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In a dysfunctional family setting, Marjorie Taylor Greene prevails

By Tom Baxter

Last week we got to see the U.S. House of Representatives not as two warring factions of idealists — which is the way they pitch themselves to the suckers they raise money from online — but as one enormous, dysfunctional family stuck in the same room together. They could have been waiting for a will to be read, but in this case, they were waiting for a speaker to be elected.

There was ultra-right Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, chatting amiably with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as if she were his niece from New York. Earlier, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene had tweeted her best wishes for Rep. Jamie Raskin, her polar opposite on the subject of Jan. 6, in his battle with cancer. As the hours wore on, we saw Rep. Mike Rogers lunge at his Republican colleague, Rep. Matt Gaetz, reenacting a classic Alabama Thanksgiving scene in which somebody has had it with his smart-ass brother-in-law from Florida.

Traditional divisions faded and new tensions arose as this pure power struggle played out. Greene and Rep. Andrew Clyde, ideological soulmates from neighboring districts, took opposite sides in this family squabble until the opposition to Kevin McCarthy began to crumble.

If the House had a rule prohibiting fundraising while the election of a speaker was ongoing, this process almost certainly would not have taken as long as it did. Only hours before Gaetz finally caved, he was emailing fundraising appeals, telling supporters he was “prepared for an extended battle that I will ultimately win.”

It might be premature to declare winners and losers in a deal that almost seems meant to fall apart. The holdouts against McCarthy won a lot of concessions and McCarthy won the long-sought speaker’s gavel, but only time will tell what those victories will be worth.

Maybe, following the will-reading analogy, we should be speaking rather of the inheritors and the disinherited. Given the promises of committee assignments McCarthy made to the Republican holdouts to get their votes, some of his more loyal members may soon feel disinherited.

The Democrats were like the relatives who didn’t expect to get much anyway, so they made nice while the other side of the family fought it out. Without having to do much so far except make a fiery speech, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries made a splash as the inheritor from Rep. Nancy Pelosi of the mantle of party leader, but his party no longer holds the majority.

The greatest beneficiary of the Republicans’ inheritance was Greene. McCarthy may not last as long as a modern British prime minister, but Greene has made an enormous leap, from party pariah to power broker.

When McCarthy’s prospects were at a low point, Greene complained that Gaetz, Rep. Lauren Boebert and Rep. Scott Perry, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, had gone to McCarthy’s office the previous night and demanded subcommittee chairmanships for themselves, and power to determine who was on committees.

“And guess what? The chairman of the Freedom Caucus negotiated nothing for me,” Greene told Steve Bannon on his War Room program.

Greene got the last laugh, however. Not only was she able to drag her hard-right colleagues to McCarthy’s side, but in so doing she got something far more important than a mere subcommittee chairmanship. She has established herself as the broker between the Republican House caucus and former President Donald Trump. The photo of her handing her cell phone with the letters “DT” on the screen to a Republican holdout has become, along with Rogers’ lunge, the lasting image from this drawn-out exercise.

There’s been a lot of commentary about how low-energy Trump’s presidential campaign has been since he announced last year. Thin though its majority may be, the House Republican caucus looks like it’s being primed as the campaign’s defibrillator, as evidenced by McCarthy’s public thanks to Trump for his support and Greene’s declaration that Trump is now “leader of the Republican Party.”

Greene celebrated her new-found clout with a video on Twitter with the caption “It’s time to begin… and they can’t stop what’s coming.” It shows her striding resolutely and alone from her office to the House, rejoining the fray. “They” presumably is a reference to the Democrats, not the Republicans she was calling out last week.

“They” may not have stopped it, but Dr. Dre, who objected to the use of his song “Still D.R.E.” did. The video had been pulled by Monday afternoon.

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Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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