UPDATED! Democrats, Make Rep. Young Kim Speaker!

Yes, we’ll get to that picture below soon. Yes, I’m actually going to make a case for Democrats to cut a deal with Rep. Young Kim (R-East OC) to make her Speaker of the House. No, I’m not necessarily kidding, but — got a better idea?

A few hours from when I post this, the new Congress, 118th of its name, will meet on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, things look likely to go smoothly. In the House, not so much so. (Read this LA Times article if you haven’t!)

The presumptive House Speaker in the next Congress is Kevin McCarthy of Barkersfield, who is disliked by virtually all Democrats — he was the cynical mastermind behind the “Benghazi” attack on President Barack Obama — and a hefty proportion of Republicans, variously upset because he wasn’t MAGA and then was too MAGA, having rejected and then gone to Mar a Lago after the January 6 Insurrection to kiss then-President Donald Trump’s ring. Lots of people — including Republicans — would like to see this massive jerk and hungriest man in Congress lose, if only for the fun.

Republicans can simply try to wear McCarthy down with multiple votes on — or at least starting on — Tuesday, Jan. 3. Regular business, including initiation of members’ pay, cannot start until a Speaker is chosen. Pundits are almost all pooh-poohing the idea that a united Democratic Party — which will nominate incoming House Majority leader Hakeem Jeffries on the first ballot — can take advantage of the close margin in this new Congress to reduce the harm that the new House would otherwise cause. These pundits lack imagination. Democrats have cards to play right now as well! To figure out how to pull off a beautiful, they can look to no better guide than our own state’s Willie Brown — a man who has had plenty of imagination when it comes to striking these sorts of deals and ending up with power.

Possibly Doomed Kevin McCarthy, Joyously Conniving Willie Brown, Stunningly Ambitious Young Kim

The Actual “Slick Willie”

Most of our readers probably remember that San Francisco’s Willie Brown was the longtime Speaker of the California Assembly, serving from December 2, 1980 until June 5, 1995. Far fewer, I expect, remember how he became speaker in the first place, but both that story and the more famous one — about how he remained in office later than most people thought possible — provide us an important message for today: making sneaky deals across the aisle really can work!

Accompany me to 1980, when Leo McCarthy of San Francisco, who had been Assembly Speaker for three terms, was being challenged by the #2 Assembly Democrat in office, Majority Leader Howard Berman of Los Angeles. Assembly Democrats were deeply split between their two leaders — and Brown realized that he had a shot at defeating both of them if he could get the support of the 28-person Republican minority in the 80-seat Assembly. After belatedly entering the race, Brown was able to obtain the votes of 25 Assembly Democrats as well as all 28 Republicans, allowing him to win the seat with ease. (McCarthy went on to serve three terms as Lt. Governor; Berman went on to a long and successful career in Congress.) Brown became the dominant politician in the California legislature for a generation.

Our next stop is 1994, when Democrats lost the Assembly to Republicans by one seat, that people still remember. This result would have been expected to lead to the election of their Assembly Leader Jim Brulte as Speaker. But Brown wasn’t quite ready to give in. First, Brown persuaded moderate Republican-turned-Independent Paul Horcher to vote with Democrats keep him in power. Horcher was recalled from office and replaced by a Republican. Brown found another option in Doris Allen of Huntington Beach, who had been running in a special election to California State Senate when GOP party leaders endorsed her fellow Assemblyman Ross Johnson, who had moved into the district to run. Allen lost the election — and was pissed. So Speaker Brown convinced Allen to vote with Democrats and become Speaker herself — the first woman to hold that title. (Holding that power, not so much. Brown continued to control the Assembly from his role as head of the Democratic Caucus.)

Assembly Republicans, led by Curt Pringle, were outraged; in November 1995, her district’s voters recalled Allen from office. But before her removal, Allen resigned as speaker — and Brown was able to stay in control by convincing Brian Setencich to become Assembly Speaker, under basically the same deal. But when Brown resigned his seat in the State Assembly to be sworn in as mayor of San Francisco, Setencich lost that vote, restoring the Republicans’ majority electing Pringle as Speaker in January 1996. Setencich himself was defeated for reelection in that June’s GOP primary.

