For Speaker of the House: David Joyce. Who?

Robert Reich / Robert Reich's Substack
For Speaker of the House: David Joyce. Who? Author and former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, on PBS Frontline, June 22, 2016. (photo: PBS)

The alternative is Kevin McCarthy beholden to the Freedom Caucus


Welcome to the challenges of 2023. Today I want to talk about one of the first.

When the 118th Congress is sworn in tomorrow, Republicans will hold very narrow control of the House — 222 seats to the Democrat’s 213.

The first thing they’ll do is vote for the next Speaker (who’ll determine the agenda for the House, what bills make it to the floor, the fate of critical legislation such as spending bills, and the House’s negotiating positions with Senate leaders and the White House).

The most likely is the current Republican House Leader, Kevin McCarthy. He could squeak by with 218 votes, a bare majority of House members. But if just 5 Republicans vote against him, he won’t make it. (Technically, he could be elected with fewer than 218 votes if he persuades Republican lawmakers who don’t want to vote for him to instead vote “present” or to miss the vote entirely.)

To get the votes he needs, McCarthy will have to cozy up to the MAGA “Freedom Caucus,” which includes bizarro extremists like South Carolina's Ralph Norman (who as late as January 17, 2021 urged Trump to invoke martial law), Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ohio's Jim Jordan, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Georgia's Marjorie Taylor Greene, Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, and some 30 others, none of whom you’d want to invite to dinner.

For their support, the Freedom Caucus is demanding that any member be able to call a vote at any time to oust McCarthy (a “motion to vacate the chair”) if he strays from their hard MAGA line. (Under current rules, only party leaders can bring such a motion.)

Which would put McCarthy on a very short leash controlled by the Freedom Caucus (with Trump indirectly controlling them).

In effect, Trump and the Freedom Caucus would call many of the shots — on committee assignments, investigations (Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, the FBI), and key issues like raising the debt ceiling (they’ll demand that McCarthy refuse — imperiling the credit of the United States and catapulting the nation into an economic crisis).

Does this mean the rest of us have to sit back and allow a tiny minority of extreme rightwing MAGA House Republicans controlled by Donald Trump to hijack congressional Republicans, who in turn will hijack the entire House, and thereby much of Congress?

No. There’s an alternative, and I urge House Democrats and the few remaining “moderate” Republicans to take it: Make Ohio’s Republican Rep. David Joyce the Speaker of the House.

House Dems and moderate Republicans could come up with the 218 votes to put Joyce over the top.

Why Joyce? He’s the new chairman of the Republican Conference Group, a group you probably never heard of (years ago it was called the “Tuesday Group”) because it flies under the radar. It’s a collection of the remaining 40 or so Republican moderates. I say “moderate” only in comparison to the rest of the Republican House. The Conference Group at least wants the government to function.

Joyce would be acceptable to most current Republican representatives, even though the Freedom Caucus won’t want anything to do with him. During Trump’s presidency, he voted in line with Trump's stated position 91.8% of the time. And he voted against impeaching Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. In other words,

But Joyce is not a MAGA Republican. He refused to sign the Texas amicus brief that tried to overturn the results of the presidential election. He was also one of the few Republican House members who did not object to the counting of electoral college votes on January 6, 2021.

Since Biden became president, Joyce has voted in line with Biden’s positions over 30 percent of the time. He was one of 35 Republicans who joined all Democrats in approving legislation to establish the January 6 commission to investigate the storming of the US Capitol. He and 46 other Republicans voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, codifying the right to same-sex marriage in federal law.

Overall, Joyce’s politics are similar to Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s. “Everybody’s a Joe Manchin,” Joyce said a few weeks ago.

Joyce wants to keep swing-district Republicans out of the harm’s way coming from the Freedom Caucus and other MAGA conservatives. He saw what happened to Ohio Republican candidates viewed as too close to Trump’s MAGA wing: The state’s House delegation shrank from an eight-member edge for Republicans to just five because voters rejected several MAGA GOP candidates. “There’s some exotics that like chaos, they thrive in chaos because that’s how they get the media,” Joyce told the Washington Post.

Given that the likeliest alternative will be a Speaker McCarthy beholden to the Freedom Caucus, Joyce should be Speaker — and he could be if House Democrats support him.

I urge them to do so.

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