Tag Archives: kevin mccarthy

Who are these people?

I’ve previously noted that the Republicans have so far seemed able to pull together their coalition in the House between (known) Freedom Caucus members and other Republicans. Yesterday’s successful election of Paul Ryan purely from within the Party underscores that. No one should be shocked by that, as the most recent hints at a possible split between the Republicans differed from earlier factional breaks in that there was basically no observable difference between the two groups’ congressional districts. In fact, the “true conservative” rival to Ryan’s Speakership was basically identical to the first establishment contender for the job, Kevin McCarthy. While he (and for several dissenting Republicans, Ryan as well) wasn’t conservative enough, someone almost indistinguishable on policy somehow fell in the same camp as them. In the end, this seems to have more to do with where different Republicans come down on the issue of how the caucus should run, and less about their ideological niche within the Party.

All that said, I don’t want to have overlooked anything. Since the ballots in the election of Ryan are secret, there’s no way of knowing which forty-three Republicans defected to Daniel Webster (FL-10). That said, the murmurs that helped derail Kevin McCarthy’s original candidacy for Speaker have continually come from a somewhat recognizable faction – the Freedom Caucus. While a large majority of that group’s members expressed support for Ryan holding the Speakership, they quite vocally avoided giving an official endorsement of him. Throughout this process, that caucus seems tied up within talk of splintering the Republican Party, at least within the House.

Earlier this week, I poured over the list of known Freedom Caucus members and compared it to two different letter-writing contingents within the Republican Party which challenged their leadership in the House. One was the “Suicide Caucus” who petitioned for the Republican leadership to demand the repeal of Obamacare or else let a debt-ceiling-induced default destroy the US credit rating in 2013. The other is a group very, very loosely affiliated with the Freedom Caucus that similarly petitioned for the Republican leadership to threaten to let us default on our debt by means of the debt ceiling if Planned Parenthood wasn’t stripped of federal funding.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a notable amount of overlap between the members of congress using what amounts to more or less the same tactic, and the Freedom Caucus itself. In the overlap of all these groups, there is a small cadre of seventeen Republicans who signed both of those public letters and are on the known member list for the Freedom Caucus.

usa house cd coreThe districts in red are held by the seventeen congressional members at the heart of these overlapping factions. They are alphabetically by last name Justin Amash (MI-03), Jim Bridenstine (OK-01), Jeff Duncan (SC-03), John Fleming (LA-04), Trent Franks (AZ-08), Tim Huelskamp (KS-01), Jim Jordan (OH-04), Raúl Labrador (ID-01), Mark Meadows (NC-11), Mick Mulvaney (SC-05), Steve Pearce (NM-02), Scott Perry (PA-04), Keith Rothfus (PA-12), Matt Salmon (AZ-05), David Schweikert (AZ-06), Randy Weber (TX-14), and Ted Yoho (FL-03).

Because of the secretive nature of the Freedom Caucus, those are only the confirmed set of congressional representatives who fall into all three of those groups. Another seven House members publicly have signed on to those two letters but have so far not been announced to be Freedom Caucus members themselves. For anyone attempting to uncover the presumably broader membership of that Caucus, those seven are more or less a researching ground zero.

usa house cd core plus seven hidingThe seven non-members of the Freedom Caucus but fellow signatories on the two letters have their districts in orange. They are John Duncan (TN-02), Blake Farenthold (TX-27), Louie Gohmert (TX-01), Richard Hudson (NC-08), Walter Jones (NC-03), Kenny Marchant (TX-24), and Thomas Massie (KY-04).

Similarly, there are another seven representatives who are confirmed members of the Freedom Caucus and publicly signed on to the most recent letter, but who couldn’t voice their support or criticism of the original “suicide caucus” because they were not elected until the 2014 midterm election, after that crisis had passed. The large number of freshman representatives is definitely a distinctive characteristic of this newest agitating group within the Republican House.

As Pew Research pointed out, that was arguably the motivating characteristic that prompted them to support Speaker candidates other than McCarthy and more generally have a combative relationship with Republican leadership. Their grievances were arguably less about getting a particular set of policies passed, and more about their perspectives being taken seriously by the Republican leadership in the House in spite of them lacking seniority.

usa house cd core plus seven hiding plus seven freshmenThe relevant freshmen representatives’ districts are in yellow. They are Brian Babin (TX-36), Dave Brat (VA-07), Ken Buck (CO-04), Curt Clawson (FL-19), Jody Hice (GA-10), Barry Loudermilk (GA-11), and Gary Palmer (AL-06).

