Ever since it took 15 rounds of voting for California Representative Kevin McCarthy to become US House Speaker in January, the stage was set for what turned out to be, arguably the dumbest day on Capitol Hill in 2023, which took place Tuesday.
In a nutshell here is what happened: McCarthy declared the House will open an impeachment inquiry on President Biden even though there has been no public evidence of wrongdoing, unlike previous impeachments.
He did this to secure the votes of a small group of Republicans who were threatening to shut down the government in 18 days unless an inquiry was launched.
But within minutes of McCarthy’s big reveal Florida Representative Matt Gaetz went to the House floor to say that it wasn’t good enough. Then Gaetz told reporters that if McCarthy put a bill on the floor to continue to fund the government, he would then file a motion to remove McCarthy as speaker.
Given how hard it was for McCarthy to be elected speaker in the first place and that logistically only four Republicans would be needed to join all Democrats in removing McCarthy from office in a simple vote, this was not an idle threat.
“If we have to begin every single day in Congress with the prayer, the pledge, and the motion to vacate then so be it,” said Gaetz.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans were generally either confused or silent about the House opening an impeachment inquiry, however.
“I don’t know what it’s based on. I have no idea what they’re talking about. I don’t want to see impeachment being used as an everyday instrument. I don’t think that’s what it’s intended for,” said Senator Shelly Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican.
“Members of the House don’t really care what I think,” said Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. “All I can tell you, it’s unlikely to be successful in the Senate.”
Congress finds itself in this swirl of things going nowhere and a government shutdown likely for some structural reasons.
First is the slim Republican majority with a strident ring wing that seeks conflict, even within the party. Second, is the fact that this modern era of Congress rarely passes a budget via the normal process and lurches from one government shutdown or debt ceiling threat to another.
Then there is the fact that a presidential campaign is looming, which features a leading candidate who has already been impeached twice and hopes his allies in Congress can make the other candidate impeached also.
This doesn’t mean the Senate had the market cornered in seriousness because as impeachment was being shot down in one part of the chamber, a hearing was held elsewhere over a number of Republican states initiating what critics are calling “book bans” from school and public libraries, with the most attention given to those involving race, like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird.
However, Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, read from a very explicit book depicting gay sex to make a point that some books may not be appropriate in settings for children.
“No one is advocating for sexually explicit content to be available in an elementary school library or in [the] children’s section of the library,” Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in response.
Disturbing dramatic readings aside, where this is all headed is quite serious. Real people will be impacted by a government shutdown. And issues that both parties believe need to be addressed like AI and the threat from China will get less attention as impeachment takes more time.
Whether it is dumb or alarming there is no obvious off-ramp in sight.