Only one conclusion can be reached from last week’s drawn-out saga for Speaker of the House. Like what occurred on Jan. 6, 2021, American democracy remains under siege.
This time those perpetrating the takeover of our nation’s Capitol wore suits and hijacked yet another institutional process with the goal of satisfying narrow ideological and personal interests.
Led by Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Matt Gaetz of Florida — who were also among the 147 GOP lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election after the insurrection — a small cabal of congressional representatives stymied the Republican Party’s efforts to select a speaker, dubiously claiming their interests represented the will of the people.
There are several reasons that things got to this point, and it’s hard to imagine anything will fundamentally improve for those of us living in Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s district — or for California overall.
First, the Bakersfield Republican failed to do his homework. When the long-predicted “red wave” didn’t materialize, McCarthy thought giving numerous pro-Trump candidates copious amounts of money for their political campaigns would pay off. He put all his chips on the table, knowing there was no viable opponent within the Republican caucus.
In effect, his strategy after the 2022 midterms was “I gave you money and I’m your only choice.” With his colleagues in a corner, McCarthy didn’t do the necessary work to prevent what transpired last week.
In a caucus of self-described alpha males, McCarthy is viewed as useful but weak. The pro-Trump crowd looks down on people they believe are frail in nature, and McCarthy’s obsequious ambition makes him the ideal speaker because they can get him to do their — rather than the nation’s — bidding.
Consider what this means. Put up roadblocks to the Jan. 6 investigation? Done.
Impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for border issues Donald Trump claimed he fixed? OK.
Endless investigations of Hunter Biden? Sure.
Ignore reckless deficit spending under Trump while calling for debt ceilings that will force a debt default (and higher interest rates, too)? No problem.
Bring back the Holman Rule, which allows Congress to target specific individuals in government agencies — like the Department of Justice and the DHS — if they’re making trouble for Republicans? Fine.
More troubling is the subpoena power Trump acolytes demand, which will effectively allow the GOP to go after the Jan. 6 investigators. This kind of subpoena power is the first step in creating a kangaroo court environment.
What can Californians look forward to under Speaker McCarthy? We can expect more of the same theatrics. Stylized and dramatic form will become a substitute for substance.
In McCarthy’s own Kern County, oil and agriculture are the two dominant industries. Agriculture depends on a steady supply of labor, and the ICE raids and labor shortages we experienced during the Trump administration made it clear that something substantive needs to be done about immigration.
California farmers know this, and they have communicated this to McCarthy to no avail.
Rather than focus on creating viable immigration and worker programs — through the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, for example, where the framework exists — McCarthy has chosen to focus on demonizing undocumented immigrants from Latin America. This happens despite clear evidence that the No. 1 source of undocumented immigrants over the past decade is people overstaying their visas.
Under McCarthy, more unnecessary review of our immigration policies ensures the status quo rather than viable solutions.
Kern County’s petroleum producers — some of the largest energy producers in the country — have looked to Washington D.C. for help because of what they perceive to be an industry-hostile governor in California. Has McCarthy helped? As oil industry promoters in Kern County put it, McCarthy has been AWOL.
McCarthy’s leadership position in Congress isn’t going to change the political tone or trajectory of our nation, California or Kern County. For the next two years, we can simply expect more theatrics and little relief for our region’s problems.
Mark Martinez is a professor at Cal State Bakersfield and chair of the political science department. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.