January 20, 2022

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House Democrats’ retributions and acting like an adult in Congress

4 min read

The recent censure of Rep. Paul Gosar brought to mind a related moment from November 2016, although the thread that links the two is not immediately apparent.

Two weeks ago, the House censured the Arizona Republican and stripped him of his committee assignments because he published a cartoon in a never-ending quest for notoriety.

The censure is unimportant; no one really cares about getting their hands slapped. But this is the third time in the last 10 months that the Democrats have decided who will represent Republicans on committees. That is a bad precedent.

Since 1995, there has been a steady migration of authority from committees and individual members to House leadership. Allowing the majority party to decide who can and can’t participate in committee work and its attendant pathology of proxy voting are simply the two most recent and alarming features of that migration.

If the minority in the House can’t even make its own decisions about who will represent it on committees, which directly affects what legislation reaches the floor, what is the point of having the House minority vote at all?

Such actions guarantee reprisals, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has already promised as much. Every other Republican candidate for speaker in 2023 will no doubt follow suit.

That’s unfortunate. Unless someone stops it, the House will spiral into retributions that will leave the Congress much more driven by the caprice of leadership and the United States with a far more defective and less representative government.

There’s no telling whether the current House Republicans can see beyond their justified resentment at the unwarranted punishments for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Mr. Gosar and their treatment concerning the Jan. 6 show trial. But for the sake of the republic and its long-term health, they need to try.

What does all that have to do with November 2016?

In the middle of that unexpected and busy November, the team of then-President-elect Donald J. Trump fired New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as transition leader and essentially threw out all of the work that the transition teams had done to prepare for Mr. Trump’s first year in office.

Those careless actions ensured that the Trump administration would have a halting start and never quite hit its stride. By devaluing knowledge about government policy and processes, his new transition team — led at the time de facto by Steve Bannon — did a disservice to the president-elect and limited his ability to succeed.

A better transition would have resulted in a better presidency.

Compare this to the Biden transition for a moment. They came into office with a relatively clear focus on who they wanted to hire and what they wanted to achieve.

The results have been impressive, if dispiriting. The American Rescue Plan and the “infrastructure” plan have resulted in $3 trillion in increased federal spending. That’s not bad work for 10 months, and we have yet to suffer the indignity of whatever will happen on reconciliation.

They managed to do all this with very narrow congressional margins specifically because by the time the Inauguration rolled around, they had a plan.

The censure of Mr. Gosar and the Trump administration are both about being prepared for the job for which you campaigned.

Many members of Congress are more interested in listening to themselves talk than they are in accomplishing anything other than being a celebrity. They certainly have limited interest in performing their actual day job.

In that, they are identical to many of those in the former president’s orbit.

In both cases, the desire to be personally famous and the disinterest in how the government operates impair their ability to serve their constituents and retards the possibility of meaningful change.

If you have no clue or interest in how the machine runs, your chances of making material, durable change are pretty remote. If, on the other hand, you can focus on policy and processes for more than a handful of seconds, your chances of winning policy battles are much, much better.

The ability to focus, delay gratification, sublimate the ego, and restrain one’s less helpful impulses are all essential components of being an adult. They are also, it turns out, crucial ingredients in successful policy and political efforts.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

Michael McKenna
2021-11-26 16:58:15

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