House leaders in both parties are acting like ill-behaved preadolescents in their squabbling about committee assignments.
The most unconscionable entry into the race to the bottom came Thursday from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. He said he may actually promote controversial GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona if Republicans retake the House majority after the 2022 midterm elections.
Gosar and Greene are embarrassments to Congress who repeatedly have trafficked in bigotry and dangerous conspiracy theories. McCarthy, though, is angry that Democrats trampled congressional protocol by evicting the two of them from all committee assignments. In response, he said that if Republicans prevail in midterm balloting, he may award them even better committee spots than they previously held.
In other words, because McCarthy thinks Democrats overreached in punishing the two for bad behavior, he actually will reward them for it. The Republican leader’s reaction is puerile.
Let’s parse all this.
Traditionally, once the two parties determine (based on election results nationwide) how many members each party will get on each committee, each party makes the determination of what assignments go to each of its members. The majority party technically has the ultimate say on assignments, but by custom, it defers to the minority’s committee choices.
Greene, a freshman member of Congress, has a long history of statements expressing contempt for minorities and suggesting that mass shootings and even the 9/11 plane that flew into the Pentagon weren’t real. While Greene was still a candidate, McCarthy himself released a statement calling her comments “appalling” and saying he “has no tolerance for them,” while House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana endorsed her primary opponent and said, “The comments made by Ms. Greene are disgusting and don’t reflect the values of equality and decency that make our country great.” Even after she took office, McCarthy denounced her and Gosar together for “nativist dog whistles ” that suggest this nation was “built on identity, race or religion.” In sum, McCarthy knows both representatives bring discredit to the House.
House Republican leaders should have led the way in removing Greene from committee assignments. Instead, in a fit of pique because Democrats infringed upon Republican prerogatives by doing it themselves, McCarthy says he may ignore the misbehavior of her and Gosar (of whom, more momentarily) and treat them even better than before.
This is as absurd as deciding that if someone guilty of a misdemeanor is wrongly charged with a felony, the proper response is to reward him for the misdemeanor just to punish the authorities who overreacted to the infraction. In this case, it sends the message that bigotry, noxious conspiracy-mongering and violent rhetoric are not just welcomed but valued by the Republican Party. It’s a horrible message.
None of which, though, makes the tactics of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats right. Unwritten rules of intraparty respect are as important as any written strictures in keeping Capitol Hill even semi-operational. By gutting the opposition party’s authority to make its own committee assignments, Pelosi violates those unwritten but long-standing codes of conduct. In a Congress already largely dysfunctional, this further assault on institutional norms ill-serves the public by destroying whatever vestiges of functionality remain.
Likewise, when Democrats censured Gosar this past week, a move once seen as a serious and solemn rebuke rather than a partisan “gotcha,” they overreacted to an action by Gosar that was merely stupid rather than dangerous.
Gosar had posted on Twitter a cartoon video that was a mock-up of superhero battles. In it, a character with Gosar’s face wielded a sword against a series of “bad guys,” one of whom briefly (and to me, almost imperceptibly) featured the face of progressive Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and another of whom featured the likeness of President Joe Biden.
It was a stupid stunt, beneath the dignity of Congress, but anyone with the slightest sense of proportion would see it was not intended as a serious depiction of harm to Ocasio-Cortez or Biden.
It was a breach of decorum, not a major offense. Perhaps it merited a formal resolution of disapproval, one that should have been bipartisan and maybe unanimous, rather than a formal but highly partisan censure and the eviction of Gosar from committees. Especially considering that Pelosi repeatedly has failed to police her own radical members adequately for multiple offensive statements and actions, the Democrats’ hypocrisy and overkill were stark.
Still, at least the Democrats were punishing Greene and Gosar for bad behavior, multiple examples thereof. McCarthy, who earlier had pledged “no tolerance” for shenanigans such as Greene’s and Gosar’s, now actually is suggesting they merit new political benefits. This is inane — and indeed flat-out immoral. His Republican colleagues should disabuse him of his awful idea.