The rise of the ‘crazy caucus’: All the ways the GOP could upend America now that they’ve won the House

Former Republicans tell Andrew Feinberg about the myriad ways a GOP-majority House could upend the country out of spite

Thursday 17 November 2022 15:24 GMT
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is followed by reporters as he arrives to a House Republican Caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol Building on November 14, 2022 in Washington, DC
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is followed by reporters as he arrives to a House Republican Caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol Building on November 14, 2022 in Washington, DC (Getty Images)

How bad could things get for the US now that Republicans – as expected – will take control of the House of Representatives in January after the midterm elections?

According to President Joe Biden, pretty bad.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room at the White House recently, the president pointed to Republican plans to use the US statutory debt limit – a legal ceiling on how much the government can spend to pay debts it has already incurred – as leverage to extract concessions from his administration, as an example of how the GOP could inflict massive wounds in pursuit of ideological victories.

“The Republican leadership in Congress has made it clear they will crash the economy next year by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States for the first time in our history, putting the United States in default unless — unless we yield to their demand to cut Social Security and Medicare,” he said.

Mr Biden’s predictions of a massive self-inflicted wound on the US and world economies at the hands of a resurgent congressional GOP aren’t just the stuff of liberal campaign fearmongering.

The man who has the best chance of replacing Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House now that Republicans have won a slim majority in the 118th Congress, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, has publicly stated his intent to use a 1917 law which restricts the government’s ability to issue new bonds beyond a set limit as a bargaining chip for negotiations over a smorgasbord of policy fights.

Last year, the Democratic-controlled House and evenly-split Senate passed legislation to increase the debt limit over the objections of GOP hardliners who wanted to play hardball with the nation’s credit to kneecap the Biden administration.

Rep Kevin McCarthy
Rep Kevin McCarthy (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Raising the debt limit used to be one of those boring housekeeping tasks that Congress had to busy itself with to keep the government running. For decades, it was non-controversial, and so routine that at one point in 1979, the House of Representatives adopted a parliamentary rule that automatically raised the limit each time Congress passed a budget.

That all changed in 1994, when the Republicans regained control of the House for the first time in nearly a half-century.

Since then, every Republican-led Congress has tried to stymie every Democratic president by weaponising the threat of a catastrophic default on America’s sovereign debt.

Last year, former Reagan administration Treasury official Bruce Bartlett told The Independent there was only a small number of GOP members who would welcome the result of a default, and those were “all f***ing morons who know absolutely nothing about finance, or how the Treasury operates or anything else”.

Ahead of the midterms, former Republican officeholders told The Independent that Republicans won’t hold back in their efforts to hurt the Biden administration, consequences be damned.

When Joe Walsh entered Congress to represent Illinois’ Eighth District in 2011, he was part of the Tea Party wave that wiped away the large Democratic majorities that had come two years before on the coattails of then-president Barack Obama.

Former Rep Joe Walsh.
Former Rep Joe Walsh. (AP)

Mr Walsh, who has since left the GOP after breaking with the party over Donald Trump, was at the time known as a firebrand with no qualms about throwing rhetorical bombs or taking legislative hostages.

In a phone interview, he conceded that he was part of what he now dubs “the crazy caucus” which instigated a showdown over the debt ceiling in 2011.

That confrontation with Mr Obama ended with Congress raising the debt limit, but not before Moody’s had downgraded its rating of US sovereign debt for the first time ever.

Asked about the incident, Mr Walsh replied: “It didn’t go well”.

He predicted the same result should an emboldened GOP Congress embark on the same path in January, but he differentiated his former colleagues with those in the future 118th Congress by suggesting that the new GOP majority would be much worse.

Mr Walsh said it’s a foregone conclusion that the new Republican majority’s first priority will be to do what he and his compatriots tried 12 years earlier, but noted that this time the “crazy caucus” will not be a vocal minority. Instead, he predicted that Mr McCarthy would be reduced to something like a speaker-in-name-only who takes marching orders from extremists and white nationalists in the party.

