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  • Sheri Rivlin Allan Rivlin

The Pro-democracy Center Unites to Defeat Anti-democracy Chaos?

Saturday’s Vote in the House of Representatives to pass a 45-day continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open may go down in history as the moment when America’s Trump Fever was broken. Coming just one day after the substance-free Biden impeachment investigation hearing that was ridiculed even by many Republicans, the vote allowed Speaker Kevin McCarty and the majority of the House Republicans to cast an important vote in defiance of former President Donald Trump. It does not mean the House will now become a bipartisan utopia, but bipartisan achievement in the House and Senate comparable to the historic record of the 117th Congress (2021-2022) is once again an available path for lawmakers to consider.

Trump took most of the blame for the longest government shutdown he caused in 2018-2019 so he concluded Presidents always get blamed, and he advised House Republicans last week on his social media account that Biden would be blamed if Trump’s House MAGA Republicans caused another shutdown. The advice ignores the shutdowns when Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were in the White House when the public correctly blamed House Republicans for repeatedly shuttering the government. Trump’s advice was rejected by a House super-majority on a vote of 335-91 including 126 Republicans and 209 Democrats. Within hours an 89-9 super-majority in the Senate passed an identical 45-day stop-gap spending bill that was signed by President Biden before the midnight deadline.

For the second time this year, the extremism of the pro-Trump House chaos caucus was frustrated by an outbreak of bipartisanship in support of order and majority-rule democracy. The bipartisan super-majorities that ruled Washington throughout 2022, were sidelined when Republicans won a narrow victory to secure the House majority, and McCarthy wrongly concluded that he had no choice other than to placate the demands of the least reasonable members of the Freedom Caucus. The truth all along was that the Republican members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus had just as much power to support or threaten to remove McCarthy as speaker as the “burn the place down” hardliners, and they offered McCarthy a far more plausible path to actually governing and getting anything done in a divided Washington.

We were frustrated that the Republican moderates did not assert themselves in January during, say, the 8th vote of the 15 votes necessary to name Kevin McCarthy as Speaker. McCarthy should have realized then, what he seems to finally understand, that there was no amount of obstruction, bad policy proposals, and political spin to try to blame Biden and the Democrats for the dysfunction that could win him the respect of Trump’s loyalists who just wanted to see the Congress, the US government and military, US foreign policy, and the American economy in ruins ahead of the 2024 election, so McCarthy’s path to self-respect and the favorable ruling of history was only achievable by making common cause with Democrats to see the insurgent House Republican minority isolated and out of power.

As we wrote here last week, this threatened shutdown was “part of a broader effort to hamper the US economy, re-elect Trump as President, and allow Vladimir Putin to win his war against Ukraine.” Trump, and many of his supporters in Congress, now oppose funding for Ukraine, and clearly the Russian dictator understands that his invasion of Ukraine will end in complete failure unless Trump wins control of the US military in November 2024. Military support for Ukraine was explicitly removed from this weekend’s deal to keep the government open and whether this is quickly and effectively addressed is the next big test of whether we are in a new era for this congress. This may move fairly easily because a majority, even a super-majority, of the United States Senate supports robust funding for Ukraine, and the same is true in the House. Greater funding for the southern border will likely be included to deliver both parties a talking point of success. Once this passes, the bipartisan negotiations in the House and Senate can turn to the Appropriations bills that comprise the Fiscal Year 2024 federal budget ahead of the expiration of the temporary funding measure, and then they can look at other possible areas for bipartisan agreement on forming a bipartisan debt commission, carbon reduction, immigration reform, and other issues that seemed impossible due to Washington hyper-partisan dysfunction.

Since the deal on Saturday the press has become fixated on whether McCarthy will be challenged by Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and whether McCarthy will need and get Democratic votes to keep the gavel. The fate of McCarthy as Speaker is almost a side issue to the question of whether the will of the majority will be allowed to determine policy in the United States Congress. McCarthy must make a commitment to Democrats to allow bipartisan legislation that could garner a majority to get a vote on the House floor to have any chance of getting their support to remain as Speaker, but there are a lot other potential Republican House Speakers who could make the same commitment and would have more credibility because they have been dealing in good faith with Democrats all along.

The extreme anti-government House Republicans have been like a hurricane that rather than blowing through quickly, stalled out over Washington for nine months, but their reign is now ended. Even Matt Gaetz knows this. He told Jake Tapper on Sunday’s CNN State of the Union that he planned to file a Motion to Vacate the Speakership this week expecting Democrats to keep McCarthy in power, so it would be on the public record that McCarthy is the choice of the Democrats. This may be a horror for some on the Republican fringe, but most Americans will welcome this outbreak of bipartisanship. The Republican fringe did not just over-play their hand, as some are saying, they upended the card table. But the game continues. The extreme MAGA Republicans are just no longer being dealt any cards.

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