The Calamitous House Majority
...and Donald Trump 2: Treason Boogaloo.
Happy Friday, early Thanksgiving, and beginning of the World Cup to all my beautiful babies. When I started writing this Jackal I set out to explain why the GOP’s coming majority in the House is so problematic for them. But the more I wrote, the more I wished I was just talking with someone who knew the ins and outs of Congress.
Luckily, I have friends who fall into that category. So, I had a conversation with a buddy of mine, Daniel Leiva, who used to work for Speaker John Boehner. This is a conversation we had about the incoming GOP caucus, with Danny explaining why slim majorities can often mean more headaches than policy wins.
Conversation edited for length, clarity, and removing stupid opinions (mine). I’m in bold and Danny is in the normal font.
OK, so give your background first.
Yeah, so after college - which is where we know each other from - I moved down to D.C. and started working in politics. I first worked for a pro-life Political Action Committee and that allowed me to get to know different members in Congress and I eventually ended up working for the Speaker of the House, John Boehner…the Honorable John Boehner, from the Eighth District of Ohio. So, I spent about three and a half years working for him and all those years he was Speaker of the House and then after that, I moved on to other things and retired from hardcore politics.
OK, so now the most important question: I want to get you on the record and have you tell me who is going to win the World Cup, before we have real fun.
Gladly. You know, some years this is a hot take and others it’s not, and I just want to say I’m not a bandwagon fan; I am from El Salvador, so, my team in my life time (my country has not gone to the World Cup), has always been Brazil. So, my pick for the winner is undoubtedly, every World Cup, I think/root for a Brazil win; that’s my prognosis. How far they’ll get, I don’t know. They’re always in the running.
Alright. So, my pick for the win - not that I’m rooting for anyone - but I think Argentina will pull it out this year.
Wait, why are you not rooting for anyone? You have a country in there.
Italy’s not in it! Well, I would love to see the U.S. win it. But the U.S. isn’t going to win the World Cup. I’d be surprised if the U.S. gets out of the group. So, I guess I’m rooting for the U.S. I also do not like the way the U.S. handles their soccer program, but that’s a longer conversation.
Yes, we should definitely tackle that at some other point.
OK, so actual topic of discussion: Right now, the Republicans have taken control of the House. They’re projected to win anywhere between 219 and 222 seats, maybe 223…a very slim margin, because 218 seats controls the House. Can you explain why such a small majority gives House leadership a headache and why it makes running the House difficult? Lots of people have written about that and I don’t think they’ve explained it very well.
Yeah. So, the House is meant to represent the people and its makeup is supposed to represent the citizenry of each Congressional district and the country at large. And so the more of a majority that a Party has, the easier it is for them to deal with defectors and to be able to overcome legislative procedures that may hold up things. A large majority really solidifies the ability of the Speaker to set the policy agenda. A small majority means there is very little room for error and anyone can throw a wrench in the system. And the Senate is different because it’s actually set up to do that individually. One Senator can filibuster or request procedures that hold up the process. But the House - because of the way that it’s set up - whatever Party that’s in the majority (even by one seat) controls the game in the House. That Party controls who chairs the Committees. For instance, who is on the Ethics Committee and how that gets reviewed, and who even gets investigated by the Committee, lots of stuff. So all those things are set by the majority Party. But, if you don’t have really solid support, meaning a Party or coalition that sticks together on everything, you probably won’t have enough votes to get something through a floor vote. And so, really it means legislating or governing is really hard, because you have to take every single member into consideration, whatever their whims may be on a particular issue. You can’t lose any votes. At the very least, that is a big wrench in the system that makes governing really difficult.
Gotcha. So, relevant to this discussion: I think it was Andy Biggs who said he will not support Kevin McCarthy for House leader. Matt Gaetz, from Florida, has already said he will not support McCarthy for leader. What does it look like when McCarthy - who is the current the Republican Minority Leader - can’t shore up all the support from the Republican Party? Is it possible we could see a Democratic Speaker even though Republicans control a majority of the seats in the House?
Is it possible? Yes. I think technically anyone can be nominated for Speaker. But typically what happens is when there aren’t enough votes, there are just a lot of conversations until the support comes around. Because you end up having rounds of voting for Speaker.
