February 2, 2023 (Thursday)
Today the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted along party lines to remove Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from her seat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Republicans voting to remove her justified their action by pointing to language she used that they say was antisemitic. She has apologized for that language.
Earlier, House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) used his own discretion to remove Democratic California representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
While these removals are often portrayed simply as a quest for revenge after Democrats removed Representatives Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from committees when they were in charge, there is a crucial difference between the cases. The Democrats removed Gosar and Greene—both members of the far-right group—after they threatened violence against their Democratic colleagues. Republicans removed Schiff and Swalwell over make-believe dangers and now have removed Omar allegedly over policy differences. At the same time, McCarthy reinstated Gosar and Greene to prime committee assignments.
The Republicans have accepted violence among Congress members.
Today’s vote is a window into a larger story. It appears the Republican Party has split, and the far-right wing is making a play to become what amounts to a third party. Its members demanded the removal of Schiff and Swalwell from the intelligence committee and Omar from foreign affairs: Schiff and Swalwell apparently because they have gone after former president Donald Trump, and Omar because she is Muslim and a woman of color.
Removing Schiff and Swalwell was relatively easy, since the speaker can determine the make-up of select committees himself. Removing Omar was dicier, since it required a vote of the House. Today, McCarthy gave the far right what they wanted, getting rid of Omar.
In order to justify it on grounds other than racism, though, he had to pretend the issue was antisemitic words. It’s a hard sell to convince people that the Republican Party cares much about antisemitism when it has embraced the openly antisemitic Ye, also known as Kanye West, and when Trump recently warned Jews that they must “get their act together…before it is too late.” Kevin McCarthy himself in November 2022 indulged in antisemitic tropes when he tweeted: “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican….”
McCarthy catered to far-right members in order to get the votes to become speaker; now he is giving those members what they want in order to keep them from ousting him and to get them on board for imperative legislation like a bill to raise the debt ceiling.
The power the far-right representatives are getting is making them a force distinct from the rest of the Republican Party. They demanded, and got, extraordinary representation on committees apart from the normal party apparatus, power over the Speaker and the introduction of bills, and now have normalized violent rhetoric within the party.
Their rise is a logical outcome of the history of the Republican Party. Back in the 1980s, those Republicans determined to get rid of government regulation of business and social programs did two things.
First, they insisted that any government regulation of business or provision of a basic social safety net was “socialism” because, they claimed, the tax dollars that such government action cost would come from those with money—who they implied would be white people—and thus would redistribute wealth from hardworking white men to those who benefited from such programs. This idea has nothing to do with the modern definition of socialism, which means government ownership of the means of production. Instead, it is a holdover from the Reconstruction years in the United States, when white supremacists insisted that Black voting would mean a redistribution of wealth as formerly enslaved people voted for lawmakers who promised to fix roads, and build schools and hospitals.
Second, Republicans in the 1980s made a deliberate decision to court voters with religion, racism, and sexism in order to hold onto power. Antitax crusader Grover Norquist brought business leaders, evangelicals, and social conservatives into a coalition to win elections in 1985. “Traditional Republican business groups can provide the resources,” he said, “but these groups can provide the votes.” Over the decades their focus on religion, race, and sex ramped up until it took on a power of its own, stronger than the pro-business ideology of those who fed it.
Now, a generation later, that rhetoric has led to its logical conclusion: the Republicans have created a group of voters and their representatives who are openly white supremacists and who believe that any attempt to use the government to hold the economic playing field level is socialism. They are overwhelmingly evangelicals. They back former president Trump or someone like him and are eager to break the power of the current government even if it means defaulting on our debt. They threaten violence.
With the Republican Party just barely in control of the House, that group now wields enough power that it divides the House into three groups: the Democrats, the Republicans who want to cut taxes and gut regulation, and the Republicans who want to destroy the “socialist” government, want to keep white people in charge, support Trump or someone similar, are fervently Christian, and openly court violence.
Today, the House voted to condemn socialism—another attempt to appease that far right—while Republicans then chided those Democrats who refused to vote in favor of that condemnation because they said they thought it was a setup to cut Social Security and Medicare as socialism. (They are not socialism.)
Also today, former president Trump “retruthed” the words of a person who warned that he and “80,000,000” were willing to fight for Trump and were “Locked and LOADED.” In the House, some of the far-right group are wearing AR-15 pins, but when Emine Yücel of Talking Points Memo asked Representative Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) why she was wearing one, her office answered that it was “about sponsoring a gun bill and has nothing to do with whatever blueanon conspiracy theories are being floated on Capitol Hill,” a reference to the idea that Democrats-- rather than the Republicans like Greene who were QAnon adherents-- are embracing conspiracy theories. The members wearing the pins have not, so far, introduced any gun bills.
This is alarming, but it is not the first time an extremist minority in Congress has organized, determined to control the country. In 1879, for example, before the parties switched into their current arrangement, Democratic former Confederates banded together, demanded the leadership of key committees—which the exceedingly weak speaker gave them—and set out to make the Republican president, Rutherford B. Hayes, get rid of key Republican policies by refusing to fund the government until he caved.
With the support of House minority leader James A. Garfield, Hayes stood firm, recognizing that allowing a minority of the opposition party to dictate to the elected government by holding it hostage would undermine the system set up in the Constitution. The parties fought it out for months until, in the end, the American people turned against the Democrats, who backed down. In the next presidential election, which had been supposed to be a romp for the Democrats, voters put Garfield, the Republican who had stood against the former Confederates, into the White House.