The Politics of Anarchy

Rep. Kevin McCarthy has failed to be elected House Speaker in six rounds of voting.

It’s a bad day for America. Not January 6th bad or 9/11 bad, perhaps, but looks-bad-to-allies-and-enemies-alike bad, harms vulnerable Americans like LGBTQ folks bad, keeps the country in stasis bad, ignores the dictates of the Constitution bad. 

Philadelphians have a close connection to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Republicans do not.

As I write this, it’s day two without a Speaker of the House and without a House of Representatives. Along with the rest of America, I’ve just watched House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy lose a fifth ballot vote for election to the post he has wanted for a decade and already lost once before to Paul Ryan.

To say that this unprecedented event, which last happened in 1923 and only once since the Civil War, is Schadenfreude, karma and the ultimate f*ck around and find out, is to understate what is happening here. Kevin McCarthy is a craven quisling Trump toady undeserving of the speakership, and especially undeserving to take the gavel from Nancy Pelosi. 

But why? What makes McCarthy so unpopular even to his own party?

None of the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC over the past couple days seems to recall that it was McCarthy who led the inside-the-chamber insurrection on January 6th by coalescing 140 GOP to vote to decertify the 2020 election. McCarthy started with Pennsylvania. He started with my vote, my late wife’s vote and your vote. He wanted to keep Donald Trump in power at any cost. And we have since seen what that cost has entailed.

After the actual insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, McCarthy had a moment of realizing things were unraveling and gave a speech on the House floor to that effect. Then he had a frisson of fear and flew down to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s…ring and make nice.

McCarthy has continued to make nice with and cater to the most vile, insurrectionist-supporting, Constitution-shredding, misogynist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and ableist members of the House GOP. 

Yet despite repeatedly bending to the will of the most extremist members of the party, those very people are now running a mini-coup against him for Speaker. Leading that charge are Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Chip Roy (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Pennsylvania’s Scott Perry.

In a better system, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the Democratic leader, would have been made Speaker after the first ballot when he beat McCarthy by 10 votes, irrespective of winning only 212 of the 218 votes needed to elect the Speaker. Jeffries has an unwavering totality of the Democrats and that unification should matter to the country if not the chamber itself.

This display of Republicans in disarray isn’t pretty. More than that, it’s emblematic of the breathtaking incompetence and politics of anarchy that defines not just the inaptly named extremists in the Freedom Caucus, but the leadership itself. Throughout the midterms the GOP ran a scurrilously anti-LGBTQ campaign. They regularly referred to “groomers” and “men in dresses” and pushed a narrative that LGBTQ people were out to harm children and also had a dangerous agenda. 

As the balloting continues, with pressure on McCarthy to drop out of the race as he keeps being unable to reach a consensus vote, conservatives and pundits are floating the name of the GOP’s second in command, Steve Scalise.

As terrible as McCarthy is, Steve Scalise represents the absolute worst and most dangerous politics of the GOP. This is not new. A Louisiana Republican, Scalise is thoroughly MAGA and was deeply extremist long before Donald Trump held the GOP in thrall. 

Scalise is definingly anti-choice. He’s for heartbeat bills with no exceptions for rape or incest. He’s for anti-LGBTQ legislation including rolling back same-sex marriage after a Black lesbian cop, Crystal Griner took fire to save his life and kept him from bleeding to death. To pay her back, he voted against the Equality Act, twice.  

As much as people might want to see McCarthy humiliated after all his claims of a red wave that would add 60 new GOP seats to the House, when he is only in this position because he can only lose four seats, the fact is, this is bad for America. It’s bad to not have a Speaker. It’s bad to not have a House. The GOP won by the most slender of margins but win they did, and now we have to move on with governance.

Is that possible? For LGBTQ people this is an alarming time. All the choices are bad for queer and trans people. The so-called moderate Republican no longer exists and in their stead are the extremists who think McCarthy is a RINO. Far right protests targeting the LGBTQ community have shown a clear link with violent attacks, according to a recent study I reported on last month. The rhetoric of people like the 20 rogue GOP who refuse to vote for McCarthy has fueled that violence, just as it fueled the violence of January 6th. 

The country is at a crossroads, and this debacle in the House exemplifies just how far the GOP is from the needs and desires of most Americans who rejected the worst MAGA Republican candidates. Whatever happens next, what we know is that 2023 won’t be about governance from the right. It will be about obstruction, threats, and, as the reveals from the closed door conferencing on the Speakership showed, more hateful rhetoric. How much of that will center LGBTQ people and put them more at risk remains to be seen.