“I can't emphasise enough how emboldened a larger crazy caucuses going to be in the Republican Party. Kevin McCarthy will have made his second deal with the devil. The first deal was with Trump,” he said, adding that the GOP leader “has made a second deal with Marjorie Taylor Greene”.

“I think the crazy caucus is going to push the envelope in almost every way in trying to find anything they can do,” he continued, adding that the speakership will become “a nightmare” for Mr McCarthy because it will be extremists such as Ms Greene — as well as former president Donald Trump — calling the shots.

Mr Walsh also opined that the new-look Republican majority wouldn’t stop at forcing a default on the nation’s debt.

After that showdown, which could upend the world economy if the GOP doesn’t back down, he said they’d follow that up by shutting down the government when Mr Biden refuses to sign a spending bill that reverses his administration’s entire legislative programme.

He suggested that the McCarthy-led majority would also embark on a bizarro campaign of re-running the investigations Democrats launched into actual Trump-era wrongdoing when they took the House in 2019. Only this time, he said the probes would be about nothing but providing an excuse to impeach Mr Biden and other members of his administration.

“What the Democrats did for those two years. will pale in comparison to what Republicans in the House will do these next two years,” he said.

Republicans will also most likely go far beyond targeting Mr Biden and high-profile officials such as Vice President Kamala Harris or Attorney General Merrick Garland with time-consuming impeachment inquires and Senate trials.

Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene
Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (REUTERS)

But Ms Greene, who has said she expects a plum spot on the House Oversight Committee for her second term, has made no secret of her desire to target Mr Biden. She filed articles of impeachment against the president immediately after he took office, and she has sponsored more than half of the dozen-plus impeachment resolutions against him that have been introduced over the last two years.

Speaking on the right-wing Real America’s Voice network on 21 October, the Georgia congresswoman said she and her compatriots “are going to be leading a revolution in Congress” once they retake the majority.

“Biden and his family will be a top target,” she said.

Ms Greene also stated her intention to target an alphabet soup of federal departments and agencies that have displeased the right-wing base, including the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Justice, Department of Education, Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Republican House majority is almost certain to assist her in that effort by voting to reinstate a century-old parliamentary rule known as the Holman Rule, which allows Congress to zero out the salary of any individual federal employee.

The House could also use its normal budgetary authority to slash funding for any programs they disapprove of, and Republicans could also insert language into spending bills to restrict how federal funds are spent by agencies. For example, a Republican Congress could use the power of the purse to prohibit the Department of Justice from conducting any investigations into or prosecutions of Mr Trump.

The GOP has threatened to cut individual federal workers’ salaries before, in 2018, as part of a push to help Mr Trump “drain the swamp” of workers he deemed disloyal.

Michael Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor and ex-Republican National Committee chairman, told The Independent such a course of action would have trouble getting buy-in from even a Republican-controlled Senate, but suggested that even an attempt to start arbitrarily slashing the salaries of civil servants who are viewed as against Mr Trump and the GOP agenda would be in-character for the new Republican majority.

Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele
Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele (Getty Images for SiriusXM)

“That is an abuse of government power at its core,” he said.

Mr Steele elaborated on the point by noting how the House GOP conference has embraced Mr Trump’s revisionist history about the January 6 attack on the Capitol. He said the new majority won’t have much interest in following past precedents or even maintaining the functions of government.

“Of course they’re going to overreach,” he said.

Asked what he meant by “overreach” other than shutdowns, impeachments and endless sham investigations, Mr Steele pointed out that a Republican-controlled Senate could effectively end Mr Biden’s presidency out of spite by refusing to confirm any Cabinet or sub-Cabinet nominees, ambassadors or other federal officials.

The ex-GOP chairman predicted that such a course of action would damage the government’s ability to function, but said the damage would be the point.

“They stormed the f***ing Capitol — they don’t care,” he said.

“Remember, that was ‘legitimate political discourse’ – it’s power for the sake of power,” he said. “Everything falls into that ‘legitimate political discourse’ bucket now”.

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