The Congress of the United States is not Arkham Asylum, the psychiatric hospital and prison in Batman’s Gotham City.
Though if you watched the mad ranting of Minority “Leader” Kevin McCarthy, who spoke on the House floor for eight and a half hours from Thursday night until early Friday morning, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. For most of his speech there was almost no audience. For all of his speech he made no sense. His marathon babblefest achieved nothing whatsoever. But he blatherbustered on and on, full of, as Shakespeare would say, sound and fury, signifying nothing.
For a few hours during the address, McCarthy was surrounded by some other notable characters who seemed to wander in from a summer stock production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” There was Louie Gohmert, who once suggested we consider moving the moon as a way of controlling rising sea levels. Also there for a bit was North Carolina nitwit and serial liar Madison Cawthorn, the man who once said James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence and who urged conservative mothers to raise their boys to be “monsters,” spitting his chaw juice into a paper cup. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who once compared the January 6th rioters to a “normal tourist visit,” sat next to Greg Pence, the MAGA-loving brother of the vice president who Trump’s mob of normal tourists sought to hang.
Days earlier, McCarthy had been talkifying from that same lectern in an effort to protect Paul Gosar from consequences for posting an anime video depicting him killing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and attacking President Biden. Gosar is also noted for his ties to extreme right-wing groups, his support of insane conspiracy theories, and the fact that his siblings banded together to campaign against him because they felt he was unfit for office. Gosar is also a dentist, which makes things clearer. And worse.
Gosar, despite McCarthy chin-wagging, was ultimately censured by the members of the House who are actually willing to take a stand against murdering each other. Notably, that included only Republicans. Similarly, hours after McCarthy’s nocturnal emissions came to an end, the bill he stood in opposition to—President Biden’s Build Back Better initiative—was approved by the House of Representatives. (Yes, that’s right, McCarthy made the calculation that he should break the House record for the longest speech ever delivered from its floor by standing in opposition to providing hearing aids for the elderly, pre-K for children, home care for those who needed it, help for the environment and more jobs for Americans.)
These House shenanigans will come as no surprise to those who have watched the body over the past several years. We have seen one Congressman sue a fictional cow that was making fun of him. We saw another, cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs Congresswoman kicked off committees for endorsing political violence. McCarthy says both Marjorie Taylor Greene and Gosar will be put back on committees should Republicans retake the house, where they would work alongside the likes of Lauren Boebert, an extremist supporting high-school drop-out whose restaurant once managed to poison 80 people at a local fair, even as all three are being investigated by the House Select Committee to determine whether or not they provided aid and comfort to the insurrectionists who invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6.
There is no question that Gosar and Greene and Boebert cheered on the mob that interfered with the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in U.S. history. And these three are far from the only Republican lawmakers who are actively anti-democratic, have supported the Big Lie about the last election and are continuing to try to put an end to the principles on which the institution in which they serve was founded.
Do not for a minute assume the insanity is limited to the House. Pro-coup Senators like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley not only have paid no price for their active support of an assault on the Capitol, they now have, thanks to Senate rules, the power to undermine U.S. national security purely on the basis of their own individual, demonstrably bad, judgement.
You see Senate rules permit any U.S. Senator to block the confirmation of presidential nominees for top jobs. They don’t have to have a reason. They don’t have to defend their decision. They can simply phone in a “nope” to the Senate cloakroom and the nominee will not come up for a vote until they relent. Using this technique, these two guys have blocked scores of nominees for critical national security positions from ambassadors to senior departmental officials, put the U.S. at risk by doing so, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. Cruz alone blocked over 50 such nominees.
Again, they’re not alone. Just this week, Marco Rubio blocked the nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to China of Ambassador Nicholas Burns. Rubio argued he was worried Burns would be too soft on China. There is no evidence to support this argument. In fact, Burns, one of the most distinguished professional diplomats in the modern history of the U.S. State Department, once served in the number three job in the George W. Bush State Department working with noted pro-Communists like Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush himself. Even Cruz, who seemed intent to indiscriminately block Biden State Department nominees, had expressed his satisfaction with Burns. But given Senate rules, Rubio can do whatever he wants for as long as he wants whether his action is based on facts or wholesale ignorance or pure pettiness.
Not only is the Congress full of loons now, many of whom are grossly unfit for office, but even those who are qualified on paper are now behaving in grossly irrational or unethical ways. And all this is compounded by the fact that the rules of this particular nuthouse are broken. You know, like the filibuster rule that allows a minority of Senators elected by an even small minority of Americans to block progress including essential steps that may provide the only path we have to preserving our democracy.
For now, at least, the inmates aren’t running the asylum, just gumming up the works while delivering long speeches. But if Republicans retake the House and the Senate next year, things can get much, much worse.