House speaker debacle hold promise for democracy: The Jeffries Compromise

Hours before Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s historic ousting as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic House minority leader, wrote a Washington Post opinion piece lamenting that no Republicans were willing to work across the aisle to ensure Congress’s ability to govern. Nonetheless, Jeffries urged Republicans to join in opening a bipartisan door. 

A plan for framing that doorway and walking through it is offered here amidst the chaotic race to replace McCarthy. On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s preferred candidate, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Oh., lost a vote for the GOP nomination to Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who still needs to secure the support of 217 members of the House, including several of the Republicans who successfully booted McCarthy.

So suspend disbelief and ask: “Could Hakeem Jeffries become Speaker before 2025?” Simultaneous domestic and world crises can make strange political bedfellows. 

Ironically, this bipartisan plan was recently forecasted with dread by McCarthy himself.  He bitterly opined that the eight Republican extremists who defeated him were “enabling Democrats to seize the opportunity to regain power in the House.”Even so, the path is narrow and not without compromise for Democrats. Plainly, any prospect for such radical change of direction is, at best, weeks away. Things must get worse before they can get better.  

Any sign of bipartisanship in Congress is currently blocked by threats to Republicans who dare contemplate working with party opponents to restore a functioning House. Those threats emanate from Donald Trump’s sardonic musings about “primarying” Republicans who cooperate with Democrats. Then danger of violence ripples outward from those musings.

Before long, however, House paralysis may reach a tipping point.  If dysfunction and deadlock continue, a November 17 government shutdown looms. 

Growing public frustration with a Congress causing real suffering in the country could eventually persuade Republicans from districts won or closely contested by Biden to put their toe in the water of a bipartisan speakership for Jeffries, steering toward a negotiated moderate middle.

The need for congressional functionality in a world riddled by crisis, in the Middle East and Ukraine, could also add momentum for just such an improbable development. 

Jeffries should now be designing a detailed plan. The one offered here is not the only option, but it provides key elements that may prove useful for representatives of both parties.

Road Map. Only five Republican House members need to align their speaker votes with the 212 Democrats to break the deadlock and elect Jeffries as Speaker. Eighteen Republican representatives were elected from districts won by President Biden. Two from New York, Marc Molinaro and Mike Lawler, previously admitted they would consider working with Democrats to solve the budget deadlock.

To enlist the needed five or more, Jeffries would have to fully embrace and empower any Republicans willing to save the country from gridlock. At least three political “carrots” could be dangled.

First, cooperating Republicans would be promised choice Committee assignments that carry weight with their constituents.  

Second, cooperators will be credited as profiles in courage ready to take on political risk to restore a functional government. 

Third, a Speaker Jeffries would involve the aligned Republicans in developing powerful “consensus” legislation with broad bipartisan public support. The joint legislative initiative  would be announced at the time the coalition is unveiled.  It could be ordered from the following menu. 

Border control and immigration policy.  There is a rising imperative for Biden to demonstrate a strong commitment to border control as the foundation for any immigration system reform. That creates an opportunity to “go back to the future.”

Ten years ago, a so-called “Gang of  Eight” senators, four from each party, developed a relatively conservative bipartisan plan to tighten borders, screen for truly meritorious asylum cases, and permit immigration as needed to staff U.S. workforce niches (from farming to high tech). It passed the Senate with 14 Republicans in support. That blueprint could be dusted off, updated and elevated as a model of what bipartisanship can accomplish.

Support for Ukraine’s resistance of Russia.  Despite media attention to MAGA Republicans’ opposition to more military aid for Ukraine, majorities of representatives of both parties support it

They understand that if the Ukraine domino falls, other NATO neighbors would be at risk.  A Russian invasion of any member state would trigger a US treaty obligation to defend it.  Continued military support for Ukraine now is the way to avoid that disaster. This fits traditional Reagan/Eisenhower Republican convictions.  It should draw the Republican Purple Gang to align to hold firm against Russia. 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Rationalize the appropriations process.  Pragmatic members in both parties want to avoid the recurring specter of freezing the government and jeopardizing US international financial standing.

Secure basic voting rights.  Apply time-honored fairness and access principles with some variation on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, likely with needed concessions to reasonable Republican demands for voter identification. 

Basic gun safety measures.  Respond to the strong public preference for enhanced gun safety by at least clamping down on assault weapons, large ammunition clips, and gun purchase age limits.  

Importantly, the risk brave Republicans would be taking by supporting this agenda along with a Jeffries speakership would be matched by risks to Jeffries and House Democrats. Jeffries would be elevating the political stature of Republican allies in their moderate districts, which could diminish prospects for a 2025 Jeffries speakership based on a Democratic majority.    

Of course, this good governance coalition cannot happen absent a prolonged Congressional stand-still and a government frozen in inertia. In such circumstances, to get the country moving, Jeffries would need to “whip” his own caucus to support collaboration with purple Republican House members. 

The alternative: a nation stuck in dysfunction at a time of national and world crisis. We are looking straight down the barrel at that grim alternative. There is a better path. The planning should begin now.

Read more

about this topic


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar