If Republicans reclaim the majority in the House, there will be opportunities for members to join the GOP leadership team in the chamber. Many expected Rep. Patrick McHenry to be one of the members to move up the ranks.
Yesterday, however, the North Carolinian conceded that he’d prefer to become chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and his rationale struck me as interesting.
At an event hosted by Punchbowl News, McHenry — widely seen as a future Republican leader — said that after his second term on Capitol Hill, he decided there were two jobs he was interested in. The first was becoming House GOP whip, and the other was chairing Financial Services. With Republicans well positioned to take the majority, the congressman explained it became time to choose between the two:
“I know what the next Congress looks like in terms of legislating; it’s going to be mainly an oversight function for the House of Representatives in a divided Washington. There are a few narrow opportunities for legislating, but outside of those narrow opportunities for legislating and oversight, we have two big votes: One is funding the government and the other is raising the debt ceiling. So I realized being the whip, counting votes for those two big votes, those two big initiatives, versus running an agenda on the Financial Services Committee ... I’d like the opportunity to run an agenda.”
The congressman added, “I’m much more optimistic about the opportunities we have at Financial Services than the role that I could play in House Republican leadership.”
I can appreciate why this probably seems like inside baseball for those who don’t follow Congress closely — admittedly, this is inside baseball for Capitol Hill watchers — but McHenry actually offered some insights that are worth appreciating.
First, McHenry effectively conceded that the legislative process will effectively come to a halt if there’s a Republican-led Congress working alongside a Democratic White House. This might seem like an obvious observation, but if there are voters who believe that a divided Washington will lead to cooperative and bipartisan policymaking, it’s time to adjust those expectations.
Second, McHenry left little doubt that in a GOP-led House, basic government functions — keeping the lights on and preventing the United States from defaulting on its debts — will be the only votes of real significance, and putting together the votes to pass such measures will be so terribly unpleasant that the North Carolinian would prefer not to even be a part of the effort.
Molly Reynolds, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institute, added, “This is McHenry acknowledging how hard it will be to get a prospective GOP House majority to fulfill some basic responsibilities of governing.”
The point, of course, is not that McHenry is mistaken. On the contrary, I think the congressman’s assessment was entirely correct. If I were in his shoes, I probably wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to join the leadership team, either.
But McHenry’s comments offered the public a peek about what to expect from a Republican-led House: legislative gridlock, coupled with possible government shutdowns and debt-ceiling crises.