likes of Comer. Comer had previously boasted that because of his investigation, “you look at the polling, and right now Donald Trump is seven points ahead of Joe Biden.”

A month before the 2022 midterms, Comer had said he had no interest in Hunter Biden’s dealings with prostitutes and other aspects of the personal life of the president’s son. “I think that’s very counter to a credible investigation,” he told Time magazine. Right after the election, he said at a news conference that “I don’t want this to be about the human traffic — the prostitute.”

Yet, last week, just four days before McCarthy announced the impeachment inquiry, Comer sent the Justice Department a letter, also signed by Greene, demanding to know more about Hunter Biden’s prostitutes. The committee, they wrote, is investigating whether the DOJ “is upholding the rights of victims who were sexually exploited by Robert Hunter Biden.”

This followed a July hearing of Comer’s committee in which Greene displayed several posters showing Hunter Biden engaging in sex acts with an alleged prostitute.

It is on the basis of this sleaze that Kevin McCarthy just set in motion the impeachment of the president of the United States. Yet the hooligans he was attempting to placate are preparing to shut down the U.S. government anyway in a few weeks — a process they have already begun this week by blocking funds for the troops.

The government closed, while impeachment rolls ahead: what a proud legacy that would be for the Republican House, Mr. Speaker."

Opinion | Speaker Matt Gaetz has big plans for the House - The Washington Post

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