Discover more from Letters from an American
January 5, 2023
After 11 ballots, the Republicans remain unable to elect a speaker and thus unable to organize the House.
After passing comprehensive laws on a wide range of issues with a similarly small House majority under Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during the last Congress, the Democrats remain united behind Hakeem Jeffries. They have delivered 212 votes for him 11 times.
The contrast is stark.
Throughout the day, the allies of Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (CA) negotiated with the 20 extremists who refuse to back him, apparently offering them more and more power to win their votes. McCarthy has allegedly agreed to their demand that a single person can force a vote to get rid of the speaker, a demand that puts him at their mercy and that he had previously insisted he would never accept. He has also apparently offered members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus two spots on the House Rules Committee, which decides how measures will be presented to the House, and given them control over appropriations bills. He is also said to be considering letting them choose committee chairs, jumping over those with seniority.
This will not sit well with the rest of the conference. Lawyer and Washington Post columnist George Conway wrote, “I’m no political scientist, but it does strike me that a guy who negotiates by giving stuff up and and getting nothing in return probably wouldn’t make a good leader of a legislative body.”
If McCarthy does eventually win the speakership, he will have empowered a small group of extremists to control the House, and the next two years will be a constant fight as this tiny minority can hamstring the government. One of the extremists, Ralph Norman (R-SC), who wanted Trump to declare martial law in 2021 in order to retain the White House, said that McCarthy will get his vote only if he agrees not to raise the debt ceiling and will instead shut down the government and default on the national debt.
Bulwark podcast host Charlie Sykes told Alex Wagner Tonight, “There is no Republican establishment…. [W]hoever becomes the speaker is going to preside over the chaos that has been building for years. He or she is going to be the mayor of Crazytown.”
As the Republicans look incompetent and irresponsible, and will almost certainly make sure nothing much gets done in the 118th Congress, President Joe Biden is working to make sure people understand just how much the Democrats got done in the past two years.
At a cabinet meeting today, he told reporters that the country has made real progress and that the administration is now focusing on implementing the recently passed “big laws” so Americans feel the benefits of them. He noted that the $35 cap on the cost of insulin for those on Medicare went into effect only this year, along with other medical benefits like free vaccines for Medicare recipients. He also pointed out new tax credits for making homes energy efficient, and noted that government officials need to get the message out that the laws are out there.
Biden talked about both public and private investment in manufacturing, which will create jobs, and his conviction that the administration’s approach to building the economy from the bottom up is “off to a pretty darn good start.”
In a later set of remarks, the president and Vice President Kamala Harris explained that with Republicans having scuttled the bipartisan agreement on revising immigration laws that senators were working on in the last Congress, the administration is also stepping up to address the influx of migrants to the border. Today it announced new measures.
Biden explained that, currently, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Haitians make up a large percentage of those trying to come to the U.S. across the southern border, while the patchwork system of different rules at the border, along with the lack of asylum officers, means the system is broken. Former president Trump used Title 42, the public health rule, at the start of the pandemic to reject most migrants, but that rule imposes no penalties on those trying repeatedly to get into the country, significantly inflating the numbers of people apprehended at the border.
So, until Congress passes a comprehensive immigration plan to fix the system completely, the administration is working to stiffen enforcement for those who come to the U.S. without a legal right to stay, and also to speed up the process for those who do have that right. Those seeking asylum can use an app to request a humanitarian exemption to Title 42, and once the rule is lifted, can use the app “to schedule a time to present themselves at a port of entry for inspection and processing, rather than arriving unannounced at a port of entry or attempting to cross in-between ports of entry.”
Others can apply for admission if they have a U.S. sponsor, and then pass a background check, at which point they can enter the U.S. to work legally for two years. The U.S. will welcome 30,000 people a month from these four countries. But here’s the kicker: if they try to enter the U.S. without that paperwork, they are barred from entry in the future.
Since the U.S. applied this program to Venezuelans in October, undocumented crossings of Venezuelans have dropped about 90%. The administration is now expanding the program to include people from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti.
Immediately after Biden spoke, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas followed up. He began by refuting the Republican refrain that Biden’s attempt to end Title 42 will mean open borders, reiterating that “Title 42 or not, the border is not open.”
He provided some statistics on a system he calls “broken, outdated, and in desperate need of reform.” Currently, he explained, “It takes four or more years to conclude the average asylum case, immigration judges have a backlog of more than 1.7 million cases, and we have more than 11 million undocumented people in our country, many of whom work in the shadows, pay taxes, are our neighbors, attend our places of worship, work on the frontlines, and farm the food on our tables.” Once again, he begged Congress to update our immigration laws.
On Sunday, Biden will go to El Paso, Texas, to meet with local officials and community leaders to hear what they say they need, make it public, and try to convince Republicans to do something about it, rather than using the immigration issue as a political cudgel.
When asked why he is going now, when for two years Republicans have been demanding that he go, Biden made it clear he did not intend to respond to political stunts and wanted a visit to be tied to the impending end of Title 42. But there is no doubt this is an excellent political moment to respond to the Republicans’ drumbeat complaints that Biden is ignoring a border crisis.
Tomorrow, on January 6, Biden will honor people who distinguished themselves by protecting the country during the 2020–2021 attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, awarding them the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian award in the United States. Recipients include Capitol Police and law enforcement officers, election workers, and elected officials who withstood pressure to lie for Trump.
One of those getting a medal, posthumously, is U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died on January 7, 2021, after a series of strokes. Today, Sicknick’s estate asked for $10 million in damages from former president Trump, suing him for assault, negligence, violating Sicknick’s civil rights, and wrongful death, saying Trump incited the violence of January 6 that contributed to Sicknick’s death.
And on that note, two years after the January 6th insurrection, it is notable that Trump’s name has barely been mentioned during the fight over the House speakership. After McCarthy had lost three ballots, Trump urged the 20 extremists, some of whom have been his staunchest supporters, to “VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY.” They ignored him. And for all the threats that the Republicans would make Trump himself House speaker, so far he has gotten just one vote.