It may only have been a delaying tactic, but U.S. Rep. Austin Scott’s brief dalliance with the spotlight Friday afternoon illuminated one of the ironies of the predicament Republicans in Congress have found themselves in.
Most of the Republican House members whose careers span more than a couple of terms probably long for a speaker who avoids the cameras, stays focused on results and doesn’t send out fundraising appeals during floor debates. But they only had a couple of hours to realize that someone who fits that description perfectly was in their midst.
“I want the House to function correctly, and the House is not functioning correctly right now,” Scott told reporters as he strode toward an emergency caucus meeting that had been called after U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the winner over Rep. Jim Jordan in a previous caucus vote, dropped out of the speaker’s race. The way in which a small group ousted U.S. Rep. McCarthy was “the wrong thing (done) the wrong way.”
Later, Scott lambasted the eight Republicans who helped unseat McCarthy as
“nothing more than grifters who have handed control of the House to the Democratic Party in the name of their own glory and fundraising.”
Scott lost the caucus election, 124-81, but came close enough in his short-notice bid to raise serious doubts about whether Jordan can win an election in the full House. Scott later endorsed Jordan, just as he did Donald Trump when he was his party’s nominee, even though he’d called him a “con man.”
Jordan also picked up the support of Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, a key holdout, so it appeared, heading into a Tuesday vote, that he was consolidating his party’s support. But as McCarthy found out, winning the job is the easy part.
The 2020 Almanac of American Politics characterized Scott as “an active lawmaker on military and agriculture issues who usually operates behind the scenes and doesn’t seek attention.”
That’s an accurate description of the seven-term, Middle Georgia congressman, but last week wasn’t the first time Scott has brought attention to himself with a bold move. As a young member of the Georgia House, he was the first Republican to support Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes’ effort to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the Georgia state flag. That may not have been popular with his colleagues, but it may have helped him win a close race with Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall when he ran for Congress in 2010.
In Congress, Scott served as president of his freshman class and since then has affected more legislation than many of those who have logged far more television experiences. He has seldom strayed far from his party, and when he has, it has usually been about the interests of his district.
There was a telling example of this in 2018 when then Sen. David Perdue supported a Trump administration proposal to replace its Joint Surveillance Target Attack System (JSTARS), which is based at Robins Air Force Base in Scott’s district.
When it’s base-cutting time, “I do not believe you want to be an Air Force base without a flying mission,” said Scott, who accused Perdue of scuttling his efforts to bring another squadron to the base. The congressman was eventually successful: the Air Force has since announced plans to bring several new missions to replace JSTARS.
You could put the calendar back 50 years and replace the R after the congressman’s name with a D, and the last couple of paragraphs wouldn’t be much different. That’s politics in a lot of places in flyover America, where local economies depend on a base. And it’s another reason why Scott would have made a good speaker at this time for his party, even if he himself wasn’t completely serious about his bid.
It’s too soon to tell how much increasing tensions around the world will affect the American public’s patience with a Congress seemingly incapable of getting its act together. It doesn’t seem likely the public’s appetite for ineffectiveness and political posturing is going to grow at a time when the planet is looking like a progressively more dangerous place.