There are lessons here for today’s House Democratic Caucus (and possibly tomorrow’s.) And it starts with just a few Democrats casting their vote for, not Jeffries,

What Do Democrats Want from the New Speaker?

What do Democrats want? For the new Speaker to be a Democrat! But … that’s unrealistic. Come up with something better.

OK … Fairness! Ummm… no. Elections do have consequences, and it’s unrealistic to expect Republicans not to press any of the advantage that they have earned — even if it was largely earned by the stupidity of Andrew Cuomo administration’s overreach in redistricting and NYC Mayor Eric Adams undercutting his nominal party on the issue of crime wherever he could.

So, OK, maybe not true fairness — but how about at least some mitigation of the unfairness that a Speaker McCarthy would provide?

Now you’re talking! I can think of at least three areas where Democrats might want to negotiate a better deal than they would get from McCarthy:

  • Every Senate Bill that comes from the House goes to a vote of the general body
  • Equal representation on committees
  • Failing that, a Co-Chair and equal representation on any investigatory committees, including ones tasked with considering impeachment. (The Speaker could veto say, 5-10 Democrats, though at most 2-3 from Judiciary, from serving on an impeachment investigation
  • No “holding hostages” by blocking of “must pass” legislation such as debt limits increases or continuing budget resolutions. (Other “must pass” legislation such as Defense Authorization bills is fair game)
  • De-Trumpification continues: the January 6 Committee will be re-formed with all of its current members, so far as possible, and no one who has not already acknowledged publicly that the 2020 election was not stolen can serve
  • This won’t work, but: bar members who materially supported the January 6 insurrection from serving, based upon the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court probably won’t allow it, but let’s have that fight

I’m sure that Katie Porter and Adam Schiff can come up with other possible negotiating points.

Why is Young Kim a Good Choice (among Republicans) for Speaker?

(1) Non-MAGA. So far as I can tell, despite goading from me and others, she never really embraced Trump. That matters.

(2) She’s a relative moderate. No, I don’t like her politics, but there’s no comparison to someone like Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, Michelle Steel (who is dumb), Born-Again Trumber Elise Stefanik, or any number of male idiots and yahoos such as Andy Biggs (who is running!) I could list some names right here that would make you gag. She’s good on immigration, not that bad on policing, bad on LGBT (but that might be a pose), and a Business Republican. She’s not the type you expect to see frothing at the mouth on Fox News or one of the even worse networks.

(I’ll be honest, though — this article was originally to be written to promote the candidacy of David Valadeo, from the Central Valley, but that’s likely a non-starter. Having a Speaker from a non-safe district is just asking for trouble. YK is from representing the East Orange County “Foothills and Canyons” district — and she’s not losing it anytime soon. Any Republican primary challenger to her would be obliterated.)

(3) She’s ambitious. This is a woman who carpetbagged (legally) not only from Fullerton to Buena Park (or La Habra), but then also chose to run for re-election all of the way across the county. She was a top aide to a Congressmember, Ed Royce, who held major positions in both the Banking and Foreign Affairs Committees — both of which he screwed up royally. That sort of pedigree makes her plausible and that sort of ambition makes her approachable by Democrats.

(4) She’s a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus. Normally I can’t stand members of the smugly moderate “Problem Solvers Caucus” — because they’re Democrats. But a Republican member of the Caucus? That’s not so bad!

(5) It would be a smart GOP gambit. Having an Asian-American woman as Speaker would attract Asian interest to the Republican Party. (This fits with the strategy that they’d used here in OC over the past several cycles, obviously.) If Republicans treated her with respect as the Republicans’ first female Speaker, it could shift a lot of people into their camp. (Don’t worry, Dems: on both race and gender, they won’t treat her with respect. But I’ll be sad about that!)

How Would Democrats Go About This?

Again, some Dems need to vote for her, even if it’s against her wishes — Lou Correa, make yourself useful! — to get her name into the hopper of “people who received votes.” She could not show interest in the position, because Kevin McCarthy would dismember her, but she doesn’t really have to. The idea is to place her in a position where, once McCarthy is out of the picture, she can become viable. At that point, negotiation with people on her behalf — after the first vote or two, some Democrats would have quiet discussions with people close to her — Ed Royce, of course — to see what sort of bargain might be achieved. Then, boom, the whole House Democratic caucus comes out for her. This may not be enough to win her the position right away, but if she’s the only one with at least 210 votes it won’t be hard for her to get the last eight.