With the differences dividing Republicans in the House increasingly being about dynamics between legislators and less about policy, the resulting boundary between Republican groups has been fuzzy and more difficult to characterize. The era in which the Far Right quasi-splintering bloc came from an especially distinctive part of the country is largely gone, and with it that these different groups will consistently represent the same faction. They have coalesced around the particular circumstance, usually with a changeable policy cause and fueled by a contest for seniority in the House and visibility in the Party. There’s nothing like a party platform which more or less unifies them. They’re just periodically emergent groups with a constantly shifting boundary with the broader Republican Party.

Out of the broader House, fifty Republicans joined the “suicide caucus” but appear to have eschewed the more recent letter and any overt affiliation with the Freedom Caucus (although admittedly twelve of them left the house before the formation of the Freedom Caucus or the recent letter campaign). Six Republicans have unambiguous membership in the Freedom Caucus but haven’t made public their support for either of the debt ceiling letter-writing campaigns. Another five have only joined the most recent abortion-focused letter. Together that makes up the majority of representatives with any involvement with these groups – people who were briefly, conditionally, or tangentially active.

Later today, I will have a post up exploring the ways in which these murkily distinctive groups of Republicans do and don’t differ from the broader Republican House and general congressional delegation. By and large, however, it seems that ideological disagreement has taken a backseat to (at times very contentious) disagreements how to go about legislating those shared ideas.

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A tale of two Republicans

Kevin McCarthy, the first among many Republicans to be considered as a replacement Speaker of the House, has seen a new, formidable challenger appear: central Florida congressional representative Daniel Webster. Previously one of the leading contenders to unseat Boehner at the start of the current congressional term, Webster has again captured the attention of many in the most conservative Republicans with calls for less Party oversight in bringing bills forward and other legislative actions. In the wake of that, he has earned the endorsement of the Freedom Caucus – the closest bloc within the House to a third party.

A key thing to note within this process is that this borderline rogue faction within the House is not only approaching this with more preparation than ever before, but also hasn’t selected one of their own. As some have pointed out, Webster is virtually identical to McCarthy on policy, and his main criticism of the Republican Party is about its leadership and structural organization, not policy outcomes. I’ve pulled together a list here of recent and major assessments on a variety of issues to show just how similar their political perspectives are:

Rankings and Assessments

Assessing Organization Kevin McCarthy (GOP CA-23) Daniel Webster (GOP FL-08)
NARAL Pro-Choice America (2014) 0% 0%
National Right to Life Committee (2014) 100% 100%
Planned Parenthood Action Fund (2014) 0% 0%
American Farm Bureau Federation (2014) 50% 50%
Food Policy Action (2014) 17% 11%
American Farm Bureau Federation (2014) 50% 50%
American Library Association (2013) 22% 22%
Gun Owners of America (2014) 80% 80%
Hispanic Federation National Immigration Scorecard (2014) 59% 59%
Human Rights Campaign (2014) 0% 0%
American Family Association (2014) 75% 75%
Christian Coalition of America (2014) 90% 90%
FRC Action (2014) 75% 75%
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (2014) 36% 36%
Federally Employed Women (2014) 30% 30%
Concerned Women for America (2013) 92% 91%
American Civil Liberties Union (2013-2014) 0% 0%
AFL-CIO (2014) 0% 9%
John Birch Society (2014) 50% 60%
Peace Action West (2014) 9% 16%
Center for Security Policy (2013-2014) 9% 16%
Bread for the World (2013) 30% 20%
Drum Major Institute (2012) 7% 14%
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (2014) 25% 20%
Competitive Enterprise Institute (2014) 100 100
FreedomWorks (2014) 52% 62%
National Taxpayers Union (2013) 68% 74%
Alliance for Retired Americans (2014) 10% 11%
National Education Association (2013) 0% 0%
NumbersUSA (2013-2015) 50% 93%
NumbersUSA (2011-2012) 57% 57%
American Immigrant Lawyers Association (2014) 33% 33%

(Sources: here and here.)

