WASHINGTON: As the flames of war burn in the Middle East and Ukraine, the US Congress is immobilised by a brawl among Republicans, a dysfunction that even some in Donald Trump’s party worry is giving comfort to the nation’s adversaries.
The House of Representatives has drifted leaderless for 12 days since eight of its 221 Republicans ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy. That has held up any legislative action, from debating further aid to Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion to a statement of support for ally Israel.
Republicans on Friday nominated hardliner Jim Jordan for speaker, but it was not clear if the longtime antagonist of party leadership would have the support needed to win a floor vote this week.
McCarthy’s removal was the latest in a series of self-created crises Congress has faced in a year that saw lawmakers bring the federal government to the brink of defaulting on its $31.4 trillion in debt and just two weeks ago narrowly avert the fourth partial US government shutdown in a decade.
That latter move led to McCarthy’s ouster by colleagues angry that the spending bill passed with more Democratic than Republican votes, even though any measure passed by the House needs to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by Democratic President Joe Biden to become law.
Some House Republicans voiced frustration and anger that they have gone so long without being able to choose a leader. “The world is on fire. Our adversaries are watching what we do and … quite frankly, they like it,” said Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul.
Speaking to reporters as his colleagues huddled to discuss their next moves, McCaul added, “I see a lot of threats out there. One of the biggest threats I see is in that room because we can’t unify as a conference.” The dysfunction was undermining Americans’ already weak confidence in Congress, with two-thirds of respondents to a Reuters/Ipsos survey this month saying they did not believe Washington politicians could set aside partisan differences for the good of the nation. Half said they did not believe lawmakers could carry out their most basic function of passing laws.
Former President Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, has at times been a cheerleader for the chaos.“We hope our Republican colleagues will put an end to the self-inflicted chaos so that we can begin to govern on behalf of the American people,” Representative Pete Aguilar, a member of House Democratic leadership, told reporters. The troubles are not confined to the House.
In the Democratic-controlled Senate, a Republican has since February single-handedly held up the confirmations of hundreds of military officers, including many top commanders.
Senator Tommy Tuberville is protesting a Pentagon policy that reimburses service members for out-of-state travel to access abortions.
Meanwhile, 20 months into Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, many Republicans in Congress want to back away from additional military and economic aid to Kyiv, feeding uncertainty about the US commitment to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2023