early and often

Republicans Clinch the House and That Means Gridlock Begins

Ideological commissar MTG won’t let Speaker McCarthy stray from a very hard line. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

To some Republicans their takeover of the House by a very narrow margin may seem like a booby-prize in comparison to their big dreams of a midterm landslide. But however tenuous and underwhelming, a House GOP majority will accomplish a key objective for Republicans: Wrecking any prospects for significant legislation in the last two years of Joe Biden’s first term.

The smaller his margin of control turns out to be, the less power Speaker-to-be Kevin McCarthy would have to cut any deals with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer or the White House, in the very unlikely event that he felt inclined to do so. Indeed, to secure his election as Speaker in January, the Californian may have to explicitly promise an attitude of bristling hostility to any and all Democratic overtures for cooperation lest, the MAGA bravos of the House Freedom Caucus take him down.

So what will House Republicans do for two years? Lay the groundwork for 2024 through a combination of (a) “messaging” bills designed to put potentially vulnerable Democrats on the spot while promoting the GOP’s emerging 2024 talking points and (b) aggressive use of the House’s investigatory and oversight powers to go down every imaginable conspiracy-theory rabbit hole involving Democrats past and present, with particular emphasis on Hillary Clinton, Hunter Biden, and their “Deep State” allies. It will make the Benghazi! histrionics Republicans pursued last time they controlled the House look like calm and judicious lawmaking.

Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled Senate will be in a position to confirm Biden’s judges and executive-branch appointees, and perform its own empty “messaging” gestures. And as a silver lining, the legislative coma that the House GOP will induce means the power of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to hold the country hostage to their whims will largely vanish.

A more immediate consequence of the House GOP takeover is that the 2022 lame duck session of Congress, marking the last days of the Democratic trifecta, is suddenly a very big deal. Anything requiring joint House-Senate action prior to 2025 will need to happen right away. That includes, of course, must-pass legislation avoiding a debt default and keeping the federal government funded. Yes, past House Republican regimes have found a way to go along with measures needed to head off a debt default and a global economic meltdown, or even a U.S. government shutdown. But not one single constructive act can be taken for granted from the crowd about to take over the House.

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Republicans Clinch the House and That Means Gridlock Begins