A recipe for gridlock: Lawmakers brace for partisan wrangling and legislative gridlock


Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, has seen this before.

About a dozen years ago, when Barack Obama was president, a newly emboldened House Republican majority came to power promising to dominate the Democratic agenda, cut spending and investigate what they saw as a rampant White House. The result: years of bitter bipartisan bipartisanship and a gridlocked administration as Washington moves from one potential fiscal crisis to the next.

Now, with Democrats poised for a razor-thin majority in the Senate — and Republicans projecting a slim majority of their own in the House — lawmakers from both parties are very pessimistic about the next two years and bracing for an ugly The legislative period in Washington.

“If Republicans in the House just want to be part of the investigation and find grounds for impeaching President Biden, they’re going to pay the price in 2024,” Stabenow said.

Added delegates. Don Bacon, a Republican from a Nebraska swing district: “I think there’s a small group of people trying to gridlock us.”

House Republican leaders believe they were elected to check the excesses of the Democratic agenda in an era of high inflation, concerns about inner-city crime and problems at the U.S.-Mexico border. They plan to pass a slew of bills on a range of issues important to their party, such as cutting the IRS, boosting security and implementing new voter ID laws — all messaging bills that won’t pass the Democratic-led Senate. But even passing such a messaging bill would create complications in a House led by Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican nominated by his party to be the next speaker.

Since the vast majority of people are pretty smart, it only takes a few defections to blow up their messaging bills. Making life even harder, McCarthy has vowed to end the remote voting system put in place during the pandemic — a tool that has proven to be a thorn in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s side whenever absenteeism pops up. A narrow majority matters.

As a result, McCarthy will have to balance the demands of about 40 members of his right wing with the concerns of the more than 30 Republicans in swing districts that gave him the majority.

More worrisome, according to more than a dozen lawmakers from both parties, is how Congress will handle the government’s basic imperatives: funding federal agencies and raising the state’s borrowing limit to avoid an unprecedented debt default — something Washington has long held. The issue of risk has often been used as a bargaining chip, sidelining Congress.

Many expect the must-pass issues to be used as leverage against Democrats at the Capitol and on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Rep. Brian Master, R-Florida, predicted that the GOP will be keen to use their clout in any funding fight to advance their own priorities, such as securing the border — even if it means Shut down the government, adding that “absolutely” people are worried about dealing with these fiscal problems.

“No one really likes (a government shutdown),” Master told CNN. “But I think you’re in a different state now, and people are going to crave the shutdown to some degree.”

Some hardliners, however, are ready to blame Democrats and President Joe Biden for any unrest. Rep. Bob Goode, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said if the Republican-led House passes a spending bill that the Senate won’t discuss or the president won’t sign, “the consequences are on them.”

If legislation struggles, House investigations will take center stage. For months, House Republicans have been privately plotting their road map for investigations — investigating everything from the failed Afghan troop withdrawal, the origins of Covid-19, border issues to foreign business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter.

Some Republicans, however, fear it’s the wrong approach.

“I’d rather focus on helping the American people, fighting inflation, getting better energy resources, making sure the rights of the future are secured,” the senator said. Utah Republican Mitt Romney told CNN. “There are a lot of priorities and, frankly, investigating the president’s son is not one of the big priorities we should be focusing on.”

Romney added: “I know there are people on the base who just want to fight. There are others in the country who want us to get the job done. I just happen to be in the latter category.”

A Republican lawmaker has warned his party not to allow chaos to erupt during their term.

“I might offer a dangerous activity clause for a package of rules for the Republican conference: No dangerous activity for the next two years,” quipped the congressman. Kelly Armstrong, North Dakota Republican. “I’m working on ‘Armstrong For Congress’ shower mats for the entire conference. We can’t slip right now.”

Just as the hard right was emboldened by the election result, so were moderates in both parties. To stay in power beyond 2024, Republican leaders need to protect at least 15 members from districts that former President Donald Trump narrowly won — plus about 16 from districts that Biden won in 2020.

Intermediate members of their respective parties were encouraged by the interim results, given margins and political realities.

As the reality of a narrow Republican majority in the House of Representatives loomed, the two lawmakers leading bipartisan groups, Democrats and Republicans, sat down for dinner to discuss a pressing question: how to govern in the chaotic environment expected in Washington for the next two years. year.

Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Democratic Rep. New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer, co-chair of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, told CNN they discussed how their coalition could help ease thin-margin problems that could empower any one member to derail the legislative process .

Fitzpatrick, who hails from a district where Biden has a 5-point lead in 2020, will be on speed dial for every Democrat looking to compromise or help undermine the Republican agenda, according to one Democratic source.

“Because the gap is so small, I think you’re going to see a lot of compromise,” Fitzpatrick said. “You’re going to see compromises in meetings, and you’re going to see compromises across the aisle.”

Gottheimer added: “That’s one of the lessons of this election. That’s why the Democrats are doing so well. People don’t want extremism and yelling. They want us to find common ground.”

Biden, who won by six points in Bacon’s district, added: “We can’t have four or five people who just say no and shut down the whole thing.”

McCarthy’s allies have tried to persuade moderate Democrats in the House. Henry Cuellar changed parties hoping to pad their thin margins. Cuellar has flatly rejected the idea after a contested primary and general election in his district, but he has already been courted by Republicans who may need his help amid a narrow Republican majority.

“I’ve spoken to a large group of Republicans in the room and we only have one vote, but I’ve been there for a while,” Cuellar said after a series of votes. “Well, I think we can work together on a lot of things.”

However, cutting bipartisan agreements is a good recipe for right-wing revolt—just as this Congress has cut a series of bipartisan agreements in the Senate on gun control, infrastructure and semiconductor chip production, but McCarthy, his leadership team and the General Assembly. Majority House Republican Conference.

“You can’t lose anybody, right? Anyone becomes an island of their own, and they can say, ‘Give me this or that,'” Mast said of the new power dynamic.

Added Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota: “It doesn’t take a lot of flies to ruin a broth.”

A group of far-right Republicans, those from the Freedom Caucus, are pushing the new Congress to change some of the rules that could make governance more difficult, such as requiring that any bill brought to Congress must receive support from the majority party. most. House Republicans met on Wednesday to begin working on a package of rules for the new Congress.

Notably, Republican lawmakers passed an amendment requiring a majority of the entire session to agree to a mandatory unanimous vote to remove the sitting speaker — which could make it harder for McCarthy to be removed if he wins the speakership.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus want individual lawmakers to force such a vote. Procedural weapons were swung at former Speaker John Boehner before he finally resigned.

Freedom Caucus member Chip Roy, who has forced multiple procedural votes to delay floor events, including on a non-controversial bill with broad bipartisan support, told CNN members they shouldn’t be afraid of a protracted series of votes in the Republican majority.

“I’m not afraid to vote. Right? … Well, hell’s bells. We’re sent here to vote. So everybody calm down,” said Roy, a Texas Republican.

Other Republicans said the far right should realize that others in the conference also wield power.

“The Freedom Caucus has a lot of voices, but they don’t hold all the cards,” the Rep. said. Ohio Republican David Joyce was referring to the far right.

Joyce added: “It’s hard to govern when we have the vast majority. We have a lot of independent agents. It’s like herding cats trying to keep everyone together.”

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