Tantrums

The most shocking thing about House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy vowing to strip three Democratic lawmakers from key committee assignments if he becomes House Speaker after the midterms is not the threat itself.  It is that he said the quiet part out loud.  In an interview with Breitbart News McCarthy said:

The Democrats have created a new thing where they're picking and choosing who could be on committee.  Never in the history [of Congress] have you had the majority tell the minority who can be on committee.

If that were true, if Democrats were using the power of the majority to silence opposition in the minority, he would be right to cry foul, not necessarily to play tit for tat but definitely to raise alarm.  One of the bedrocks of democracy is the clash of ideas.  A single governing idea or party is tyranny.  But McCarthy is not taking a principled stand for democratic norms; he is, literally, loudly, and unabashedly declaring that he does not understand what was/is so noxious about the two Republican members of the House who were stripped by majority vote of their committee assignments — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona.

gosar-mccarthy-greene

(l to r):  Rep. Paul Gosar, Republican Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Greene was removed from her committee assignments last February after incendiary and violent statements she had made before being elected to Congress were revealed.  She has continued to stir the pot as a member of Congress by spreading lies about vaccination in the face of the pandemic, so much so that Twitter permanently suspended her personal account, leaving her official congressional account active, while Facebook suspended her account for 24 hours the next day for the same misleading post which had caused Twitter to finally act in the public interest.  And as recently as four days ago she suggested in an interview on Sebastian Gorka's radio program using "Second Amendment rights” (which can only mean one thing:  guns and violence; okay two, two things) on those trying to install a "tyrannical government,” by which she means one she disagrees with.  Lest we forget, Greene is the congressperson who claimed that the 2018 California wildfires were intentionally set by a Jewish space laser and shared a video on her Facebook page featuring a prominent British anti-Semite explaining that, “Zionist supremacists have schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation.”  This conspiracy theory is thought to be the motivation behind the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter’s deadly rampage at the Tree of Life Synagogue in October of 2018, less than two months before Greene’s post, in which the suspect killed eleven people and wounded six, including several Holocaust survivors.  It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States, ever; despite concrete evidence that these ideas were endangering the lives of Jewish Americans, Greene chose to spread them.

Gosar was censured by the House of Representatives and removed from his committee assignments last November after he posted a photoshopped anime video to his Twitter and Instagram accounts showing him appearing to kill Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking the president of the United States, Joe Biden.  His censure — the second most severe punishment a House member can receive, after expulsion — was an attempt to send an important message against violent rhetoric.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the time, “We cannot have members joking about murdering each other, as well as threatening the president of the United States.”  The gravity of the censure was lost on Gosar; recalcitrant, just minutes after being censured by his colleagues in the House, he retweeted the violent video that depicts him murdering Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — someone missed the train to Pointsville!

There is nothing wrong with House Minority Leader McCarthy standing up for his party, its membership in the chamber, or conservative Republican principles.  We would/should expect him to and he wouldn’t be much of a leader if he didn’t.  But his threat to remove prominent Democratic lawmakers Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) from the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is purely retaliatory.  As Swalwell told Anderson Cooper on CNN, McCarthy is targeting him, Schiff, and Omar, "because we're effective. Not for any other reason. This is the Trumpization of politics. ... He's doing it purely for retaliation purposes and he's not even offering a fig leaf as to why he's doing it.”  That in and of itself is bad enough, but I am more disturbed by what it reveals about how he and his fellow Republicans in the House see the Greene and Gosar punishments and, ultimately, the inexcusable, indefensible, rhetoric that led to them.

Sean Connery as Jim Malone explains to Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness in the 1987 gangster movie The Untouchables:

You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. *That's* the *Chicago* way! And that's how you get Capone.

It is a great film.  See it if you haven’t.  It tells the story of the Prohibition era in the United States when Federal agent Eliot Ness sets out to stop ruthless Chicago gangster Al Capone and, because of rampant corruption, assembles a small, hand-picked team to help him, of which Malone, a Chicago beat cop, is one.  And Malone’s advice to Ness reflects, perhaps practically, the kind of escalating, retaliatory, no-backing-down “warfare” necessary to bring the lawless, violent Capone to heel.

Malone (2nd from right) and Ness (right) in The Untouchables

McCarthy’s threat completely ignores the wrongdoing by two of his members, but in taking a cue from Malone’s advice to Ness, McCarthy shows how he views our democratic process:  win at all costs, throw decorum, ethics, and decency to the side, and carry a grudge.  This is not healthy.  Not for American democracy, and not for the American people.  Adam Schiff, who I am proud to say represents my hometown of Glendale in California's 28th congressional district, said of McCarthy’s threat in an e-mail to supporters:

This is yet another reason why a Republican majority must never happen. McCarthy knows that I will never shy away from my committee oversight responsibilities. That I will always stand up to him, and expose his duplicity to the American people.

By all means the minority party in Congress should mount a vigorous opposition to the majority.  But that does not mean hurling anti-Semitic tropes around, spreading lies about everything from vaccines to election fraud, or advocating violence; and it does not mean defending, and avenging, those who do so because they belong to your party.  If Republican leadership in Congress will not police its own membership to stop the Greenes and the Gosars (and the Jim Jordans, and the Matt Gaetzs, and the Lauren Boeberts, and…), then it would be a dereliction of duty for the Democrats to look the other way.

It reminds me of when I owned a house about a mile from where I live now.  We had a very proactive HOA (homeowner's association), which is one of the reasons I bought in that neighborhood.  The CC&R (Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions) spelled out clearly the things a homeowner could and could not do with their property, as well as things they must do, like maintaining their yard.  That was a good thing, because the house next door to the west of me was a "short-term rental,” meaning it was occupied during the tourist season, but not by the owner, and it was often vacant, especially during the summer months.  Rented or vacant, no one was particularly motivated to tend to its landscaping, meaning the yard was often a mess and quite unsightly.  So the HOA stepped-in and essentially said to the owner, “if you won’t maintain this property per the CC&R, we will and we'll send you the bill.”  This was not a blindside or an arbitrary response to the whiny guy in the wheelchair known to be a bit OCD who won’t shut up about the weeds and the overgrown shrubberies; the property owner’s responsibilities to the neighborhood were enumerated in the CC&R document which every buyer was provided a copy of and expected to sign before buying.

Every member of Congress swears an oath to uphold the Constitution and act in a way that does not bring dishonor on the institution.  Ideally, the leadership of both parties should be tending their own yards, rooting out weeds and keeping shrubberies trimmed.  But if one won’t, the other can and should step in and do it for them.  McCarthy’s threat is like my former neighbor’s tantrum when he got the bill for the gardeners.

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