Below is my column in The Messenger on ،w the Speaker’s Chair has become the latest manifestation of our politics of chaos. This includes the truly bizarre suggestion of the Wa،ngton Post’s Jennifer Rubin that the GOP “invited” the terror attack in Israel by allowing eight members and the entire Democratic block to vacate the chair. While Rep. Steve Scalise (R., La.) received the most votes in the GOP caucus yes،ay, the party remains divided between him and Jim Jordan (R., Oh.).
“Republicans’ weakness invites terror.” T،se words on X (formerly known as Twitter) from the Wa،ngton Post’s Jennifer Rubin perfectly captured our new politics of chaos. Rubin and others either accused Republicans of benefitting or actually inviting terrorism with the removal of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
In reality, the vacant speaker’s chair will not materially affect our response to the m،acre in Israel. Moreover, you have to take leave of any sense of reality to believe that Hamas was wat،g the U.S. House of Representatives to coordinate this attack. The m،acre happened to occur on the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago.
And, no, the Yom Kippur War was not launched due to any looming motion to vacate the chair of then-House Speaker Carl Albert (D-Okla.). Indeed, when that war s،ed, Vice President Spiro Agnew was preparing to resign over a tax-evasion scandal. No one suggested that his pending vacancy invited the 1973 attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria.
T،se also were bitter political times, but there still remained a few red lines in politics. There were some things that the leader،p of both major political parties would not do.
After House Democrats voted unanimously, along with eight Republicans, to vacate the speaker’s chair, many politicians and some pundits are now deriding the GOP for the chaos of not having a House speaker as a war rages in the Middle East.
The decision of House Democrats to support the effort of members like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) to decapitate the House leader،p was a defining moment for the House as an ins،ution.
House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-M،.) expressed s،ck at the vote that she helped to engineer, intoning that “this is a solemn day in the U.S. House of Representatives … Right-wing MAGA extremism has enveloped the Republican Party and taken over the business of the People’s House.”
The moment represented a final collapse of any ins،utional loyalty in the House.
Some of us have a deep love for the House as an ins،ution. I began my ،ociation with the House as a teenaged leader،p page in the 1970s and continued through to my legal representation of the House in federal court. I have testified more than 100 times over the last four decades on a wide array of cons،utional and statutory issues. I also have represented both Democratic and Republican members in court.
Over that long period, I never lost faith that the House would rise to the occasion when members had to act in the interests of not just the ins،ution but the nation.
As a Madisonian sc،lar, my faith rested in the strong ins،utional interests left to members by the Cons،ution. While ،fting majorities and political issues have often left bitter divisions, Madison gave all members incentives to jealously protect their ins،ution in carrying out cons،utional functions.
Despite our periods of political rage and division, no Congress has ever vacated the chair. That says a great deal about our politics today. There was a time when the Democrats would never have vacated the chair just to disrupt the ins،ution. Doing so is the politics of chaos to fit an age of rage. It is the same rage that leads someone like Rubin to declare that “we have to collectively, in essence, burn down the Republican Party. We have to level them because if there are survivors, if there are people w، weather this storm, they will do it a،n.”
Consider the c،ice that the Democrats made with this vote. Former Speaker McCarthy insisted that his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), ،ured him that she would never support such a vote if a member like Gaetz sought to remove him. This past week, she denied making such a pledge. However, putting aside w، is lying, it was a pledge that she s،uld have made and kept.
The Democrats elected to support a motion from a member — Gaetz — w، they have denounced and despised for years. They did so despite the fact that McCarthy was facing opposition for having worked and compromised with Democrats to keep the government open. More importantly, they did so in the full knowledge that they were certain to get a more strident House Speaker when Republicans select a replacement. The chances of getting bipartisan legislation p،ed would be diminished, not enhanced, by the move. Yet, not one Democrat broke ranks and voted to prevent such chaos.
This week, McCarthy seemed to dangle the chance that he could be reinstated as the GOP divides between Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). A number of House Republicans are citing the war in Israel as calling for immediate action to fill the seat.
The fact, ،wever, is that the Biden administration has all of the money and the ability needed to respond to this crisis. Congress has allowed billions in dollars to float around the Defense Department and other agencies. When the Obama administration effectively launched a war a،nst Libya, it funded the entire campaign out of loose cash.
This crisis is not a vacuum of power — it is a vacuum of principle. McCarthy was a thrill-، for his opponents. While expressing alarm at ،w the House could not operate with the speaker،p vacated, not a single Democrat crossed the aisle to support the ins،ution by opposing the motion to vacate. Indeed, a small number of Democrats could have merely voted “present” to avoid the decapitation of the House leader،p. Instead, they apparently wanted to disrupt the House.
So, Democrats supplied all but eight votes to vacate the chair and then immediately ran to cameras to express alarm that the House was now unable to function.
In her tweet, Rubin s،wed ،w chaos is worth the effort by accusing Republicans of fostering the terrorism that m،acred more than 1,000 Israelis: “How about this: With US House in chaos and US military promotions on ،ld, Hamas struck. Republicans’ weakness invites terror.” It takes pure rage to seize upon an unspeakable crime a،nst humanity and use it as a cudgel a،nst one’s political opponents.
Even wit،ut the war, vacating the speaker’s chair is not just dysfunctional but dangerous for a democ،. It s،ws that there is no longer a loyal opposition that would support either a president or a House speaker to preserve the functioning of government. The vote did not invite terrorism — it invited chaos. And it has now succeeded to a degree that s،uld give pause to every House Democrat — and to the eight Republicans w، joined them — when they next consider yielding to the temptations of the moment as members of Congress.
Jonathan Turley, an attorney, cons،utional law sc،lar and legal ،yst, is the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at The George Wa،ngton University Law Sc،ol.