To a large extent, this makes sense when you think of McCarthy and Webster as products of their districts. Both presided over largely non-Hispanic White and comparatively rural sections of far more racially diverse and urbanized states. The leading industries of agriculture and tourism have become economically and socially invested in the presence of other ethnic and racial communities, particularly non-White Latin@s, for labor. As a result, they fall into a conservative business-minded fold of the Republican Party – in favor of a light approach towards immigration but not necessarily citizenship and amnesty for undocumented people. McCarthy’s district has a deeper structural basis in immigration workers and so he has been less able to tap into increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric the way Webster has in recent years. That shows in their diverging scores from NumbersUSA in recent years. That said, when it comes to organizations that care about the nuts and bolts of immigration policy, they’ve been given largely identical rankings.

What’s more, on virtually every other issue, they fall together – in favor of most military activities, of strict policing, restrictions on abortion, and restrictive definitions of marriage. All of that’s reflective of the largely non-urban, White, and middle class nature of their standard voter. Related to all that, the sizable presence of national industries like agriculture and tourism in their districts encourages them to hold a specific type of economic policy perspective. It’s one about maximizing profits within the existing economy, not radically restructuring the economy into a more ideologically conservative model.

All that said, McCarthy has failed to gain the support of the Freedom Caucus and most likely many unaligned House members who are similarly invested in a hyper-conservative outlook distinct from his and Boehner’s. Webster, equally an outsider to that faction, simultaneously has. He’s one that more conservative parts of the party believe they can effectively advance their policies under, largely because of his ideas on how to differently run the House. More than revealing something about Webster, this suggests something about the Freedom Caucus. For all their policy disagreements and protests, they have cast their lot in with the Republican Party and decided that they are Republicans after all. They will foment a fight within the party to decide how it will be run with clear hopes for how a different structure might allow different ideas to come out on top within the party. That said, they have decided to fight within the party, not against it.

As I’ve written before, the factionalism within the current Republican Party often leads to all of the uncertainties and instabilities of a more-than-two-party system but with all of the policy discussions third parties bring up being directly or discretely discussed. This is exactly that dynamic at work – a few opinion pieces from Freedom Caucus supporters have hinted at what policies exactly they want instead of those personally put forward by Webster, but a broader public analysis of how that group of Republicans differ from other groups hasn’t really happened even within conservative media circles. We have a House of Representatives that’s increasingly divided into factions that the average voter won’t be informed of. That doesn’t inspire confidence in our ability to make a decision about which groups we support and vote for.

The featured image for this article comes from here.

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No Third Party Needed

With current Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner’s announcement this morning that he will resign by the end of October of this year, the US has come to the close of an era. Fittingly, while Boehner’s initial plan was simply not to seek reelection and leave at the end of his current term, the perpetual upheaval within the Republican caucus has prompted him to step down not only from his leadership position within it but as a member of congress in any capacity.

Initially swept into his current prominence by the 2010 election and perceived as a staunch conservative, his inability to usher in the type of policy prescriptions expected of him alienated him from a large portion of his own party. Even as he settled more comfortably into a more “moderate” wing, his rule remained anemic. Its end isn’t all that surprising given past contentions over whether Republicans, mostly motivated by conservative ideals, should support his continued leadership.

To a certain degree this is the fruition of those prior conflicts, with one of the comparatively less extreme members of the Republican Party picking up his ball and going home. The inevitable question is who will replace him, but a key consideration seems to be missing from the public conversation. Boehner in part rode off of momentum as the person already in the job during his reelection as Speaker. While some Republicans presented ideological challenges either to his decisions or for his position, few strategically sought to replace him because his place wasn’t all that enviable.

Crafting a consensus between increasingly hostile portions of the same political part is not only difficult but had seemingly become entirely unrewarding under Boehner’s watch. The most level-headed assessments of who could replace Boehner implicitly recognize that and ask who could best mobilize off of already having that type of role in Congress to be an acceptable if not terribly desirable Speaker for a majority of representatives. In short, who can reproduce Boehner’s careful triangulation between extremist roots, moderate palatability, and party procedural inevitability.

Maybe the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House of Representatives will return to their historical norm of reaching stable their own stable consensus on their nominee for Speaker before the official vote, allowing the current Republican majority to prevail without whomever they pick. Potentially, even if that fails, a similar outcome to the last vote on Speaker could happen where an acceptable candidate can be found in spite of shifting certainties in their suitability – most likely a resigned selection of current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

That said, with the more internally stable Democratic Party gerrymandered into a permanent minority and the Republican Party only increasing in internal divisions if Boehner’s departure is any indication, it’s unclear who could actually fashion a majority in the House – and that would paralyze the body. It can only proceed to voting on any other issue after the selection of a new Speaker whenever a new one is needed. Within the US’s pseudo-parliamentary system, this is the closest equivalent to a hung parliament.

The US has weathered this sort of dysfunction before, namely immediately proceeding the Civil War when between Republicans, Democrats, and various other factions, no single party held a majority in the House. Similar conditions cropped up briefly in the early twentieth century when either the Progressive or Farmer-Labor parties held crucial votes needed by either the Republicans or Democrats for form a majority. In all of those cases political divisions within the US had already led to the development of a three-party system. At least on the surface, that’s not the current case.

The modern hostility to third parties (for, among other things, creating those types of problems) has prevented that sort of dissolution of the Republican Party into overtly competing factions. Instead, two increasingly diametrically opposed groups have taken their contest for power into their primaries and struggled to work with a divided assortment of elected officials among those who clear the general elections. As a result, the US may soon see the level of administrative dysfunction associated with having three parties, but none of the open discussion of issues that division typically prompts with the competition hidden for the most part in local elections and primaries.

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Update: still the same, but here’s how to change it

TW: US national security apparatus, mass surveillance

Alright, do you remember this? There’s a cross-party consensus of sorts in the US in terms of the need for and legitimacy of most of the hallmarks of the growing national security state (drone warfare, mass surveillance, indefinite detention, and so on). The unsuccessful vote last Wednesday on whether or not to begin restricting the surveillance program is simply another demonstration of that, as significant numbers of both parties voted against the amended bill, allowing the program to stand as is.


(The voting results – 205 for the limiting amendment, 217 against, and 12 not present. In terms of party composition, 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats were in favor, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats were against. Those who didn’t vote split evenly between the two parties, six votes on each side. From here.)

But likewise, it’s also rich in the same indications, in terms of how best to solve this problem. The vote breaks down not only with more favorable proportions of the Democrats compared to the Republicans voting for initial restrictions, but also with some indications of which Democrats are more likely to be supportive of these measures. From congressional representatives Pelosi (the minority leader), Wasserman Schultz (chair of the Democratic National Committee), and Hoyer (the minority whip), nearly every leadership figure voted against this. The major rift this reveals isn’t between libertarian and authoritarian wings of the Republicans but between the majority of Democrats and their leadership.

Frankly, the same could be said of the Republicans, whose speaker (Boehner), majority leader (Cantor), most recent Vice Presidential candidate (Ryan), majority whip (McCarthy [CA]), and a nationally contender for their nomination for the presidency (Bachmann) all voted in favor of it as well, in spite of it being introduced by a Republican.

The most important fact here however is that not only did Democrats break about 6-to-4 for the bill, but they did so against the indication of their leaders. The Republicans broke about 6-to-4 against the bill ostensible because of the signalling from their leadership. Not only do the raw data indicate that a lazy “both sides do it” argument is flawed, but the context indicates how ripe the Democratic Party is for the emergence of any leader who would break from the Republicans on this issue.

Besides the leadership, the unfortunate many other Democrats who voted in favor of the bill was full of many currently serving their first term (to name all 23 of them, representatives Bera, Castro [TX], Delaney, Duckworth, Enyart, Etsy, Frankel, Gallego, Garcia, Heck [WA], Kelly, Kennedy, Kilmer, Kuster, Sean Maloney, Meng, Murphy [FL], Peters [CA], Ruiz, Schneider, Sinema, Vargas, and Veasey). The indications of the Democratic leadership likely hold the highest sway over these representatives, so the appearance of any alternative position within the leadership appears likely to change many if not all of these representatives’ minds. Even without a key Democrat that could come forward and push this through, direct lobbying would still be best concentrated on these representatives.

Considering that the amendment was shot down by a simple majority with only 12 more votes than the opposition, targeting that group of senators is not only likely to produce different votes but also different votes that could sway the outcome of votes like these. In short, this is the most pragmatic approach to the current predicament, but it involves acknowledging differences between the parties’ representatives’ behavior and working within one of their established structures.

The question before this country’s civil libertarians is whether those are acceptable costs for changing US policy. Or rather, do they prefer decrying both parties in favor of a fairly good chance at changing the status quo?

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