Three Cheers for the Twenty

Something improbable happened in early January: a group of 20 Republican members of the House of Representatives stood up to their Party’s corrupt leadership and forced the adoption of rule changes that will benefit Americans and restrict the activities of Washington’s bipartisan deep state.

The 20 Republicans, mostly those who are furthest to the right in the House, forced House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to run through a gauntlet of 15 vote tallies in which he was repeatedly rejected, indeed receiving fewer votes than the Democratic Party minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries. McCarthy was finally elected when he agreed to a package of rule changes that will put restrictions on out-of-control spending and taxation, give legislators more time to review bills, and hold the Speaker more accountable to House members, among other improvements.

The Twenty persevered until the end under nonstop fire from their own side. After Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw called the Twenty “terrorists” for daring to hold up McCarthy’s coronation, the usual assortment of establishment Republican talking heads on Fox News and conservative radio expanded on Crenshaw’s rhetoric. Fox News host Brian Kilmeade called the Twenty “insurrectionists” and “idiots” for blocking McCarthy, and Kilmeade’s co-host, Steve Doocy, chimed in helpfully with “saboteurs.” Former Speaker Newt Gingrich used the term “deranged disruptors” and said that they were demoralizing their own side.

The pressure the Twenty were under was intense, and not just in the media. According to a person familiar with the negotiations, those who threatened to block McCarthy’s speakership were told early on in the process that they would be severely punished: they would never get committee assignments and would find their House offices moved to the dankest of broom closets. Thankfully, these attempts at intimidation were ignored.

Now that the dust has settled, Crenshaw and Kilmeade have issued apologies for their overblown rhetoric regarding the Twenty (who are still smeared as the “Taliban Twenty” by their detractors)while Gingrich has now praised some of the rule changes—including limitations to the power of the Speaker’s office—that resulted from the “frustrating process.”

One of the changes is a restoration of the “vacate the chair” rule that would permit a single member of the House to call a snap vote to oust McCarthy, or any other leader. Former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had changed this rule in 2019 to require that any motion to vacate must have the support of the majority of a party. The restoration of the traditional provision will give more leverage to individual House members and restrict any tyrannical tendencies of the Speaker.

The rule changes also give lawmakers at least 72 hours to review legislation before it goes to the floor for a vote. This is another reversal of the rot that characterized the reign of Pelosi, who infamously said about the Obamacare bill, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”

The new rules also include blocks on increases to “mandatory spending,” a category that includes many social welfare programs. And the “Holman rule,” rescinded in 1983, was also restored. This rule allows lawmakers to use appropriations bills to defund specific programs, and to fire specific federal employees—which will be nice to have on hand for the next Anthony Fauci.

The “Gephardt rule,” which automatically raises the U.S. debt ceiling without a separate vote, is now gone, thanks to the Twenty. This will set the stage for a showdown over U.S. spending later this year, with a government shutdown likely, as the U.S. debt is now at $31.4 trillion, which is roughly 120 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). This is well above the 90 percent debt-to-GDP level that economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have shown to be historically correlated with a slowdown in long-term economic growth and an increased risk of recession.

In sum, all of these changes create more ways to slow the expansion of the sprawling federal government and to create more ways for individual legislators or courageous small groups of principled lawmakers—like the Twenty—to effectively counter the irresponsible activities of Congress. This is a great thing.

But it’s not a great thing for the efficient greasing of palms, which is the primary activity of the corrupt bipartisan consensus in Washington. The Republican wing of this consensus masquerades effectively as the controlled opposition to the American left.

“Don’t believe the happy talk that this was a healthy display of deliberative democracy,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board seethed in a Jan. 7 opinion piece lamenting that McCarthy’s “concessions to get the job may cost U.S. vital U.S. defense spending.”
“The pressure for defense cuts will be great,” the Journal continued. “That’s a terrible signal to send adversaries who are increasingly belligerent, as well as to defense contractors who need certainty about funding to make proper investments.”

Oh, will someone think of the poor defense contractors! Never mind that America already spends more on defense than the next nine highest-spending countries—China, India, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea—combined . Never mind that we are now throwing billions of this spending at Ukraine—one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to rankings by Transparency International—and that the United States has had to send investigators to Ukraine to track these weapons, which are being smuggled via black markets to elsewhere in Europe.

None of these changes would have been achieved had the Twenty not stood up to their own Party and survived the relentless ritual back stabbings they received from career Republicans. Nor would the feat have been possible, ironically, had the Republicans not underperformed in the October midterm elections, which resulted in a narrow enough Republican majority in the House to give their small group sufficient leverage to pull it off.

Showing what a success the Twenty achieved, progressives on the left expressed rueful admiration for the “ultraconservatives.” In fact, the Twenty used the same tactics that the so-called Squad—of which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the most prominent member—had tried against Pelosi in 2018 and 2019, but with less success. The progressive political cartoonist Ted Rall wrote this in The Wall Street Journal:

As a progressive, I salute the 20 holdout representatives who denied Kevin McCarthy the House speakership until the 15th vote. I disagree with their conservative objectives, but their tactics were superb. They extracted substantial concessions consistent with their beliefs and their promises to constituents. I dream that the House Democratic Caucus will someday have an analogous faction: purist, leftist, determined to force leadership to bend to their will.

Praise from an enemy is the most pleasing of all commendations, according to Sir Richard Steele, the founder of The Spectator magazine in its original 18th-century incarnation. It will be good to keep Rall’s praise in mind in the coming months, when we will no doubt again see smeared as a domestic terrorist anyone who holds the line on spending and threatens to shut down the government. To Washington swamp creatures used to crawling on their bellies, anyone who shows a backbone is terrifying indeed.

The Twenty:

• Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.)
• Dan Bishop (R-N.C.)
• Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.)
• Josh Brecheen (R-Ariz.)
• Michael Cloud (R-Texas)
• Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.)
• Eli Crane (R-Ariz.)
• Bryan Donalds (R-Fla.)
• Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)
• Bob Good (R-Va.)
• Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.)
• Andy Harris (R-Md.)
• Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.)
• Mary Miller (R-Ill.)
• Ralph Norman (R-S.C.)
• Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.)
• Scott Perry (R-Pa.)
• Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.)
• Chip Roy (R-Texas)
• Keith Self (R-Texas)

—Edward Welsch

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