The Political Notebook 10.6.23
Biggs, Crane join Democrats to oust McCarthy. Who's the RINO now? Moving the Hastert rule goalposts. Why be sheriff when a judge actually runs the place?
The hypocrisy of the House Republicans who ousted Kevin McCarthy from the speakership – led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and including Arizonans Andy Biggs and Eli Crane – was stunning, even to someone generally highly cynical about the genus Homo Politicus. (Today’s politics are reviving my H.L. Mencken phase from my late teens.)
McCarthy’s triggering offense was supposedly relying on Democratic votes to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government fully operating, at least temporarily. However, the majority of House Republicans also supported the continuing resolution. It was the predominant position within the caucus, with 126 Republicans voting in favor and 90 voting against.
Contrast that with the vote to oust McCarthy. Of the 216 votes to give him the boot, 208 were from Democrats. Only 8 Republicans voted to defenestrate him.
So, it’s unacceptable to rely on Democratic votes to do something a majority of House Republicans want, pass a continuing resolution to keep the lights on. But it’s okay to rely on Democratic votes to oust a speaker that the overwhelming majority of Republican House members support?
Who’s the RINO now?
More consequential than the rank hypocrisy of the likes of Biggs and Crane is the subtle moving of the goalposts for the Hastert rule. The rule is named after former GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert who vowed not to bring to the floor any measure that did not have the support of a majority of the majority.
The continuing resolution that occasioned McCarthy’s ouster met the Hastert rule test. The majority of the majority supported it.
The supposed offense was that the resolution got more Democratic votes than Republican ones. The resolution passed with 209 Democratic votes and 126 Republican ones. That’s moving the Hastert rule goalposts. According to this contention, a majority of the majority isn’t sufficient for a speaker to bring a measure to the floor. The majority of the majority has to also be the majority of the final vote for the measure. In other words, a speaker shouldn’t bring to the floor a measure supported by a majority of his caucus if it is even more popular within the minority caucus.
But even that idiocy isn’t the ultimate objective of the attempt to move the Hastert rule goalposts. The ultimate objective is to adopt an informal rule that nothing is to be brought to the floor unless there are enough votes from the Republican caucus to pass the measure without any reliance on Democratic votes at all. In a narrowly divided body, that would give the likes of Biggs and Crane an effective veto on what even gets a vote in the House.
Even the original Hastert rule was a recipe for dysfunctional and bad governance, and an affront to representative government. In our partisan system, being the majority party will inevitably have some prerogatives and privileges. But there should always be a path for the will of a majority of the body to prevail.
Perhaps Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone has some fabulous offer that would have caused him to resign early and not run for re-election in any event. But I suspect one of the reasons is that he doesn’t really run the sheriff’s office, even though he was elected to do that. Instead, the office is being run by federal Judge G. Murray Snow and his court-appointed monitors.
This dates back to Joe Arpaio’s tenure, who hasn’t been the sheriff since 2016. Arpaio was unconstitutionally, and unconscionably, flooding Latino neighborhoods with street patrols and pulling over drivers for picayunish violations, in an attempt to round up illegal immigrants. He was transparent about it, issuing press releases bragging about how many illegal immigrants his dragnets caught.
Snow correctly found that Arpaio’s racially targeted dragnets were unconstitutional. There was a simple and cheap remedy. Forbid Arpaio from conducting these dragnets or anything similar. Some monitoring to ensure compliance would have been needed. But it would have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, not the hundreds of millions that have been spent complying with what Snow ordered instead. And the monitoring could have been safely dismantled once voters tossed Arpaio out of office in favor of Penzone. This was an Arpaio specific problem.
Instead of the simple and cheap remedy, Snow decided effectively to take over the management of the sheriff’s office. His remedial orders were highly prescriptive, almost laughably so. He ordered universal training and specified how much of it could occur online rather than in person. He dictated how many direct reports a supervisor could have. He required the total overhaul of the internal disciplinary process.
Perhaps the most egregious overreach was ordering the establishment of a community relations board, dictating its membership and topics to be discussed, and requiring the sheriff to consult it. Elected officials still have First Amendment rights. A federal judge has no standing to dictate with whom an elected official has to meet and what is to be discussed. Yet Snow scolded Penzone for leaving one of these meetings early.
The unnecessary cost to taxpayers stands at a quarter billion and counting. And very little of it has anything to do with remedying Arpaio’s specific constitutional violation.
At this point, this isn’t really Arpaio’s legacy anymore. It’s Snow’s.
Reach Robb at email@example.com.