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Burning down the House: February has been an unmitigated disaster for Republicans

Both Republicans and Democrats in the People's House seem to be at wits' end with political gridlock. Have Republicans' 13-month narrow majority proven too much of a headwind?

Ah… Watch out!

You might get what you’re after.

Cool babies.


Strange. But I’m not a stranger.

I’m an ordinary guy.

Burning down the house. —Talking Heads. “Burning Down the House.” 1983

David Byrne’s hypnotic, octave plunge between the lyrics “watch” and “out” is a sonic caveat.

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Those are the very first lines of the Talking Heads ‘80s anthem “Burning Down the House.” The listener is forewarned. A tumultuous musical adventure lies ahead. The pending libretto is gnarly gibberish. Words which fit together — but don’t make any sense. A near homage to “I Am the Walrus” by the Beatles.

Like Byrne’s lyrics, what’s going on these days in the U.S. House of Representatives, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Watch out. The House is seemingly out of control right now. Political arsonists are striking matches and pouring gasoline all over the place.

Republicans hold the majority. But they’ve been burning down their own House.

“Things have not been functioning well at all and that needs to change,” beseeched Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn.

Chaos grips the House.

That’s saying something, considering this is an institution which practically mastered dysfunction.

“We can’t get anything done,” lamented Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.

Lawmakers are exasperated.

“My Republican friends are barely hanging onto this majority by their fingernails,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee.

My house…

Is out of the ordinary.

That’s right.

Don’t want to hurt nobody.

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House Republicans have blocked their own bills — drawn up with the blessing of GOP leaders — from hitting the House floor a staggering six times in the past eight months. The House usually requires the lawmakers approve a “rule” to allocate debate time and dictate whether amendments are in order. Only then can legislation come to the floor. 

The majority usually votes yes, greenlighting the debate. The minority customarily opposes the rule. But Republicans have torched their own rule six times. That’s a startling figure. Previous majorities only defeated two rules in the previous 23 years.

Republicans have struggled for 13 months now with their narrow majority. It started with the 15-round Speaker’s race in January of last year — an exercise not witnessed since 1858.

“We only had a two-vote margin at the end (of our majority),” said former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

But Pelosi could empathize with the contemporary struggles of House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

“I don’t think people understand how hard it is,” said Pelosi “Respect members on both sides of the aisle. Build consensus. Prioritize your issues. Don’t put people out on a limb on things that aren’t important.”

T. S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month” in his seminal poem, “The Waste Land.”

Back on Capitol Hill, Johnson, might argue with Elliot about the brutality of April.

February has been an unmitigated disaster for House Republicans. More things have gone wrong for the GOP than points scored in the NBA All-Star Game.

To wit:

Republicans torched two of their own “rules.” They failed during their first attempt to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — before impeaching him by just a solitary vote after the GOP took a mulligan. Johnson even put a bill on the floor to aid Israel — which promptly failed. That was an unforced error. Conventional wisdom is that Johnson shouldn’t have pressed on the Israel bill — especially since the defeat came moments after the failed impeachment vote. And Republicans even saw their meager majority dwindle even further. 

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Former Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y. won a special election in New York to succeed expelled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. The GOP majority will shrink from 219 Republicans to 213 Democrats when the House swears-in Suozzi on Wednesday. That means Johnson can only lose two votes on any given roll call and still pass a measure — sans Democratic assistance.

On the morning after Suozzi’s victory, Ryan Schmelz of Fox News Radio asked Johnson how he’d “handle a narrow majority.”

“Just as we do every day. We just do a lot of member discussion,” replied Johnson.

It’s about the math. But how they’ve done things “every day” hasn’t provided a victory.

This is why some Republicans are taking aim at Johnson. They’ve regretted the House ditching former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. That’s why McCarthy allies are particularly infuriated at how bad things have been in the House of late.

“Whatever the cards were for McCarthy are the same cards that are being dealt to Speaker Johnson,” said Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla. “All it did was take a crowbar to it and make it worse.”

Some Republicans criticized the leadership for indecision and making late play calls.

“They’ve got to start thinking strategically over the long-term. Not just what’s in front of us,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla.

Some lawmakers are certainly making long-term strategic decisions. They’re getting out.

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So far, five committee chairs have announced their retirements: Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Tex., Energy and Commerce Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., special China committee Chairman Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn.

Green said he wouldn’t seek re-election shortly after the House impeached Mayorkas. Green will serve as the lead impeachment manager (or prosecutor) as the House presents its case to the Senate. Green saw that as an opportunity to go out on top.

“My point being, you go out for the win, right? And I’ve accomplished what I wanted to do,” said Green.

A recent poll by Monmouth University found that only 17 percent of people surveyed approve of the job Congress is doing. But not everyone believes political paralysis is bad.

“Let me just tell you something about the people I represent,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Tex. “They don’t want this body to keep passing more laws and spending more money for the sake of it.”

This is the “burning down the House” problem which bedevils lawmakers. Especially as two government funding deadlines loom.

We talked about February and April earlier. So expect March to enter like a lion.

As David Byrne sang, some conservatives are “fighting fire with fire.” And they’re not getting what they’re after, either.

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So not only burning down the House. But perhaps shutting down the government, too.

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