On every round you have to achieve X% of vote to secure that vote, and if you don’t achieve that you go to a second round, and as many rounds as possible. You don’t typically see more than two rounds, because then you really don’t have the support and you’re not likely to get it. So, you start losing the confidence of your Party. And then all hell breaks loose and it’s a free-for-all. It soon becomes a question of whether an alternative has the votes. Let’s say - and I would die if this happens - Jim Jordan from…I forget which caucus?
The Freedom Caucus?
The Freedom Caucus. He could come up as a viable option all of a sudden, mostly because he has a large coalition backing him. And he could wield that to say, “Jump ship to me and I will give you XYZ,” and that’s where the conversations go in that sort of situation. McCarthy is in a precarious position, because right now his leadership is assumed. He’s been the Minority Leader mostly because nobody fights to be the minority leader. You’re already in a position that holds little or no power; it’s sort of an “in name only” leadership position. What really matters is: Will you be able to assume the Speakership? And again, when you have such a slim majority you cannot have that many defectors. To keep everyone together, you have to have charisma, you have to be astute, and you have to be able to manage people. [Speaker] Boehner had all of that, and was able to convince people that he would be the best option, and - to be honest - McCarthy doesn’t have that. He’s very vanilla.
I’m glad you brought up Boehner. I feel like the Republican Party obviously feels like they’re a little bit in disarray right now. They did not have a great midterm, and of course things change and the Party might unite. But right now there’s a big divide between Trump-aligned Republicans and other Republicans who think he’s a drag on the Party, whether they say that in public or private. But Boehner also had challenges. He had to deal with the Tea Party that came in 2010, so it isn’t like it was easy for him either, but it felt like the Republican Party was organized and did things. They passed actual legislation! of course, Obama was President, so he vetoed things, but they pass real legislation. In addition, Boehner was able to do things that pleased the Republican base, like the Select Committee on Benghazi. Those are the things activist Republicans were interested in. Do you see anyone being able to replicate that, or do you think Boehner had a special magic touch?
It’s an interesting thought exercise. Basically, every politician in a leadership position thinks they have a magic touch. For instance, I was actually really, really, really surprised to see Pelosi step down from Leadership. She could’ve easily argued that she should stick around to the next cycle, because it’s only two years and she has managed Party since 2018. All that to say, politicians definitely think they have the magic touch, but very few are actually able to capitalize on it. A few things were happening when Boehner assumed Speakership that helped him, and although the Tea Party wave was really the first thing that started dividing the Republican Party, there was still things you could find common ground on to hold the Party together. For instance, they always stuck together on pro-life policies and fiscal responsibility. And maybe opposing climate control measures. Basically, you could undergird big policy initiatives with those things in order to capture a lot of votes. But this current Republican Party is not really like that. The gap between the MAGA Republicans and the centrists is so wide they might as well be different Parties. The divide is seriously that deep. So there isn’t any common ground to stand on where they say, “We don’t like how this sausage is being made but we can eat the sausage when it’s finished cooking.” Now, the other thing that Boehner did that was controversial at the time - and would certainly never happen today: He also worked with Democrats. There were many times when he said, “OK, my own Party is bucking me, but we need to get this omnibus bill passed. What do I need to do to get enough votes, whether it’s from Democrats or not?” I don’t think he ever would sacrifice his principles to work with Democrats, but he would say, “Hey, this is something that needs to happen.” He was interested in governing, right? I don’t think there are too many people as interested in governing as they are interested in demonizing the other side, which is a lot easier. I think that was part of Boehner’s magic touch and helped him do what he was able to do.
So, this could be a really long answer if I ask you this question, but it’s kind of a hobby horse for me. Congress got rid of - and it’s funny you mentioned how the sausage is made - pork barrel spending and earmarks. Earmarks were something that the public hated and Congress got rid of, but I actually think they were kind of a good thing. Because if you were able to secure some money - like 10 million - for some small project in your district, you were incentivized to get that. And now they aren’t incentivized to work together. Do you think that’s been a bad thing for Congress?
In the irony of all ironies, Boehner was the one who led the charge to get rid of pork barrel spending. And ultimately - I don’t want to say it undid his Speakership - but it certainly made his job a lot tougher. This, I feel like, is an issue of principle vs. pragmatism. A pragmatic leader would say, “Whatever it takes.” A principled leader says, “If it will make my job harder, but in the long run it will make our country better, then I will go ahead and deal with how hard this will make my life.” That’s where Boehner stood. I think ultimately that was the right move, because there isn’t a scenario in which you give an inch and a mile doesn’t get taken. If you give five million to Congressman X in Texas for road improvement in his district, he will come back and say, “I’ll take the five million now, but it’ll cost you 15-20 next vote.” So, for example, there’s an interesting story about how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) got passed. Do you remember Bart Stupak?
I don’t remember.
OK, so he was a Congressman from - I forget where, I want to say Michigan - and he was a pro-life Democrat. And he said he would never vote for the ACA because it had - what he deemed - to be pro-abortion policies. He was the last, lone vote holding it up. And Pelosi gave him X amount of money to rename the airpot in his district, or something like that. And I think that was the last time that type of pork barrel spending was done, because everybody saw the outcome. Again, in the long run, being able to do things on principle rather than with these tactics, is something I agree with Boehner on, but other leaders may not.
That’s a good history. In closing, I should thank you for your time, but I want to finish with an important question: Favorite album of the year?
So, I have found myself paying more attention to singles rather than full albums, because I think albums as a whole…
Yeah. My style has also changed. I like jiggy stuff lately rather than “artsy” stuff “artistes.” I’m in my bling era.
Yeah man. But last year I was really disappointed by Certified Lover Boy.
Yeah, it was bad.
I was disappointed by Donda, and the subsequent Donda II.
Yeah, both really bad.
I think Pusha T’s latest was good.
It was good, yeah.
I started to listen to King Disease III, the new Nas album and I was pleasantly surprised, because for a little while I felt like he had fallen off. Before the King’s Disease series, he was putting out some subpar or uninspired content. I’ve also been disappointed by Honestly, Nevermind despite having one of my favorite songs of the year on that. So, I don’t really have a favorite album of the year. Do you have one?
I love that Czarface album. That’s Inspectah Deck, Esoteric, and 7L, I think? I thought I sent it to you. Did I?
You might have.
I really like that album a lot, and Inspectah Deck is one of the guys from Wu-Tang who gets slept on a lot. His solo material is not great, to be honest. But this has been really good.
He’s a great leadoff hitter, but you’re right, carrying the weight of a whole album…I don’t know if that’s his strength. I also have to mention Bad Bunny.
Oh yeah, Bad Bunny is so good!
That I love. Even the new 21 Savage and Drake album, Her Loss, is growing on me. I gave it a first full run through and was like, “Meh.” But now I find myself enjoying it a lot more than I did on the first listen. But I don’t know if it’s my album of the year. I’ll also be honest: I haven’t listened to Kendrick’s latest release, because right now I think he’s too much of an “artiste” for me. He doesn’t get jiggy at all. I can’t vibe with that.
I was disappointed by it, to be honest. I think it’s a good album, but for me it’s his weakest by far. Not in my top five of the year.
Well, in terms of pure sales, can we argue against Taylor Swift? I don’t know if we can. Taylor Swift and Bad Bunny have to be up there.
I was not impressed by Taylor Swift’s new album.
It’s a different vibe.
Yeah. You know whose album I really like a lot? Like, a lot a lot? Beyonce’s. Her album is pretty killer.
Yeah. She has good one. What is the song off her album that I like? Alien Superstar. That was on repeat.
Super good. And I’m glad that she has a non-explicit version uploaded that I can listen to with my daughter.
Haha. I take liberties with my daughter because she speaks Spanish, but she’s starting to ask questions about certain words.
Yes. Really starting to notice that she understands.
A quick note on Trump.
I have to thank Danny for his contribution before I get into Florida Man™ making his announcement. What is pretty clear this time around is that Trump does not have his 2015 mojo. His announcement itself was weak, boring, and lifeless. People tried to leave the room.
All that said, it is hard to imagine him not being the favorite. Ignore the polls; the polls in 2015 showed Jeb Bush in first place ahead of Trump. But as soon as Trump started talking, he was dominating. And he will be much more willing to get into the dirt than any of his rivals. He is a lot like a pig: If you wrestle in the mud with a pig you get dirty, but the pig likes it.
I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I have learned my lesson from the 2016 primaries: Do not underestimate Trump. The Party is saying all sorts of things right now, but they could quickly change their tunes if Trump turns out to be dominant or someone else fades. Another thing I’ve learned about Republicans: Never trust them to do the right thing if it costs them any loss of power or standing.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I’ll see you on December 2nd and on December 9th before The Jackal hibernates for the holiday season. And GO USA IN THE WORLD CUP (they are going to embarrass us).