His majority leader, Eric Cantor, did not take that message well, nor did the freshmen. Cantor made it clear that he would push for a confrontation, making demands of President Obama for drastic cuts in domestic spending, with the threat of breaching the debt ceiling if the demands were not met. Cantor wanted to use spending bills as another set of prongs in a frontal assault on Obama and the Democrats, and he had eager participants in that huge freshman class. Boehner’s attempts to keep his caucus together with a more “adult” approach were not helped when Paul Ryan—who, with Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, had labeled themselves the “Young Guns”—offered a budget, as chair of the Budget Committee, that failed to meet any of the promises that had been made to the Tea Party freshmen for dramatic budget cuts.
In the end, despite coming close to the brink, a debt-ceiling breach, with the ensuing consequences for the full faith and credit of the United States, was narrowly averted, but any significant resolution of the debt issue was scuttled by the right’s insistence on no new revenues to accompany budget cuts. In the aftermath, the second-term firebrand Jason Chaffetz, a role model for the freshmen, spoke for them and told journalists, “We weren’t kidding around. We would have taken it down.”
The debt-ceiling brouhaha was emblematic of the ongoing clash between Boehner, who wanted pragmatism to dominate the actions of the House, and radicals, including the core of the class of 2010, who wanted no deals and no moderation. After the next big midterm gain, in 2014, the radicals formed the Freedom Caucus, a striking move, since there was already a right-wing caucus, the Republican Study Committee, that included the vast majority of Republicans in the House. But believing the right-wing caucus was not right-wing enough, a group led by Mick Mulvaney, Jim Jordan, and Mark Meadows created the new caucus; of the nine founding members, three were from that 2010 class (Mulvaney, Raúl Labrador, and Justin Amash).
Not long after, besieged from his right, John Boehner, who had come into the House as a Gingrich-aligned firebrand himself, resigned. His replacement, “Young Gun” Paul Ryan, did not fare dramatically better, and resigned himself after less than four years in the job, at age 49. When Politico’s Tim Alberta, the author of the new book American Carnage, interviewed Boehner after his departure and asked about some of the Freedom Caucus stalwarts, he used terms such as idiots, anarchists, and assholes.
Ibram X. Kendi: Am I an American?
Now comes the Democratic class of 2018, 60 new Democrats from a net gain of 40 seats. The most striking thing about the class, as many have noted, is its remarkable diversity: More than half are women, and 40 percent are Hispanic, Native American, or other people of color. By contrast, the huge Democratic Watergate class had two women and one lone African American. But the class also boasts ideological diversity, with a large number of the freshmen joining both the Progressive Caucus and the more center-left New Democratic Coalition (with some overlap, and several joining the more conservative Blue Dog Coalition). Watching them, and spending time with many of them, I have also been struck by their enormous talent—including from some with no previous political or governmental experience, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; others who have been in the military or in intelligence, such as Abigail Spanberger and Elissa Slotkin; some, such as Dean Phillips, with a business background; and the most experienced of all, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.