Calmes: Let's count the reasons Democrats have no business helping the House GOP elect a speaker

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., arrives as Republicans meet to decide who to nominate to be the new House speaker, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) emerged as Republicans' latest nominee for speaker, then as its latest dropout, unable to get to 217 votes. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

It’s not worth debating the daily drivel from former Speaker Kevin McCarthy that his sacking three weeks ago, and Republicans' failure to unite behind a successor, is Democrats’ fault — that Democrats, by voting with a minority of Republicans first against McCarthy and then against seditionist Rep. Jim Jordan, are to blame for the House’s ongoing paralysis.

Just ask yourself: If a Democrat had moved to unseat McCarthy’s predecessor, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, would McCarthy and other Republicans have voted to keep his fellow Californian in the job?

Right. Not just no, but hell no.

And yet, a couple separate questions that are gnawing at some Democrats are worthy of consideration: Should House Democrats have tried to save McCarthy? And now that he’s whacked, should they form some coalition with the relatively few sane Republicans to elect a speaker?

For me the answers are still no and no. And I say that even though my inclination after years of covering Congress is to favor compromise and consensus-building for the good of the institution and the country, even if the outcome — in this case, a speaker — isn’t one you’d have picked for yourself.

Read more: Calmes: Has the Republican Party grown so anti-government that it cannot govern at all?

On Tuesday, House Republicans nominated a third speaker candidate, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota. But as with Jordan, of Ohio, and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Lousiana, Emmer fell far short of what he needed to win a majority on the House floor, assuming Democrats would oppose him. So, like Scalise, Emmer dropped out of contention, leaving Republicans further humiliated and resorting to nighttime votes on additional candidates who will never be speaker, with the House still inoperable.

Emmer had a big handicap — former President Trump had telegraphed his thumbs-down. Emmer had done the unforgivable as far as the Don and his House henchmen are concerned: He was among the minority of House Republicans who voted on Jan. 6, 2021, post-mayhem, to certify Joe Biden’s election as president. That vote, and Emmer's relatively moderate record generally, might have made him a contender for some Democrats' votes. But he couldn't have made a deal with them without hemorrhaging Republican support.

That dynamic underscores why Democrats haven’t seriously broached the idea of negotiating a speaker compromise with Republicans, despite their professed openness, and it only makes sense: In reality, there has been no one to negotiate with.

Read more: Column: These California Republicans voted for Jim Jordan and against the good of the country. Remember their names

That brings us back to the question of why Democrats didn’t help McCarthy, if only to avoid ending up with a worse speaker (as Jordan’s candidacy threatened). For starters, McCarthy refused just hours before his defenestration to bargain with Democrats.

Not only did he not offer Democrats anything — he gave them more than ample reason to oppose him. Two days before the Republican motion to unseat him, McCarthy enraged Democrats by falsely claiming on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that they’d tried to block his stopgap government-funding compromise that averted a federal shutdown. In fact, Democrats had merely sought a few hours to read the bill — justifiably not trusting McCarthy’s description of it — and then provided more votes than Republicans did to pass the measure.

Read more: Calmes: Could Jim Jordan do anything other than tear government apart?

Months earlier, McCarthy reneged on the spending cuts deal he'd made with President Biden to prevent the nation from defaulting on its debt. He simply caved to his party’s extremists and authorized deeper cuts, setting up a new impasse with the Senate and the president (and the prospect of a government shutdown in mid-November).

Also, McCarthy and Jordan are the two Republicans most responsible for the now-stalled, and groundless, impeachment inquiry against Biden. Should Democrats reward them with votes for speaker?

Another factor supporting Democrats’ stand: tradition. For two centuries, since political parties evolved, the majority has nominated and elected one of its own for speaker, typically without any votes from the minority party. McCarthy’s ouster Oct. 3 was unprecedented in U.S. history, and now Republicans are making more history by their inability to unite behind a replacement. It would be ahistorical for Democrats to bail them out.

Read more: Calmes: House Republicans should stop following Netanyahu's chaotic example

And here’s yet another justification for Democrats’ stance, though not one I endorse necessarily: Their pro-government predilection for making the government work is running up against pressure from party voters to fight.

As Republicans in recent years have become more brazen in their partisan tactics — denying the legitimacy of Biden’s election, blocking President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and ramming through three of their own, and gerrymandering congressional districts, just to name a few — Democratic voters have become ever more vocal in urging their party’s pols to grow spines.

Democrats have signaled what they'd want if Republicans would negotiate, and they aren’t asking for the moon. The workaday nature of their asks speaks to Republicans’ extremism. They want Republicans to agree to prevent a government shutdown, fund the government at the spending levels agreed to in the debt deal, and provide further military aid to Ukraine as well as to Israel, and humanitarian assistance for Palestinians — all things Republicans should support on their own.

Read more: Calmes: McCarthy flopped, but blame the chaos on the entire Republican Party

One last hurdle to consider: Let's say that Democrats do somehow help Republicans out of their jam. They know that no sooner would the House reopen for business than Republicans would return to their own destructive business, not least their search for some reason to impeach the Democratic president.

The headless House majority is a problem of Republicans’ making. They must solve it, and make concessions to Democrats if necessary. As depressing as this paralysis is, it has had this benefit: Republicans have been exposed for their radicalism and thus their inability to govern. That’s good for voters to see before they go to the polls next year.


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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.