The 116th United States Congress will be sworn in this week after weeks of headlines about how this is the most diverse addition to Capitol Hill in American history. While the Senate will remain largely unchanged, the House is a different story, and it’s happening on the Democrats’ side. Indeed, there is even an emoji dedicated to this fact.
There should be more attention paid to this great achievement. The chamber meant to represent the people is beginning resemble them more accurately, opening the door to more diverse voices, new ideas, and perspectives formed by paths that, while not without precedent, are not your typical path to Washington. This group has a chance to contribute, significantly and constructively, to our political discourse and help address some of the most distressing challenges to America’s well being, including economic sustainability, health care, national security, income inequality, and climate change. The odds of finding willing partners on the other side of the aisle – or down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue – are slim, nor will any of these issues be fully addressed in one Congressional session.
[State Delegations to the US House of Representatives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)]
The incoming class, especially in the House, should show it means business by offering solutions that have a realistic chance of surviving a political gauntlet designed to protect against knee-jerk reactions and the prevailing passions of the day. I believe the incoming class has a real chance of moving the needle by focusing on the everyday issues and widespread concerns that swept many of its newest members into office. I remain hopeful it will.
Opposite that hope is concern based on two months of dramatic headlines about insurgencies, plans to call for impeachment, refusal to compromise, and talks of primary challenges in Congressional races two years in the future. I would be remiss if I did not point out the sophomoric Twitter spats of late. If we disapprove of the president doing it, why do we approve of representatives-elect following suit? It reminds me of some advice an uncle once gave me: “Arguments are like cocktail parties. You don’t have to attend every one to which you are invited, and most of the conversation is dominated by idiots anyway.”
All of this foolishness looks much like the Tea Party newbies who descended on Washington after the 2010 midterms, and the disastrous effects of their very similar political temper tantrums. A few weeks back I suggested this midterm election be called a “green wave” due to its environmental bent? It appears just as green given the degree to which inexperience is hamstringing the incoming class before having even taken the oath. Call it a Green Tea Party. (See what I did there? Clever, no? No.)
More Of the Same?
The House of Representatives seated in 2011 was, much like this year’s class, very angry. They intended to change Washington, stand up to a rogue president, dig in their heels, and not compromise on anything. They were going to take their country back by not giving an inch. By now, the results of their tantrums have been well documented. The Republican party suffered an internal ideological rift threatening the party’s existence to this day, they intentionally threw sand in any gear of government they could find, and they held a litany of wasteful and meaningless votes just so they could go home and brag about standing on principle while glossing over the abysmal ineffectiveness it caused. Further, they mounted “insurgencies” when they did not get their way, ousting may a respected lawmaker and leader while offering no real solutions to the pressing problems of the day. Four years later this petulance infected the Senate, which cemented a new “business as usual” (BAU) and race to the bottom on Capitol Hill.
Fast forward to 2018. Many an aspiring candidate hit the campaign trail loaded for bear with angry, heated rhetoric. Much of it was justified. The current administration’s illegalities and abuses of power, coupled with Congress’ lack of checking it, should boil the blood of any citizen. So far, the only effective check has been the courts. For the record, campaigns born of anger and revolt are as old as the country. Maybe a little older. However, if the incoming class plans to simply walk in guns blazing, complaining about BAU, vowing to not compromise until they get what they want, they will only perpetuate the very BAU they want to address. To paraphrase everyone’s favorite Broadway musical/history class: campaigning is easy; legislating is harder.
Freshman representatives in 2011 rode a wave of baseless claims to Washington in 2011. Lies and conspiracy theories about birtherism, death panels, and Sharia law permeated political campaigns. While I admit the incoming Congressional freshmen have yet to go to those extremes, their claims should be accurate if they are to be an effective countervailing force to their ideological counterparts. One of the incoming class’ biggest stars has already been shredded by fact checkers regarding claims pertaining to a Mercatus Center study on the cost of Healthcare For All, and Pentagon spending. It is as careless and undermining as pushing a tax plan whose rosiest outcome depends on an impossible set of circumstances. As the old saying goes, “history may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
When the 112th Congress was seated in January 2011, its newly elected majority was ready to revolt against party leadership from the jump. The incoming freshmen of the House of Representatives, and a few veterans, have been taking a page from that failed playbook. The news cycles since November 6th have been full of coverage regarding challenges to Nancy Pelosi’s almost-inevitable reclamation of the Speaker’s gavel in the lower chamber. While concerns regarding developing future party leadership are warranted (I would argue the lack of bench development during the Obama years was one of their party’s fatal mistakes), threatening to crash the car just because mom and dad want to listen to a different radio station inspires little confidence of surviving the ride. However, unlike the Tea Party class, would-be insurgents appear open to understanding the realities of what they are about to face. Or at least those who have been around long enough can explain it to them well enough to make them think twice. It will be interesting to see what happens when the newbies are confronted with the realities of fundraising and committee leadership decisions based on the cold and difficult realities of government.
A Word About Impeachment
Don’t. At least not without actual, airtight proof. Calls for articles of impeachment on day one would be like Tom Brady starting a playoff game by throwing Hail Mary passes to the end zone for the entire first half. I feel just as strongly as anyone that this current president is unfit and a danger to the country, but without a guaranteed two-thirds majority of votes in the Senate (67 for those struggling to find a calculator), any charges with an inch of wiggle room will fail and legitimize the president going in to the next presidential election.
So let’s hope the newcomers do it right by landing the right mix of idealism and political reality. Holding ground can be just as important – if not more so – than gaining new ground. If they don’t, they are destined to follow the path blazed by their equally rebellious predecessors. And look how that turned out. Good luck.