February 19, 2024

Congress Is Broken

The recent retirement announcements of two talented and patriotic Republican congressmen bodes ill for our nation.

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

So said Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1981, in his first inaugural address. We were reminded of these words last Wednesday when Tennessee Republican Congressman Mark Green said, “I have come to realize our fight is not here within Washington, our fight is with Washington” (emphasis added).

These are similar thoughts, each an honest assessment of a broken system, but with one big difference: An optimistic Reagan uttered the words on his way into office, while a disgusted Green articulated them on the way out.

“At the start of the 118th Congress,” said Green, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, “I promised my constituents to pass legislation to secure our borders and to hold Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas accountable. Today, with the House having passed H.R. 2 and Secretary Mayorkas impeached, it is time for me to return home. In the last few months, in reading the writings of our Framers, I was reminded of their intent for representatives to be citizen-legislators, to serve for a season and then return home.”

And then this: “Our country — and our Congress — is broken beyond most means of repair. I have come to realize our fight is not here within Washington, our fight is with Washington.”

Sad but true. Reagan used to be able to slug it out legislatively with Democrat House Speaker Tip O'Neill, but when 6 p.m. rolled around, the two fighting Irishmen could engage each other with a deep and personal civility. Not so these days. Can anyone imagine sitting down over a beer with Maxine Waters or Adam Schiff?

Green, 59, is a member of the House Freedom Caucus. But it wasn’t always so. Having grown up “on a dirt road in Mississippi,” he went on to graduate from West Point and become a flight surgeon for the Night Stalkers, the nation’s premier special operations aviation unit. He deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, earning the Bronze Star and the Air Medal with combat “V” for valor. “His most memorable mission,” as his biography notes, “was the capture of Saddam Hussein,” a mission during which he interviewed the Butcher of Baghdad for six hours.

And he’s also “the third committee chairman who would have been eligible to lead their panel next year to say they will leave Congress at the end of the year,” The New York Times reports. “Also [last] week, Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, 54, the chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, 39, who heads the select committee on China, announced they would not run for re-election.”

We haven’t heard the last of Mark Green, though. He’s expected to announce a run for Tennessee governor in 2026, and he likely didn’t want to be serving in Congress while running a gubernatorial campaign.

The loss of Gallagher was another big blow. His future seemed exceedingly bright — and it might still be bright, just not as a U.S. congressman. Gallagher, a retired Marine intelligence officer, is one of Capitol Hill’s leading national security experts, and he’s a serious China hawk, chairing the high-profile Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. And yet he says he’s not running for reelection in November.

In the space of a week, Gallagher, the youngest committee chairman in recent history, cast one of three GOP votes against impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and then announced he won’t run again. “Electoral politics was never supposed to be a career and, trust me, Congress is no place to grow old,” Gallagher said. “And so, with a heavy heart, I have decided not to run for reelection.”

We wouldn’t want to grow old in Washington, either, but he’s just 39. Gallagher hails from a solidly red district, so reelection would have been a foregone conclusion. Regardless of the reason, we can’t afford to chase away our best and brightest young lawmakers.

“[Being in Congress] appeals to a certain type of person,” writes columnist Ben Domenech, “one comfortable with being away from family, doing constant television hits, and getting into constant scrums with your mirror image on the other side. This is a House that works for Matt Gaetz and Eric Swalwell — not for the people.”

We don’t suspect either Green or Gallagher would argue with that assessment.

At the conclusion of that first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan spoke of the challenge that confronted us. “It does require … our best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together, with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.”

Today’s challenges are even greater, and with good men like Green and Gallagher leaving behind a broken Congress, it’s hard to share The Gipper’s optimism for fixing things.

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