The dominant role of the right-wing of the Republican Party attracted the attention of politicos in January as the House of Representatives elected a Speaker. The left-wing of the Democratic Party used some limited power in an effort to control a gubernatorial appointment in Albany.
The far wings of political parties don’t do the parties any good, but when considered as an important part of the party’s base they tend to attract more attention than their limited membership warrants. The Republican far-right wing comprised just about ten percent of the House Republican Caucus during the recent speaker-rama festivities, but those 20 or so members essentially imposed themselves as the leaders of the entire caucus. The remaining 200 members acquiesced to their demands.
Many people in Washington, both Democrats and even a handful of Republicans, see Kevin McCarthy as spineless and without any guiding principles. His reputation is that he always just wanted to be Speaker, and he bought the position with his soul. He is using the 200 members non-Crazy Caucus Republicans as pawns In the 118th Congress while trying to keep the crazies off his back.
Little by little we are watching McCarthy reveal his concessions to the crazies. It’s coming in committee creations and assignments and blustery commentary about what they intend to do with their power. It is apparent, however, that the Republicans, other than railing against the federal bureaucracy, aka “the deep state,” appear to have a problem deciding what they can actually put forward. Their proposals thus far are simply talking points to please the Trump base while lacking any serious interest in legislating and governing.
Last September I posted an article (The 2022 Republican congressional campaign platform) which listed the proposals of Senator Rick Scott, head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, and Kevin McCarthy outlining what they wanted to do in the 118th Congress. Most of it was bumper sticker generalities that the Reps have promoted for years. Details were lacking on everything. That post continues to get clicks as interested parties attempt to figure out what the Republicans are really attempting to do. The struggle between the more centrist Republicans in Congress (there are some, but they are not too brave) and the crazies evidently rages on in Republican caucuses. Bet on the crazies to win most of those battles, not because they have a majority or any legislation ready to go, but because they have figured out that the extreme wing of 20 or so House members can and will control the action for the next two years.
In Albany we have been watching a power struggle play out centered around Governor Kathy Hochul’s appointment of Hector LaSalle as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. Left-wing members of the state Senate have parlayed their marginal power to bring the issue to a stalemate.
The Governor’s nomination, as is standard practice, was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing. The Committee was originally composed of twelve Democrats and three Republicans, but those senators opposed to LaSalle’s nomination evidently did not think they had enough senators to turn down the nomination, so they added an extra three Democrats and one Republican to the Committee.
That did the trick, as the Committee, immediately following the hearing, voted ten to nine to defeat the nomination. Senator Sean Ryan of Buffalo was one of the ten. The leadership of the Senate then proceeded to pronounce the nomination dead, even though the State Constitution requires that the nomination for the office of Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is to be made “upon the advice and consent of the Senate.” The full Senate has 63 members, but a vote on LaSalle’s nomination is not currently planned. The Governor is considering suing the Senate to force a vote by the full body.
Packing the Judiciary Committee has worked well so far for the left wing of the state Democratic Party – if only Kevin McCarthy could have done that! Regardless of what side of the Chief Judge appointment debate someone is on, there is no good justification for the action. Packing a Committee to guarantee a result is a political power play that the left wing of the Party would go ballistic about if the stunt was pulled on them. It is an arbitrary abuse of power that mocks majority rule.
In Washington House Republicans are unlikely to accomplish anything of substance while the crazy caucus rules the roost and the Speaker is Speaker in name only. In Albany, Committee packing sets a very bad precedent and deserves a challenge for reasons that transcend the immediate issue.
At the end of the day, the extreme wings of the political parties only succeed when the majority allows it to happen. All legislators should be accorded their right to be heard and to vote as they please. But when the far wings of the parties seize control with the acquiescence of the much larger majority the public’s interest is not best served.