Discover more from Letters from an American
November 30, 2022
The Democrats in the House have voted in new leadership. Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and who represents a district that includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, will replace Nancy Pelosi of California as speaker. A 52-year-old lawyer, Jeffries is known for playing a long game, listening to everyone, focusing on getting laws passed. He will be the first Black party leader in the House or the Senate.
Members elected Representative Katherine Clark of Massachusetts as the number 2 party leader: she will be the party whip, the person who makes sure there are votes to pass certain measures and keeps members behind the party’s program.
And they elected Representative Pete Aguilar of California as caucus chair, overseeing the weekly meetings of the Democratic caucus to discuss policy, legislation, and other issues.
The new Democratic leaders will start in the minority in the new Congress, where the Republicans have a slim majority, but are considered a strong team and hope to be in the majority after 2024.
In a sign that they represent a new era, CNN’s headline for a story about Jeffries’s rise read: “With Hakeem Jeffries’ rise, his members see ‘Democrats in total array.’”
For decades, it has been a stereotype that Democrats are in disarray, but after two years in which Democrats have managed with just a small House majority to pass an extraordinary slate of major laws, after a midterm election in which Democrats did far better than pundits expected, and now with a strong new team of leaders in place with party members standing behind them, “disarray” now belongs to the Republicans.
As if to illustrate the deep factions in the Republican Party that have made them unable to agree on much of anything except what—and whom—they hate, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) today, in response to a logical question, offered to Kristin Wilson, Paul LeBlanc, and Clare Foran of CNN something that sure sounded like word salad.
The House today did as President Joe Biden asked, and passed a bill to impose an agreement on railway corporations and railway employees to avoid a strike that economists say would cost the country $1 billion in its first week. The vote was bipartisan. Seventy-nine Republicans joined all but eight Democrats to pass the bill. McCarthy was one of 129 Republicans who voted no.
When the CNN reporters asked McCarthy why he voted no, he answered: “First Biden told us that inflation was transitory; it wasn’t. He told us immigration was seasonal and it wasn’t. He told us Afghanistan wouldn’t collapse to the Taliban. Then he told us in September that this deal was all worked out. Now he wants the government to go into this? I just think it’s another—it’s another sign of why the economy is weak under this Biden administration.”
Numbers released today show that, in fact, the economy grew at an annual rate of 2.9% in the third quarter—between July and September—lower than it has been, but higher than the growth in former president Trump’s first three years, which averaged 2.5%. Unemployment today is at a 50-year low. While inflation is still high, gas prices have dropped to an average of $3.50 a gallon, where they were in February before Russia invaded Ukraine.
When the reporters noted that McCarthy’s position would actually have hurt the economy by leading to a strike that tanked it, he responded: “If my position held out, we’d actually have it done by the private sector a long time ago and we’d have efficiency. We wouldn’t have inflation, we’d have a secure border.”
McCarthy is scrambling to find the votes he needs from the far right to make him House speaker, making him impossible to pin down as he tries to woo those extremists to his side.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, John Thune (R-SD), the second ranking Republican, has offered a plan, but it is one that is unlikely to make the party more popular. Yesterday, he said that Republicans plan to use the necessary increase in the debt limit to force cuts in the budget, including changes to Social Security and other programs.
In 2019, 57% of Americans said that Social Security was a “major” source of their income, and 74% of Americans said that Social Security benefits should not be reduced in any way.