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Meet 2023’s politics, even more dramatic than 2022’s

There is still no speaker — there’s not even a House — as the year shapes up to be a real doozy

Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, center, and other members confer on the House floor after a vote for speaker.
Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, center, and other members confer on the House floor after a vote for speaker. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

If the new year is starting even more dramatically than 2022 ended, has 2023 even really begun?

This year is already competing with its predecessor in terms of allegations, conjecture and dysfunction. Some might be excused for believing 2022 was the low point of all three.

Because: Surely a new year without a presidential or congressional midterm election would be a little less noisy and a little more orderly, right?

Wrong. “If you want to drain the swamp, you cannot put the biggest alligator in charge of the exercise. I’m a Florida man, and I know of what I speak,” Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., told reporters Tuesday morning before the House voted on speaker ballot after speaker ballot, he and his fellow conservatives blocking Kevin McCarthy‘s second bid for the big gavel.

“Everything I heard hardened my resolve that this town desperately needs change,” Gaetz said, before vowing to dash the ambitious California Republican’s speaker dreams. “And if it’s a few of us who have to stand in the breach to force it, we are willing to do so for as long as it takes.”

Hello, 2023. 

Surely, once the conservative wall of 20 members took the speaker fight — without a serious GOP alternative to McCarthy to offer — they would stand down and allow the chamber to get to work, right?

Wrong. “The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, ‘Sir, you do not have the votes, and it’s time to withdraw,’” Colorado’s Lauren Boebert said on the floor during nominations for the fifth speaker ballot. She was referring to former President Donald Trump, who worked the phones Tuesday night on McCarthy’s behalf. 

Her verbal jab drew howls from some in the chamber, and likely portends a very messy year — make that two years of the 118th Congress.

Happy new year! Or something.

New year, new House. That means GOP oversight of the Democratic Biden administration. While some have criticized many of the conference’s planned probes, some could have clear merit. One is an expected investigation into the administration’s botched military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Pentagon cannot be force-fed enough lessons about its many missteps, and this White House needs to review its many mistakes too. That probe got underway at noon on Jan. 3, right?

Wrong. “As far as my committee, there are a lot of issues in the world. And I want to get moving. But I can’t move forward until we have a speaker. Without that, everything is held back,” Michael McCaul of Texas, the (maybe, probably) incoming Foreign Affairs chairman, told this correspondent Tuesday. McCaul has talked openly about the importance of his panel’s Afghanistan investigation, though questions remain about whether it will end up being bipartisan. Still, any lessons for Pentagon planners would be a plus. 

It’s enough to make one turn to music to cope. Let’s sing together: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?”

Many of the GOP members involved in this week’s once-in-a-century speaker standoff have been in Congress for more than a few terms. So perhaps, as we look for some light in a so-far dark 2023, some rising stars offered reasons for hope …

… Wrong. “They want us divided. They want us to fight each other. That much has been made clear by the popcorn and blankets and alcohol that is coming up over there,” Kat Cammack, R-Fla., said on the floor Wednesday afternoon, drawing jeers from across the aisle. Another up-and-coming member, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, clapped back a little later on Twitter: “If only! If Dems took a shot every time McCarthy lost a Republican, we’d all be unconscious by now.” For good measure, AOC added a cocktail emoji.

Bottoms up, folks. Why not, given how this year is starting? Let’s sing again as we imagine the witty and high-minded soliloquy repertoire in a future Congress between a potential Majority Leader Cammack and possible Minority Leader Ocasio-Cortez (or vice versa): “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?” 

This columnist has tried using this weekly forum to issue warnings about Trump’s fact-smashing, corrosive effect on the country’s politics — and culture. Many of McCarthy’s detractors are Trump loyalists, which should not be glossed over on this second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, and they want to push harder to enact his “Make America Great Again” agenda via some hard-line “America first” policies. So their collective inability to install a handpicked speaker of their own ilk shows Trump’s hold on the GOP is weakening, right?

Wrong, according to another Trump loyalist who on Tuesday again pledged her own allegiance to the MAGA agenda. “It’s a big credit to President Trump that it really helped hold the majority that we have for Kevin McCarthy,” Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia said Wednesday, according to reports. “So that’s how to read that one.”

Oh. Only 359 days, at publication time, to go in a year that already is a real doozy. The poet Robert Frost so wisely advised that “the best way out is always through.” 

But getting there is going to be a turbulent ride, and music can be so soothing. So, let’s take it home, loud enough so the other GOP members nominated for speaker and sheepishly seeking cover in the back of the chamber can hear: “For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

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