Congress: The tail (Garrett and HFC) wagging the dog


There are 435 members of the House of Representatives – 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats. A majority vote of 218 members gets a new speaker elected. There are more than enough Republicans to achieve a majority. However if 30 Republicans do not vote in favor of the main candidate, most recently Kevin McCarthy, and no Democrats support the GOP candidate, for which at this point they have no incentive, then voilà the tail is wagging the dog.

New Jersey’s arch conservative Scott Garrett (R-5) played a major role in the disarray which ensued. He is a founder of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) with some 40 members which had decided the day before to vote as a bloc for Florida Rep. Daniel Webster instead of McCarthy. Then McCarthy dropped out of the race.

In January Scott Garrett and other members voted unsuccessfully to replace John Boehner as speaker with Webster. The hard-liners thought they got half their wish when Boehner announced he would resign. They tried again this week by voting for Webster, but failed. In their wake there is uncertainty about the up- coming need to increase the debt limit (Nov. 5) and reauthorize federal funding (Dec. 11).

No good can come from this imbroglio, reminiscent of what happens in other countries where there are multiple parties and the highest vote-getter often needs to coalesce with one more other parties to form a majority. It is as if the HFC were not members of the Republican party but a separate entity. This is largely a result of gerrymandered highly conservative congressional districts and the rise of the Tea Party.

However, NJ Congressional District 5 during the 2014 election had 132,000 registered Republicans and 120,000 Democrats. The additional 233,000 unaffiliated voters move between parties. This is a district which is winnable for Democrats. With Garrett’s allegiance to HFC, CD 5 voters do not realize he is hardly a Republican. They are now learning about his dangerous adventure in the speaker election, and recently about his homophobia, which led the well-regarded political scientist Brigid Callahan Harrison to conclude: “Garrett must go.”

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