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As Republicans take the House, gridlock won’t be the only problem

Legislating will be nearly impossible in a GOP-led House with a tiny majority. There's little to suggest, however, that Republicans actually care.


Even as Democrats celebrated their unexpectedly strong showings in U.S. Senate, gubernatorial and state legislative races, there was a grudging realization that the incumbent majority was likely to lose control of the U.S. House. Given the low bar Republicans had to clear — a net gain of just five seats would flip the chamber from “blue” to “red” — it was only a matter of time.

That time arrived last night. My MSNBC colleague Hayley Miller reported:

Republicans have snatched control of the U.S. House of Representatives from Democrats, flipping seats in key battleground districts in the midterm elections, NBC News projects.

With some races still unresolved, it’s difficult to say with confidence exactly how big — or in this case, small — the GOP majority will be in the chamber next year. The threshold for a majority is 218 seats, and Republicans claimed their 218th victory in the early evening Wednesday. Some projections suggest the party will end up with roughly 222 seats, but time will tell.

The more pressing question is what, exactly, Americans will see from their new far-right majority in the lower chamber.

Those expecting constructive legislating should probably start lowering their expectations now. A dejected Capitol Hill aide who works for a senior House Republican told The Washington Post last week, “It’s an unworkable majority. Nothing meaningful will get passed.”

This almost certainly understates the likely chaos. The House GOP conference features a sizable right-wing contingent that does not believe in compromise, will not make concessions, and fully expects to exploit its leverage, indifferent to the fact that the opposing party still controls the Senate and the White House.

On must-pass legislation — bills to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debts, for example — this dynamic represents a serious threat. If Republican leaders feel forced to accept the demands of their most reactionary members, must-pass measures won’t be able to get support from the Senate or President Joe Biden. If GOP leaders are forced to go to Democrats, hat in hand, looking for votes as former House Speaker John Boehner occasionally had to do, the Republican leadership will face a revolt from the right.

The result won’t be pretty. The New York Times’ Ezra Klein recently had a great column on this subject, explaining, “What Republicans are offering, if they win the 2022 elections, is not conservatism. It is crisis. More accurately, it is crises.”

What’s less clear is whether the incoming House majority party cares.

If, hypothetically, Republicans had a meaningful policy agenda, and GOP leaders were eager to rack up some impressive legislative victories, the current circumstances would appear daunting. On every floor vote of any significance, Republicans will find it effectively impossible to advance legislation that (a) their members will tolerate; and (b) stands a realistic chance of becoming law.

But therein lies the rub: Today’s Republican Party is not a governing party; it has no meaningful agenda; and constructive legislating is not included on its list of priorities.

House GOP lawmakers will spend the next two years launching hostage standoffs. And obsessing over Hunter Biden. And harassing Dr. Anthony Fauci. And pursuing impeachment crusades.

A New York Times analysis today summarized the matter nicely in just six words: “Their agenda is investigative, not legislative.”

Whether the GOP majority is 3 seats or 103 seats is of no consequence to a party that doesn’t care about governing. A tiny majority is enough to put power in the hands of far-right members who’ll be handing out subpoenas like candy on Halloween, pursuing every weird conspiracy theory that crosses their minds.