With John Boehner set to step down as Speaker of the House at the end of month and the most likely candidate Kevin McCarthy stepping down over allegations that he had an affair, the GOP is plunging into an even more chaotic quagmire than usual, it’s hard to say who will be the next Speaker. With absolutely no viable candidates and some of the more important Republicans like Paul Ryan flat-out refusing to take over for their outgoing orange leader, and clearly unqualified embarrassments to humanity like Jason Chaffitz as the only people willing to do the job, one must ask one’s self…why?
Think Progress points out that one major problem is the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 40 legislative terrorists affiliated with extreme right-wing elements like the Tea Party. The Freedom Caucus may seem like a harmless group of racists, homophobes, and intellectual neanderthals that loses relevance if we ignore them, but they’re actually surprisingly powerful. Currently, there are 247 Republicans in the House of Representatives — far too many, after the disastrous 2014 election (get out and vote in the midterms, Democrats). A candidate for Speaker needs the support of 218 Republicans — an unattainable goal without the support of the Freedom Caucus.
Winning the support of the Freedom Caucus is easy. A questionnaire obtained by Politico reveals, however, that it will be nigh-impossible for anyone reasonable to become Speaker. Effectively, we can be assured that anyone who becomes Speaker will have one goal in mind: assuring that the United States’ destruction.
The Freedom Caucus presents its wishes as something approaching reasonable. In a CNN interview, David Brat, a high-ranking member of the Freedom Caucus, outlined what they say they want:
“Anyone that ensures a fair process for all sides. That’s what we are all looking for, right… We’ve shown principle. We are waiting for leadership candidates to put in writing moves that ensure you have a democratic process within our own conference. That is what everyone is waiting to see. And it’s got to be in writing, ahead of time for that to be credible.”
Unfortunately, words don’t mean the same things to the extreme Right as the rest of us. On Thursday, Politico revealed a questionnaire the Freedom Caucus sent to prospective Speakers-in-Waiting, and it’s downright frightening. The publication correctly described the questionnaire as suggesting changes to the House rules — changes that would be favorable to the same group of politicians who want gay marriage to be punishable by death by phonebook beating.
For instance, the Caucus wants the next Speaker to only agree to a debt limit increase if it is tied to “entitlement” reforms. In other words, each time the debt limit needs raised, the Freedom Caucus wants the poor to suffer. With the next battle over whether or not the United States will default on its financial obligations coming soon (and tact that the bedt limit will be reached November 5), this could have dire consequences for our nation. In fact, according to a 2013 Treasury Department report, “default could result in recession comparable to or worse than 2008 financial crisis.”
The next Speaker, if the Freedom Caucus has its way, will push for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act:
In addition, no funding bills could include money for Planned Parenthood, “unconstitutional amnesty,” the Iran deal, or Obamacare:
In other words, when the government runs out of money on December 11, the Freedom Caucus wants us to go into shutdown mode as we did in 2013 when the GOP threw a high-cost temper tantrum over Obamacare. Basically, they want an ideological clone of Ted Cruz to be Speaker of the House.
McCarthy didn’t drop out because of a little affair. Hell, that’s child’s play compared to some of the things we have seen from the right. Kim Davis refuses to resign after blatantly violating American citizens’ constitutional rights. New York lawmaker Michael Kelsey (R) refused to resign after he was accused of molesting a 15-year-old on a boy scout camping trip. Republicans don’t care about quite literally anything, as long as you say Jesus forgave you.
McCarthy realized that, even if he could get the votes needed without capitulating to demands that will effectively destroy America as we know it, he would still need to deal with the Freedom Caucus. Even someone as extreme as McCarthy realizes that he needs to step up his game on that front if he wants the Freedom Caucus to take him seriously. He needs to be ready to criminalize poverty, institute the death penalty for same-sex marriage, destroy women’s health, defund the public school system, and destroy our infrastructure to even begin to be someone these 40 extremists will deal with. No one wants that responsibility, even someone who is widely considered too stupid to become Speaker (and the Freedom Caucus wants the stupiderest person they can find).
Even if McCarthy managed to find himself as Speaker, it is doubtful he could do much good in staving off the destruction of the United States. He isn’t quite sure he could manage to get enough votes to keep the government running or raise the debt ceiling even if he wanted to. As conservative extremists are holding the House hostage to their unreasonable demands — like a bank robber screaming that he wants a unicorn equipped with ballistic missiles, or he’s going to shoot someone — McCarthy even seems to consider the House entirely ungovernable.
It’s no wonder Boehner wanted out. He’s almost completely inept, but even he sees the truth: Conservatives are holding America at gunpoint, and there’s not much the Speaker of the current House of representatives can accomplish without figuring out where to find a unicorn large enough to accommodate ballistic missiles.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.