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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

House Democrats have swapped a rival for someone much worse

Democrats doomed McCarthy’s speakership — only to receive a far-right election and climate denier instead.


House Speaker Mike Johnson is pictured following his election.

When Kevin McCarthy was ousted as the U.S. House of Representatives speaker on Oct. 3, many of my Democratic friends laughed and celebrated while the Republican Party entered meltdown mode. Vote after vote, the Republicans in the House desperately attempted to elevate one of their own to the House speakership but failed spectacularly each time. The far-right wing and the moderate wing of the party battled for the top job of the House while the government stood at a standstill. Finally, on Oct. 25, this utter chaos on the House floor came to an end as Republicans chose Rep. Mike Johnson as House speaker.

Democrats are quick to condemn Speaker Johnson for his hard-right evangelical views and his repeated denial of the 2020 election, even though they indirectly contributed to his success by refusing to help McCarthy keep the speakership. While Democrats cannot be wholly blamed for this circus of a speakership election, it is important to realize that the Democrats have swapped out a political rival for one much more extreme, and this action will hurt them going forward.

Kevin McCarthy, for all his faults, is at least part of the mainstream, a traditional Republican who still clings to the ideology of Ronald Reagan. While not by any means a centrist, at least McCarthy was willing enough to work with Democrats to avert a government shutdown and a debt crisis. He was also ‘moderate’ enough to support Ukraine, even as the rest of his caucus began opposing more aid for their war against Russia. While it’s important to admit that McCarthy was not entirely trustworthy to Democrats, he was at least someone they could work with in a bipartisan setting. Instead, Democrats chose to oust him from the speakership, not realizing the alternative would be so much worse.

Immediately after McCarthy’s ouster came Rep. Steve Scalise’s bid for House speakership. Scalise previously reportedly described himself as “David Duke without the baggage.” He has refused to accept the election results of 2020 and attended a white supremacist gathering in 2002, making him a comparatively worse House speaker choice for Democrats. Still, Scalise’s hard-right colleagues didn’t consider him conservative enough, torpedoing his chances at the speakership.

Amidst this new speakership battle, another conflict erupted on Oct. 7 in the Middle East as Hamas launched a brutal attack on Israel, introducing more chaos to the world stage. As the fighting escalated and the need for strong leadership increased, the U.S. House fell deeper into anarchy. With Scalise dropping out of the race on Oct. 12, Republicans turned to Jim Jordan of Ohio. Jordan, one of the leaders of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, is even more conservative than Scalise. He also refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election and has been branded a “legislative terrorist” by former speaker and Republican colleague John Boehner. His bid for the speakership was thankfully stopped by moderate members of the Republican party. The Republicans next tapped Tom Emmer, whose nomination lasted just four hours before he dropped out due to opposition from former president Donald Trump and the far right. This finally leads us to Mike Johnson, the new House speaker.

Johnson was a chief architect of former President Trump's legal attempts to overturn the 2020 election and a disciple of Jim Jordan. In the House, Johnson spent most of 2020 gathering support for a Texas lawsuit seeking to throw out election results from four states. During his stint in the Louisiana state legislature, Johnson spoke out in denial of human-caused climate change and supported the criminalization of same-sex consensual sex. He is a hardcore Evangelical Christian who has in the past described homosexuality as “inherently unnatural,” suggested human-caused climate changes are merely natural cycles over the span of the Earth’s history and said people who perform abortions should get imprisoned with hard labor and fined $10,000 to $100,000.

While Democrats can rest easy hoping that Johnson’s controversial, hard-right evangelical brand of politics will lead to an easier election next cycle, this entire speakership debacle could have been avoided if they just voted to save Kevin McCarthy. Instead, they have allowed the House to fall into chaos at a crucial time. The ascension of Mike Johnson and the nomination of Scalise and Jordan have dangerously normalized the positions of the far right in mainstream politics. When “David Duke without the baggage” can be considered a moderate candidate, we must realize that both sides of the aisle have failed to safeguard America against extremists. Democrats’ refusal to save McCarthy mainly stemmed from his refusal to negotiate or give concessions; now they have Mike Johnson who seems he would rather cut off his own legs than work with the other side of the aisle. Democrats will now have to weather whatever insane agenda Speaker Johnson has before an election can hopefully oust him. Who knows what kind of damage he will have done by then.