The Republican House of Representatives is a serious threat to democracy

OPINION: The craziness that we saw as they struggled to elect a speaker will happen over and over.

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy delivers a speech after he was elected on the 15th ballot at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 7, 2023. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I hope you watched last week as the Republicans in Congress showed us that they are completely unable to govern. It took 15 ballots for Congressman Kevin McCarthy to become speaker of the House because of this sliver of far-rightwing representatives who call themselves the Freedom Caucus, which includes noted Trump-loving, election-denying wackos like Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz. The Freedom Caucus, which says it looks at itself as its own party, is not here to play along. They refuse to conduct business as usual. So the epic conflict over something relatively simple like electing a new speaker is merely a preview for the insanity we have ahead of us the next two years. America, we may not have a functioning House of Representatives right now, and that matters.

Right now, we have a House that’s so narrowly divided that the 15 to 20 members of the Freedom Caucus will be able to shape the conversation about almost any issue. Republicans will need them to get many bills passed, giving them massive leverage. But they aren’t politicians who are bargaining for something — in many cases, they believe that government itself is the problem, so, to them, shutting down the government or interrupting the normal flow of business is good. Gaetz and Boebert are not people who are in Congress to pass important bills; their goals are facetime, branding, getting their name in the paper and their face on Fox News. 

A long time ago, Lawrence O’Donnell from MSNBC told me that every thing elected officials do is about getting themselves reelected. Some people try to get reelected by proposing important legislation that they can talk about on the campaign trail. But others try to get on Fox News as much as they can because fame helps you get reelected. So when Gaetz and Boebert have a chance to shut down the House or halt normal procedures, they’ll do it because that will make them heroes to voters who think that the real problem is government itself.

The reason why this is so troubling and dangerous in the House of Representatives is that the chief responsibility of the House is to deal with America’s finances. The House is where budgets are set and appropriations are dealt with. For the Freedom Caucus and other radical Republicans, one of the biggest problems in America is government spending. For decades, fiscally conservative Republicans campaigned on curbing runaway spending and misuse of American tax dollars. Those ideas are critical to the Republican brand. Well, now we have people who think the government spends too much in charge of how we spend. Of course, they don’t want to change what we spend on our military, but other areas, like spending to help the poor, will surely be demonized and cut. If ever there was a House of Representatives that would try to damage or kill Medicare and Medicaid, it’s this one. If there was ever a Congress that would shut down before raising the debt ceiling or approving a budget, it’s this one. I feel certain that this Congress will shut down more than once.

Indeed, this House of Representatives is already indicating that it’s not about doing real work to improve Americans’ lives, it’s about posturing for the Fox News crowd. Speaker McCarthy announced that among the first bills this Congress will consider are bills that will defund the IRS and deal with “woke” educational policies. None of this would help Americans or get through the Democratic-controlled Senate, but they are perfect noisemakers for Fox and right-wing media. They signal to conservative talking heads and voters that this Congress is here to handle their issues. 

These people want to convene a panel to explore the “weaponization” of the government against them. This is not real political work; this is the continuation of the insurrection. This is using the legislative process to attack the government so they can go home and campaign on how tough they were on the government. There is room for a reasonable critique of government in general and of our government in particular, but this is not that. This is grenade-throwing by people who want to say they fought to tear it all down to show right-wing voters how tough they are. These people are trolling. They long for nothing more than to upend normal government functions and by doing that during the vote for speaker, they forced McCarthy to give them a boatload of concessions that have weakened the speakership immensely. 

McCarthy has a caucus with some serious anti-government crazies in it. The last two Republican speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, dealt with the same issue. They both had this same sort of far-right caucus that just wanted to throw grenades and made it impossible to conduct real government. Both quit the speakership. McCarthy’s opposition is stronger than what Boehner and Ryan faced, and his role is weaker than what they had. 

Buckle up, America. The greatest danger to American democracy is the Republican Party, and things are about to get worse.


Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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