Reporter’s Notebook: Santos adds baggage to GOP’s House majority takeoff

There are ignominious trades in baseball history.

The Cincinnati Reds dealt Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles in late 1965. Robinson then captured the Triple Crown in 1966. The Chicago Cubs traded Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals. Brock then went on to become one of the greatest base stealers in Major League history.

The Boston Red Sox shipped Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros in exchange for Larry Andersen. No one has ever heard of Larry Andersen. But everyone in Cooperstown, N.Y., has heard of Bagwell.

House Republicans appear to have made a trade of their own, exchanging one headache for another: Departing Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., for Rep.-elect George Santos, R-N.Y.

Santos is now the best-known House Republican freshman. He will enter Congress next week with more baggage than Southwest Airlines.

This is not how Republicans envisioned launching their House majority in January.

Republicans begin with a scant 222-212 advantage over the Democrats. There were forecasts that the party might score a 50-seat majority. And, because the GOP margin is so thin, it’s far from clear that Republicans will coalesce around House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to become Speaker when the new Congress starts January 3rd. There’s even infighting among prominent Republicans. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., got into a nasty Twitter spat around the holidays with Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.

We don’t know if McCarthy will eventually emerge as speaker or someone else, but one thing is clear: the man with the easiest job in Washington is incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

‘I am not a member of any organized political party,’ professed American humorist Will Rogers. ‘I am a Democrat.’

Democrats begin 2023 look like the Harlem Globetrotters, dribbling circles around Republicans, suited up as the ne’er-do-well Washington Generals. 

House Republicans are likely weeks behind in their efforts to organize committees and launch various investigations into the Biden Administration. That’s because GOPers don’t agree as to who should be Speaker. And, if someone besides McCarthy takes the gavel, that individual may not necessarily stick to the same promises the California Republican doled out to various rank-and-file members about committee assignments.

The House of Representatives is stymied from doing anything until it selects as speaker. Anything. It bears repeating.

The House can’t even swear-in members, which means the House isn’t functioning until it taps a speaker. The speaker of the House swears in the entire House, en masse. That means without a speaker, there are no committees. No legislation. No nothing.

It may take several roll call votes on January 3 to pick a speaker. In fact, it could possibly take a few days or weeks. The process consumed two months in 1856.

Even if Republicans finally rally around a successful speaker candidate, that person’s power may be diminished from the start. That’s because they eitherwill have to make a lot of concessions that will undercut the natural power of the speaker, or Republicans may settle for a second, third or lesser choice.

This does not quite match the grandiose predictions Republicans made for the House when they campaigned for the majority all year. Republican disorganization threatens to become the hallmark of the next Congress if the GOP can’t get it together soon.

With such a narrow majority, House Republicans may be out of alignment with the conservative GOP base. Pro-MAGA constituents are demanding big investigations into President Biden, Hunter Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The ultra-right speaks of impeachment. Republicans want to cut spending. Build the border wall championed by former President Trump. You name it.

We haven’t even talked about doing basic things like raising the debt ceiling and funding the government in September.

But the clamor will only intensify if Republicans aren’t meeting the ultimatums of the right. They lack the votes to make good on a lot of the pledges they’ve made for the past two years. This will further undercut any political currency the GOP maintains with its supporters.

‘I have an awesome power,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at her final press conference while still clutching the speaker’s gavel. ‘I’m just hoping that on January 3 that (Republicans) will be expeditiously able to elect a speaker so that we can get on with the work of the Congress.’

At that conclave, yours truly asked Pelosi whether she might be ‘the last speaker for a while’ until Republicans sort this out.

‘No. I think they’ll have a speaker,’ replied Pelosi. ‘I hope that they would be able to resolve their differences on January 3.’

I followed up, asking whether a big brouhaha over McCarthy or the next speaker would weaken the institution. 

‘No. No. No,’ answered Pelosi. ‘We’re a Democratic institution. ‘I wouldn’t read too much into that. But I do think the sooner the better because we have important work to do. Whether we agree or disagree. We have important work to do.’

Republicans believe they have important work to do. House Democrats might oppose them on the nature of that work, but Republicans can’t focus until they get a speaker.

The George Santos saga begins as an immediate blemish on the House Republican majority. How Republicans deal with Santos — and what Santos does himself — could lend insight into what’s in store for the next two years in the House. Moreover, Greene and Boebert are among the GOP’s most high-profile members. Their quarrel doesn’t help matters either.

Five Republicans — and perhaps as many as 20 — stand between McCarthy or any other Republican from securing the speakership.

‘We just haven’t seen any substantive changes in (McCarthy’s) opinion to earn (our) support,’ said McCarthy opponent Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont.

‘He’s not going to be speaker,’ said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va. ‘I recently told him to withdraw from the race for the good of the country. For the good of the Congress. And, for the good of the Republican Party.’

One wonders how effective McCarthy could even be considering the weight of the political barnacles that are dragging him down. In fact, this fight may have sapped some of his power already.

If McCarthy’s bid for speaker goes sideways, it’s not like the party has a clear stand-in.

That’s what happened in 2015, when former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, resigned. McCarthy never had the votes to succeed Boehner and bowed out. The only person Republicans really wanted was former Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. And, for two weeks, Ryan said he wouldn’t stand for speaker, until Republicans and Catholic clergy practically guilted him into taking the job.

However, there may be an option that GOP members haven’t yet considered.

Republicans may not realize it, but perhaps there’s already someone in their midst who is up for the job. Someone who has a long resume in politics. Someone who has led coalitions in contentious state legislatures. This person is battle-tested at the ballot box. He’s cut deals on controversial legislative issues and survived against incalculable political odds.

In fact, this someone brokered Middle East peace. Cured cancer. Can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Maybe if you inspect his resume closely, you’ll find that he’s already served as speaker of the House himself.

But considering the current disarray, would George Santos even want the job?

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