The biggest question at the end of the week that was: What do we do now?

October 6th, 2023 by Tom Lynch


 “Sometimes in politics one must duel with skunks, but no one should be fool enough to allow the skunks to choose the weapons.”
Joseph Gurney Cannon – Republican from Illinois, second-longest serving U.S. Representative in history,¹ and Speaker of the House for four terms from 1903 to 1911.

Until this momentous week, Joe Cannon, known as Uncle Joe, or sometimes Czar Cannon, was the only Speaker to be faced with a Motion to Vacate the Chair, which he survived by 40 votes in 1910 toward the end of his long reign when he was beginning to lose his formidable power.²  Now, he’s still the only Speaker to survive a Motion to Vacate.

Cannon’s Motion to Vacate, which he proposed himself to show who was still boss, was entirely different from the circus we witnessed this week. On Tuesday, Republicans in the House of Representatives gave further evidence, if any was needed, of their uncanny ability to eat their young, in this case the “young” being Kevin McCarthy’s 269-day speakership, the shortest in more than 140 years. For contrast, Joe Cannon’s Speakership lasted 2,671 days.

McCarthy was done in by eight Republicans. Think about that for a moment. In a country of more than 330 million people, a gang of eight pulled off what many of their kind had wanted, but none had achieved in the 235-year history of America’s Constitution.

And for what? Why this revolution in the ranks?

When Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to become Speaker in January he “let the skunks choose the weapons.” Moreover, he could not rely on a single Democrat to help him when his Republican enemies loaded, cocked, and fired those weapons. Democrats had been persuaded on two occasions they could not trust him. First, when immediately following the January 6th Insurrection he publicly laid the whole thing at the feet of Donald Trump and called for an independent congressional commission to investigate, only to fly down to Mara-a-Lago a few days later to beg forgiveness, renew his obeisance, and repudiate even the idea of such a commission. Second, when he struck a debt and budget deal with President Biden in May that set a framework for federal agency funding for the next two years while allowing the Treasury Department to continue borrowing, only to renege on the agreement a few weeks later after MAGA extremists in the House loudly contended (everything they do is loud) they had won promises from him to lower spending, not leave it where it was.

McCarthy’s Speakership was doomed from the moment he won the job on the 15th ballot nine months earlier.

The hot question now is what happens next? Someone has to be Speaker, and is there any hope that whoever grabs and gains the gavel will fare any better than McCarthy? Further, is there any chance at all that the next Speaker will be able to get rid of the rule the MAGA crowd forced on McCarthy, which lets a single Member bring a Motion to Vacate as happened Tuesday? You can bet that will happen if one of the MAGA junta is elected.

However, the biggest question for me is what happens on 17 November when the Continuing Resolution McCarthy negotiated with Democrats expires? That was McCarthy’s finest hour. It showed courage, but it gave Florida’s Matt Gaetz  and his cronies the ammunition they’d always wanted to oust the Speaker just to prove they could—there’s no other cogent reason. For Gaetz, et al, cogency is not a strong suit. They are political, anarchist bomb throwers of the first order. Nothing more.

Pragmatically speaking, the nation’s business is being held hostage by a tyranny of the few to the detriment of the many. This cannot and must not go on. But right now it’s hard to imagine finding adults in the Republican caucus who have the nerve, strength, and temerity to exile the toddlers to their rooms for a lengthy time-out.

So much hangs in the balance. All the safety net programs in America, the profound issues on our border, the battle to mitigate climate change, and above all, Ukraine. Providing Ukraine the weapons it desperately needs to send Vladimir Putin’s army back to Mother Russia is critically important for our national security. Were Ukraine to suffer defeat, Russia’s autocratic leader would be strengthened at home, emboldened abroad. It would not just be a defeat for Ukraine, it would be a defeat for the U.S. and all of NATO. We really cannot allow that to happen, but that is precisely what is at stake over the next few weeks. Ohio’s pugilistic Jim Jordan, now a candidate to replace McCarthy, and whom Donald Trump endorsed this morning, this week said he’s against providing any more funding for Ukraine. In his mind, it’s either Ukraine or our southern border, and the border’s ever so much more important. Plus, Ukraine’s not our fight, anyway.

Not our fight? Is he right? Is it really an either/or proposition? Of course not, but he and his extremist colleagues seem to live only in a black and white world (in more ways than one).

Every day we make history, but America’s never made history this way before. From now until the 17th of November will be a time fraught with peril. May we navigate it with strength and patriotism. A corny word for sure, but it’s the right one.

May some person emerge from the Republican side of the House capable of pulling the fully-loaded clown car back from the edge of what is a deep and rocky gorge.

And may all members of Congress put personal ambition and self-interest aside and work for the common good of the country and its people.

Yes, I know. That’s probably asking more than most are willing to give.

Joe Cannon would have eaten this bunch alive.


¹ The longest-serving Member of the House of Representatives was Don Young, (R-AK), who held his office for 49 years, from 1973 until his death in 2022.

² Speaker Cannon was so powerful he made himself Chair of the Rules Committee and personally appointed the Chairs and Members of the other 19 permanent Committees of the House. Consequently, he  controlled everything the House did. The Cannon Office Building, named after him, was the first D.C. building to be named for a Member of Congress.