Final Thought

You may laugh at this now — but if we don’t see a Speaker elected on Tuesday, then you’re going to have to think about it!

END OF PART 1

BEGINNING OF PART 2

I’m not, not, not going to liveblog something as deadly boring as hour-plus-long roll call votes on the Speaker. But there have been some developments of note, so I’ll occasionally come here and update them.

First, McCarthy has now lost two votes for Speaker. Democrat Hakeem Jeffries has received 212 votes — that is, the entire unified Democratic caucus — in both. McCarthy has received 203 votes both times. “Not McCarthy” has received 19 votes the first time, with the votes first being scattered among several candidates, and 20 votes the second time being unified behind a vote for Jim Jordan, who is himself supporting McCarthy. Jordan seems to recognize that McCarthy is not going to win anytime soon — so he continues to support McCarthy while the Death Cult Republicans coalesce behind him.

(Update: McCarthy lost a third and final vote of the day with 202 votes to Jeffries’s 212, as Florida Republican Byron Donalds switched his vote to Jordan — giving him 20 — seemingly less out of support than as a dramatic statement to tell his colleagues that McCarthy’s effort was done (at least for now) and it was time to step back, regroup, and consider alternatives. My guess is that he might well end up back in McCarthy’s fold tomorrow — for a time.)

By far the most important speeches I’ve seen have been (1) Jordan’s putting McCarthy’s name into nomination in the second round and (2) Matt Gaetz then putting Jordan’s name into the race. That had a galvanizing effect on the sort of people who listen to Matt Gaetz, of which there are, I’d say, 21. (The 19 anti-McCarthy votes and Jordan himself, and one whose tweet you’ll find below.)

Here’s a link to the C-SPAN video of the three speeches (which apparently can’t be embedded):

https://www.c-span.org/video/?c5048986/reps-mccarthy-jeffries-jordan-nominated-speaker-ballothttps://www.c-span.org/video/?c5048986/reps-mccarthy-jeffries-jordan-nominated-speaker-ballot

Jordan is obviously playing a double game here: (1) being loyal to McCarthy on the surface, and (2) positioning himself either as the obvious alternative or as the leader of the Death Cult faction. (It cannot have been a surprise to him that Gaetz nominated him, nor that he cleared the anti-McCarthy field. This is a good play on his part, as McCarthy can’t even reproach him, or even acknowledge what he did there, without losing support.

Jordan did characterize McCarthy as, in essence, Jordan himself — a Death Cult member who would rather see the government burn to the ground than to give an inch. I doubt that it was lost on anyone, including McCarthy himself, that the man Jordan was describing was not actually McCarthy — and that Jordan’s pretending otherwise was to Jordan’s own benefit. McCarthy has already agreed to a rule stating that any five Republicans can call for the removal of the Speaker at any time — a similar rule ended the tenure of John Boehner as Speaker — but the Death Cult wants the rule to be that any single member can call for such a vote! This would certainly jam up House Business good! As there is little doubt that any single member could get four others to join in a demand to end McCarthy’s tenure if they wanted to — unless is was a truly bad moment for it — McCarthy has already given away the store, so my guess here — just as the second vote total (which we’ve all known for a half-hour) is announced — is that he’ll agree to the insane version of the rule.

And we’re off to the third round, with McCarthy deputy Steve Scalise nominating his boss — giving a fiery policy speech (falsely claiming that fentanyl is all coming from China through the Mexican border to YOUR HOMETOWN — while Pete Aguilar again nominating Jeffries, and Texas Rep. Chip Roy nominating Jordan.

Here’s the problem for the Jordan proponents: At least 19 Republicans, probably many more, would not vote for Jordan either — because they want to govern, even if it means compromises, rather than continue to hold the government hostage unless they get everything (or close to it) that they want. So now we’re looking for signs that six Republicans might be willing to peel off and work with Democrats on choosing a Speaker.

