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Held hostage in the House

As a Republican congressman, I’ve been frustrated to see a small minority of my own party try to impose their will on a majority.

Kevin McCarthy worked hard the past four years to help Republicans regain control of the House so we could restore financial, energy, border, and national security for America.Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

Last week saw healthy debate in the election of the speaker of the US House, but at the cost of Congress doing its job for the American people. From day one, I supported Kevin McCarthy of California. He worked hard the past four years to help Republicans regain control of the House so we could restore financial, energy, border, and national security for America. He visited every congressional district and helped us win some key battles.

I appreciated how McCarthy built a “kitchen cabinet” that involved all key ideological factions in the GOP conference. He called them the “five families.” Everyone has a voice with him. Further, during last week’s prolonged negotiations with the Freedom Caucus, his hand reached 95 percent of the way across the table to get their agreement. Some can never get to “yes” and know only how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


Some of McCarthy’s GOP opponents are critical of him because of the results in the midterm elections. A broader perspective is needed. The GOP lost seats in the Senate, governorships, and at the state and local levels. The only win we had was in the US House. Perhaps McCarthy deserves credit here and not criticism. The losses in other branches and levels of government were not due to him.

I also heard some of the holdouts blame him for passage of the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill. He voted against this bill and lobbied hard against it while it was debated in the Senate. This bill was forced on the GOP in the House while Democrats still held a majority. Unlike the Senate, the minority in the House is powerless when the majority is unified. That is why it is so disheartening to see a small faction undermine the new GOP majority today.


Unfortunately, a small minority of Republican representatives — initially 10 percent — held the rest of Congress hostage and prevented us from doing the work of the people. In fact, my office was notified last week by an agency that it could not communicate with my staff on active casework for constituents because members of the House were not yet sworn in. That only hurt those who have asked for our assistance on matters deeply impacting their personal lives.

Additionally, we were unable to fulfill our normal duties. Last week, Representative Mike Gallagher and I were supposed to meet with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, but we were not allowed because our security clearances were withdrawn until we could get sworn back in. We were both critical of the slowness of our military preparations in the Far East and Pacific, and the chairman wanted to give us a classified briefing in response.

Members of the Freedom Caucus asked for changes, and McCarthy gave them most of their demands. The vacate the chair rule allowing for one member to call for the removal of the speaker and the open amendment rules are two changes that I believe may get abused. I also do not agree with cuts to defense spending when we have China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea threatening our national security interests. Although I do not completely agree with the demands, I understand it is part of the give and take we need to run the House. Yet I agree with McCarthy that we cannot allow different factions of the House to demand chairmanship positions. These are earned — based on work done for a committee, expertise, and leadership demonstrated overall in the House. Demanding a chairmanship for one’s vote for speaker is not right.


It has been frustrating to see a small minority of representatives try to impose their will on a majority. During these debates, one of the more vocal holdouts said he wanted to make the chairman of the Freedom Caucus more powerful than the speaker of the House.

I served 30 years in the US Air Force, commanded five times, led a squadron during the invasion of Iraq, and deployed three other times. I learned that no matter how perfect or imperfect our team was, we needed to work together for the common mission. Teamwork wins. The new GOP team must come together as one team. Let’s remember Ronald Reagan’s wisdom when he said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.”

Don Bacon is a Republican US representative from Nebraska.