January 10, 2023

In McCarthy Victory, Everyone’s a Winner — Except the Left

The pain was trivial compared to what was gained: a chance to move forward, united.

A lot will be said and written about the last 100 hours in Washington — a historic four days that not only gave Americans a new Speaker of the House, but more importantly, a fresh start. Nothing about the process to transfer power to former Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has been easy, but at the end of the day, nothing worth pursuing ever is. When the smoke clears and Republicans get to work, one thing will be obvious — the pain of this past week was trivial compared to what was gained: a chance to move forward, united.

There are some who will say McCarthy was weakened by the fight. I disagree. When everyone counted him out, he emerged from this humbling process as the House Freedom Caucus and the entire Republican Party did: strong. After more than a decade in leadership, the Californian proved that he’s capable of listening, capable of compromising, and, above all, capable of the change Americans demand.

For once, all of the dysfunction that festered behind closed doors has been exposed, and Republicans openly and painstakingly worked through it. If that was uncomfortable, it’s because Congress has forgotten how to govern. People on both sides spent the week mistaking debate for chaos, when actually, the House was finally doing its job. Unfortunately, it’s been so long since Congress had an honest conversation that no one recognized the healthy process for what it was.

That’s understandable. As former Representative Jodi Hice and I talked about on “Washington Watch,” most of his colleagues have never seen Congress “operate the way it was intended to operate.” “People need to be aware,” he said, “it’s been over six years since members of Congress have been allowed to offer an amendment to the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives. And many who are serving in Congress right now have never known any other system than that which currently exists, where deals are made in backrooms and then bills just dropped on the floor, and you’re expected to vote on it right away.”

Thanks to this group of courageous conservatives, many members are going to experience for the first time how the legislative process is supposed to work. That will not only be impactful to them, but it should have an enormous impact across our entire country.

So, if there is a loser in this weeklong drama, it’s the Left. Democrats have managed to avoid these difficult conversations for years, knowing that if they were forced to debate their agenda on the merits, they’d lose. But by avoiding scrutiny and transparency, they’ve created a dangerous environment where conflict, argument, and consensus-building isn’t natural — it’s alarming. Until that changes, conservatives realized, it will continue to have devastating consequences on a divided nation whose only hope is dialogue.

The reality is, the transference of power, like every issue confronting Congress, was never meant to be predetermined by a powerful few. It was meant to be — as all governing was meant to be — a dynamic process where everyone has a voice. And yet Americans have grown so accustomed to things being forced upon us that when we actually see the process functioning as it should, we panic.

The House Freedom Caucus recognized the system is broken and seized this opportunity to liberate the conservatives who’ve been suppressed in Congress for years. To most of them, this wasn’t about people or personalities — it was about the process. They understand that hearing both sides of any argument is what a robust republic allows, and they leveraged this moment to change the rules in a significant way — decentralizing the speaker’s power, opening up debate, and once again making this the people’s house.

Was it a gamble? Absolutely. In this post-COVID era, we’ve been trained to run from everything. We live in an age of safetyism, where we don’t take risks or face fears. We’ve lost the art of healthy confrontation because everything is about self-protection. But after three years, the masks are gone, the debate is back, and the conservative movement is in one of its best positions in a decade.

Finally, National Review’s Dominic Pino pointed out, “members of the House are actually in the Capitol, together, at the same time. This, too, is a welcome reprieve from legislative life under the proxy-voting rules Democrats used when they controlled the chamber, supposedly over COVID concerns.” Let’s not forget, he urged, “The word "congress” comes from the Latin word ‘congredi,’ meaning ‘to come together.’“ The whole point, he reminded readers, "is for legislators who are independently elected by constituents from separate, geographically defined districts to come together in the Capitol and argue.”

In other words, my good friend Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) is right. This wasn’t a distraction from the people’s business. It is the people’s business.

Hopefully, in the days to come, we can learn from this as a nation. To those disappointed in the outcome, this is not a time for looking back on our differences or getting even. This is about moving forward and building on the victories of the conservative movement. The new speaker knows the tightrope he needs to walk to keep his word and work with the entire conference. But if Kevin McCarthy approaches the 118th Congress the way he approached this speaker’s race, then there’s a promising future in store for the GOP and the nation.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC and executive editor of The Washington Stand.

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