The New York Times has posted a tweet from an unusual voice of reason: Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is not a dumb as some of us suppose. She retweets Charlie Kirk, who relays news from a House source that “2 very plugged-in Dem leadership aides say they’re already talking about “coalition leadership” to divide the House equally between Republicans and Democrats.” (I don’t know what that means; presumably it means to divide the House leadership power rules evenly in some way.) This smacks of being a bargaining position: any Republican who signed onto equal for Jeffries had might as well switch parties right now. Republicans have a better position available: the one I’ve presented above, whether with Young Kim or some other moderate.

Anyway, Greene wrote: “If the base only understood that 19 Republicans voting against McCarthy are playing Russian rouletter with our hard earned Republican majority right now. … This is the worst thing that could possibly happen.”

And she’s right! She’s hyperbolic and ungrammatical — but right! A gavel in Democratic hands would be a disaster for Republicans — and I think that that’s their red line. The issue now is simply how far right of a Speaker we will see.

Here are the levels we might consider possible:

FAR RIGHT REEP: Jim Jordan or someone like him. Someone supported by the anti-McCarthy far right, including the likes of Gaetz and Reps. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Bob Good (R-Va.), Reps. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.). Most likely, whoever they’d want could not get even near to 218 votes.

ESTABLISHMENT RIGHT REEP: McCarthy or someone like him. Can’t likely get past 203 — 204 if Texas Democrat Henry Cisneros defects — unless someone can straddle the caucuses. (Hell, I might choose McCarthy over Cisneros. Cisneros is not a Problem Solver, he’s a Problem Causer.)

BIPARTISAN MODERATE REEP: Here we’re likely looking at a Republican member of the “Problem Solver’s Caucus,” of which there are currently 21 (a 22nd name is included below for reasons I’ll explain):

PART-TIME POWER SHARING: This is the plan that Greene says that Democrats are trying to create. It seems logistically horrible to me — as in “people waiting until the Chair rotates to their side to do things” — and is about as out-of-step with what the country wants (though in-step with what politicians think they want) as possible.

CONSERVATIVE DEMOCRAT: Unless it’s maybe Henry Cisneros, I don’t think that Republicans will buy this at all. It’s a flat-out admission of failure.

MODERATE DEMOCRAT: Unless Republicans are willing to switch parties, this is impossible.

Now let’s look at those Problem Solvers.

The point of this post is that a Bipartisan Moderate Republican is likely to be where things settle, in a place where 212 Democrats can be joined by 6 Republicans who think that they can survive any fallout. I’ve highlighted four names that seem to me to be the most likely:

Don Bacon of Nebraska seems to be the leading moderate in the House. He’s been appearing in lots of stories about the Speaker’s race. I expect that if members of this caucus decided to vote as a bloc, along with Democrats, he’d have the right of first refusal of the position.

Jennifer Gonzalez of Puerto Rico is an interesting choice: she’s a member of Congress, but already doesn’t have a vote because she’s really a Delegate from Puerto Rico. (That’s great! The Speaker traditionally doesn’t vote!) I’d be interested to see what AOC would have to say about her, but Gonzalez would have to be awful for her to oppose her.

Jaime Herrera Beutler is a really intriguing possibility. She apparently had a good reputation in Congress, before being knocked off in a primary last year by a MAGA Republican who was upset that she voted to impeach Trump over January 6. IT IS PERMITTED to choose a non-Representative as Speaker, so she’s eligible (as are many other former politicians, though none of the others seem likely.) She is ALSO the one who leaked the contents of Kevin McCarthy’s phone conversation with Trump during the insurrection itself, where Trump defended the rioters by saying “I guess they just care more than you do, Kevin.” In some sense, Herrera Beutler becoming Speaker over McCarthy would be Hall of Fame level poetic justice. But McCarthy would still be Majority Leader, so anyone doing him this dirty might have to be prepared to caucus with Democrats!

Young Kim of East OC. If you thought that I was just choosing her arbitrarily, by now you should see that I wasn’t!

END OF PART 2

I think that I’m going to be moving on a new post for tomorrow; I think that this one has done its job!

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)