Kevin McCarthy and the telling state of his Republican committee assignments

The speaker of the US House of Representatives has appointed three his most extreme members to its main investigative body

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington earlier this month. Bloomberg
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The demeaning spectacle through which Kevin McCarthy, after 14 failed votes, finally convinced 21 radical holdouts to allow him to at last become Speaker of the US House of Representatives appears to be just the beginning of a period of misrule. His committee assignments leave little doubt the worst is yet to come.

During this fiasco, GOP members called each other, with as much plausibility as hyperbole, metaphorical “hostage takers", “Taliban", and “terrorists”. In front of a shocked live TV audience, incoming armed services committee chairman Mike Rogers lunged at holdout Matt Gaetz, but was physically restrained from attacking him.

Mr McCarthy gave into virtually every demand any Republican made of him, because he could afford to lose no votes, including agreeing to allow any member, alone, to make a “motion to vacate” which could remove him from his speakership at any moment. He thereby agreed to become the political prisoner of his “hostage taking” colleagues. The implications for governance are dire.

He reportedly made numerous concessions about committee posts, but nobody forced him to assign apparently compulsive fabulist George Santos to the small business and science committees, appointments so obnoxious they are essentially trolling the entire country.

Mr Santos is wanted in Brazil for stealing a chequebook from a man his mother worked for as a nurse in 2008 and purchasing $1,314 in clothing from… a small business. Brazilian police documents show Mr Santos confessed before disappearing and sending the case into limbo. Now he has suddenly reappeared on the floor of the US Congress, Brazilian authorities have reopened it.

He has yet to explain how, after a lifetime of modest income, he suddenly started reporting huge paydays in the past two years and lent his own campaign $700,000. The answer could well involve his work in 2020-2021 for Harbour City Capital Corp, which US financial authorities have described as “a classic Ponzi scheme” to defraud investors of up to $17.1 million. But at least it wasn't a small business.

Mr Santos should also fit right into the Science Committee, since he claims to have played a significant role in developing carbon capture technology during a non-existent career in finance and boasted about numerous equally non-existent university degrees.

From the preposterous to the disturbing, Mr McCarthy has appointed three of his most extreme members to the crucial Oversight committee, the House's main investigative body.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is known for a litany of bizarre views, including that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a hoax (she has since somehow been persuaded that they actually occurred), appearing to endorse killing prominent Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, and her recent boast that if she had orchestrated the January 6 insurrection, “we would have won” and “it would've been armed”. Mr McCarthy appears to think all this also made her an ideal addition to the House Homeland Security Committee.

Paul Gosar is another strong supporter of the insurgency, notorious for close ties to the white supremacist movement and strange conspiracy theories about the dangers of fluoridation of water (a paranoid fixation on the American extreme right since the late 1940s). Lauren Boebert was one of the anti-McCarthy holdouts and had been noted for her personal closeness to Ms Greene until they had a notorious shouting match over Mr McCarthy in a Capitol Hill ladies’ room that Ms Boebert called “ugly” and “nasty”.

All three have promoted farcical QAnon conspiracy theories. They also endorse false claims that the 2020 election was somehow “stolen” from Donald Trump and promote the racist “great replacement theory” which posits a conspiracy to overwhelm and displace white populations in the West through nonwhite immigration.

All three were also assigned to the house judiciary committee led by prominent firebrand Jim Jordan. Along with the Oversight Committee, it will likely spearhead a push by Republicans to spend most of their time and energy in the next two years investigating President Joe Biden on a range of issues, most notably the business activities of his son, Hunter.

A 2020 Republican-led Senate investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by either Mr Biden or his son involving Hunter's service on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings. It did confirm, as is obvious, that Hunter Biden inappropriately sought to “cash in” on his family name and thereby created “the appearance of a conflict of interest” given his father's then-role as US vice president.

These committees are unlikely to reproduce such a level-headed, sober conclusion or evince the least interest in many highly suspect business activities of Mr Trump and his children during his presidency. But Mr Jordan has signalled his interest in interfering in ongoing federal criminal investigations into Mr Trump and his allies, already leading to a rebuke by the Department of Justice of a request for information into several sensitive probes.

Mr Jordan has created a subcommittee to study the purported “weaponisation” of the federal government, precisely including “ongoing criminal investigations”. It could involve efforts to disrupt investigations and potential prosecutions of Mr Trump and his allies, including subcommittee member Scott Perry, whose mobile phone was seized by the FBI in its inquiry into efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Mr Perry has dismissed observations of this obvious conflict of interest by saying he merely faces “an accusation”.

Instead, MrMcCarthy has vowed to block two key democrats – ranking member Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell – from the vital intelligence committee in a gesture of obvious and petty vengeance.

Yet all this is unlikely to go beyond political kabuki designed to get these politicians on television and raise money. The Department of Justice is not going to allow a subcommittee to acquire sensitive details of ongoing criminal probes. And it seems unlikely the House will discover any evidence of corruption by Mr Biden.

Mr Santos can provide slapstick comic relief as these committees indulge in film noir theatrics. Yet the dysfunctionality and extremism of the new House threatens all-to-real consequences regarding the “debt ceiling”.

The “hostage takers” are vowing to hold the “full faith and credit” of the US to ransom for major spending cuts. The White House correctly says it won't negotiate over Congress refusing to pay its existing bills. But a default would probably precipitate a US and global financial meltdown. Even for Republicans, that would not be fun and games.

Published: January 24, 2023, 7:00 AM