A Modest Proposal

As the GOP members of the House of Representatives continue to flail around trying to find a solution to their problem with electing a speaker, they seem to be trying the same thing of having a candidate forum and selecting a nominee only to have that person withdraw because they cannot get the 217 votes needed on the House floor to win. The difference is that the time taken to find a nominee and having his candidacy collapse is getting shorter and shorter, which is progress of a sort. Late Tuesday night, they voted for Mike Johnson to be their latest nominee. He beat out the Byron Donalds in the final round by 128 to 29 with 49 not voting for either. That means that another five were not even present in the room. They will vote Wednesday morning to see whether he can get the necessary 217 votes or meet the same fate as the previous nominees and have to withdraw. That Johnson got just 129 votes does not augur well for him.

If there is yet another failure, I think they need to try something different and so I am offering a modest proposal. Despite the title of this post suggesting that it is some kind of Swiftian satire, I offer it in all earnestness as a way out of the impasse.

The problem as I see it is that there are many members of the Republican conference who have specific demands of the nominee that they are unwilling to budge from and serve to automatically disqualify a candidate who does not agree with them. But these demands are idiosyncratic and hence all over the map. Some oppose aid to Ukraine. Some oppose raising the debt ceiling. Some want a federal abortion ban. Some oppose transgender people serving in the military. Some want to cut the budget by a certain amount. Some want investigations of the attorney general Merrick Garland and the FBI. And so on. The list is long.

The current system first selects a person and it is only after that process is it learned that there are sufficient disqualifiers to prevent that person getting the 217 votes.

My suggestion is that all the GOP members first be asked what issues are non-negotiable for them and then put those all on a spreadsheet, with the members listed down the side and their demands listed across the top, and the appropriate boxes checked. That way, any candidate knows right from the beginning if too many people will vote against them because of their views and what they need to change in order to get that number below the critical number of five. Then one needs to only vote for those from that reduced pool of people who qualify to find a nominee who can get 217 votes. This will save a lot of time.

Why am I suggesting a way for Republicans to get out of the mess that they have created for themselves? It is because I am a nerd who likes to solve problems and hates to see people trying the same futile thing over and over again. That overcame my schadenfreude at seeing a party that has become a home for hate become a circular firing squad.

But another reason is that there is no chance that my plan will be adopted, even if it is seen as workable. That is because it requires people to state their objections right up front and will commit them to vote for a candidate who meets their demands. That leaves out a hidden factor in these dealings and that is that some members at least like to use their votes as leverage with a nominee to get things that benefit themselves, such as plum committee appointments, choice offices, funding for projects in their districts, and so on. This is what Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene did back in January when Kevin McCarthy sought their votes. Committing in advance as to how they will vote will take away the main bargaining chip they have. It also leaves out those who seek to undermine a candidate that meets their demands but is not the one they really want. For example, there are strong suspicions that allies of McCarthy are trying to get him back in office and are tanking whoever becomes the nominee, even as McCarthy pretends to be a team player and votes for the nominee.

I can come up with solutions to some problems. I am helpless when greed, ambition, ego, and self-seeking are part of the mix.

Stephen Colbert comments on the speaker fiasco, Jenna Ellis’s plea deal, and SSAT’s startling linguistic discovery.


  1. ardipithecus says

    Here’s another solution that won’t happen:

    5 moderate Republicans cross the floor and join the Democrats.

  2. says

    If the mythical “moderate” Republican really exists then it looks like the only way out of this mess is for a few of them to emerge from hiding and vote to put the adults in charge by electing a Democratic speaker. Yes, even in a purple district it will cost them their seat most likely, but they could run on showing that they’re willing to do what it takes to get work done. It’s fine to have some asks, but don’t do the usual Republican thing where “compromise” and “bipartisanship” means “give me everything I want.”

  3. Dunc says

    The really important question now is: what happens when it becomes apparent (as if it isn’t apparent already) that they’re never going to come up with a candidate that can get 217 votes?

    As I see it, there are only 3 ways out of this impasse:

    1. Enough of the nutjobs and saboteurs in the GOP have some kind of epiphany that causes them to stop being obstructionist jerks and elect a speaker in the conventional way;
    2. Enough Republicans decide that they’re sufficiently sick of the antics of the nutjobs and saboteurs in their party to cross the floor and vote for a Democrat, even if that means the ends of their political careers;
    3. Enough Democrats decide that they’re sufficiently sick of the antics of the nutjobs and saboteurs in the GOP to cross the floor and vote for a Republican, even if that means the ends of their political careers and the Republicans immediately going full scorched-earth, nuke-the-site-from-orbit on their asses.

    I don’t see option #1 happening, because it relies on people who are basically opposed to the fundamental concept of democratic governance at the federal level having a massive change of heart. They actively want to collapse the federal government, and this is a means for them to do that.

    So, which of the other two options do we think is the more likely? Or is there another option that I’ve missed?

    For my part, I think option 2 is marginally more likely, but still very unlikely. I think they’re going to sleepwalk into another budget shutdown before that happens.

    As for your suggestion… There’s another reason it can never work, which is that it’s predicated on the notion that this is a matter of basically rational trade-offs amongst people with divergent but nevertheless identifiable ideological positions. In reality, we’re dealing with people whose objections to any given candidate are basically WHARGARBL: “I won’t vote for X unless he promises to defund the Jewish space lasers!”, “Well, I won’t vote for Y unless they agree to immanentize the eschaton!”, “And I won’t vote for Z unless they make Wednesdays fortnightly, and a different colour!”

    You can’t reason with the unreasonable.

  4. says

    There’s another problem with your option #3: any Republican who gets, or look like he’s going to get, elected Speaker with Democratic votes, will be irredeemably tainted in his colleagues’ eyes, and will have to either run away and refuse to accept the job, or do everything he can to shaft and demonize the Democrats both before and after being formally elected.

    All the idiots who are demanding the Democrats help the Republicans out here are missing this obvious problem. The Democrats won’t win anything by helping Republicans form a coalition. The Republicans won’t even be gracious enough to say “thank you,” let alone make a single significant concession in return for our capitulation generous helping hand.

  5. Robbo says

    how about promoting the 4th position in line to the presidency to the speaker?

    make the President Pro Tempore of the Senate the new speaker of the house.

    oh, wait, Patty Murray is a Dem. no way that would be accepted.

  6. Dunc says

    @#5: That’s what I meant when I said that consequences for the Democrats of supporting a Republican would likely include “the Republicans immediately going full scorched-earth, nuke-the-site-from-orbit on their asses”.

    And yes, obviously the Dems would be very, very foolish indeed to expect any kind of thanks, but they would at least end up with the House able to do business again, which might be considered worth having since you’re currently only 23 days away from another shutdown. Obviously the temptation is to allow the shutdown and blame the GOP (entirely fairly, since this is completely their mess), but I think there’s perhaps an argument to be made that a functioning government (even a very badly functioning government) is more important than scoring political points. But yeah, I totally understand why people wouldn’t want to go down that route.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    I just got the message that the Republicans have appointed the election denier and national abortion ban proponent Mike Johnson as speaker.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    …which sounds like some kind of Alex Jones clone. On the positive side there might be a lot of unintentional comedy.

  9. Dunc says

    Ok, I was wrong -- turns out they can unite behind someone after all, as long as they’re awful enough.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    The openly gay congresswoman Angie Craig taunted the new speaker Mike Johnson right away (he supported the ‘don’t say Gay’ nonsense).

    I have never heard of Mike Johnson before. Methinks he has been elevated beyond his competence, which opens the possibility for hilarious blunders in the coming year.

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