The GOP Goes Down the Rabbit Hole

Welcome to the Republican Wonderland.

Kevin McCarthy, smiling and surrounded by clapping people, points up.
Kevin McCarthy celebrates after winning the vote for House speaker. (Nathan Posner / Anadolu Agency / Getty)

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If you were hoping that a razor-thin majority in the House was going to moderate the behavior of congressional Republicans and create some sort of platform for governing, you are about to be disappointed. GOP House leaders have told us what to expect, and we should take them at their word.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

Curiouser and Curiouser

Although 2022 was, overall, a good year for democracy, I did warn back in late November that the authoritarian right was regrouping and that there would be challenges ahead in 2023. And here we are: Brazil has now endured its own version of a January 6 insurrection (the rioters were even egged on by American seditionists); Russia’s Vladimir Putin and his obedient poodle, the Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, are conducting joint military drills near Ukraine, according to Belarusian state TV; and the Republicans have, after 15 rounds of voting and a possible shady deal with its crackpot caucus, taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

There are some on the center-right who are hoping that the GOP has learned its lesson, and will restrain its fringe and finally leave Donald Trump behind. Ross Douthat, for one, wrote over the weekend—in a column that was hopeful to the point of fantasy—that the fight over the House speakership was “the old world come again,” a return to “the G.O.P. ancien regime with all its dysfunctions, stalemates and futility,” and that Trump, although “hardly finished,” has lost much of his grip on the party.

Good luck with all of that. A more authoritative voice, the new House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, also had a few things to say. The new House Republican majority, he tweeted on Sunday afternoon, would move in its first week to pass legislation to defund “the 87,000 new IRS agents,” establish a committee on the “weaponization of the federal government against citizens,” end Strategic Petroleum Reserve oil sales to China, and, in a nice flourish, hold “woke prosecutors accountable.”

The new House Judiciary chair, Jim Jordan, will lead the committee on “weaponization,” virtually guaranteeing that its hearings will turn into a festival of prancing nonsense that is unlikely to do very much but enhance Jordan’s visibility while he tears into U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies at the expense of American national security. (Jordan has also dropped unsubtle hints that he intends to impeach Joe Biden.)

Meanwhile, Jordan’s fellow leader in the Coalition of the Unhinged, Paul Gosar, also tweeted on Saturday that Republicans “will conduct a real investigation into J6. The effort to attempt a coup between traitor Gen. Mark Milley and [Nancy] Pelosi will be reviewed and exposed.” This, apparently, is a reference to when Pelosi, as speaker, called Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, two days after January 6 because she was concerned that Trump might try to start a war as a diversion from his election loss. (She wasn’t alone: Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, among others, reportedly had the same concern. So did I.)

I doubt that most Republicans in Congress actually believe that the most senior military officer in the United States is a traitor. And yet, they all remain quiet—because under the GOP’s rules, any one member can move to vacate the speaker’s chair and start the whole leadership fiasco all over again, and that includes Gosar, the dentist from Arizona turned conspiracy-obsessed crank who now sits in the People’s House.

But Gosar’s gibbering raises the larger question of what else McCarthy might have agreed to while he was slicing up his political soul like a pound of cheap olive loaf. We’re in the dark—and so are many members of Congress, apparently. Punchbowl is reporting that the rules package, the first order of business about how the House will run, contains a secret three-page addendum—some sort of deal between McCarthy and his fellow Republicans that the rest of the members have not seen.

Meanwhile, Trump is taking credit for getting McCarthy the speaker’s job. And rightly so: McCarthy himself is thanking Trump. The former president, according to Politico, did not insert himself in the struggle in the House at the last minute; rather, some of the Republicans called him, and when he spoke with the recalcitrant legislators, in this account, he “tore them a new asshole” over their opposition to McCarthy. Shortly thereafter, one of the holdouts, Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona, changed his vote to “present,” which lowered the number of votes McCarthy needed to win. Matt Gaetz—who in any rational Congress would be a man of no account—therefore was able to stand firm by continuing to vote “present” and thus handing the gavel to McCarthy with a minority of the votes cast by the entire House.

Of course, the Senate and the White House remain in the hands of Democrats. This fact could make the House GOP even more prone to performative nuttery, because most members know that most of the time, indulging the fringe is unlikely to have real-world legislative consequences. If Biden continues true to his political form, he’ll likely ignore most of what goes on in the House. Biden is 80 years old; his political career spans a half century of American history, and the antics of the extremists will probably remain in his peripheral vision, if he notices them at all. (The exception here is Jordan, who has made noise about going after Biden’s son Hunter. But even if those hearings take place, they are unlikely to have any major impact on policy over the next few years.)

The good news is that most of the U.S. government remains in the hands of functional adults. The bad news is that the House is headed down the rabbit hole to its own Wonderland, where things will become “curiouser and curiouser,” and its members will have to placate their extremists by believing “six impossible things before breakfast” every day.


Today’s News
  1. At least 1,200 protesters have been detained for questioning after supporters of Jair Bolsonaro rioted in the Brazilian capital yesterday.
  2. The Georgia grand jury investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election has finished its work and will now issue a report to recommend whether the district attorney should pursue indictments.
  3. The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, filed a complaint accusing Representative George Santos of New York of campaign-finance violations.


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Evening Read
Illustration of a squirrel.
(Smith Collection / Gado / Getty; The Atlantic)

What Squirrels Taught Me About Life After Divorce

By Kelly McMasters

Noah likes to feed the squirrels naked. I don’t know if he does it this way when I am not here. But like clockwork on the weekend mornings we spend together, the squirrels will start to tap on the window. And Noah will rise from the bed as if responding to a baby monitor. He will stumble to the kitchen, grab a handful of unsalted almonds from a jar in the cabinet, return to the bedroom, and crack the window an inch, popping the almonds out one by one so they land on the sill in a line.

The squirrels live in the saw-whet owl nesting house he bought and placed on the corner of his fire escape. For a few hours each morning, they pad back and forth across the windowsill, balancing on the black steel ribbons of the landing, waiting for him to put out breakfast, then second breakfast, then snack. If no almonds are waiting for them on the sill, the squirrels will knock loudly on the window until he wakes up.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break
The shadow of the filmmaker Reid Davenport in 'I Didn't See You There'
Reid Davenport in I Didn't See You There. (Reid Davenport / POV)

Read. For the Child(ren) I Cannot Carry,” a new poem by Cynthia Dewi Oka.

“I want you to know that there were moments staying / was easy. That I do not regret any of my wishes, even when / I have denied them.”

Watch. I Didn’t See You There (airing on PBS tonight and available to stream until 2/8), a film that depicts, with hypnotic realism, life from the perspective of a disabled person.

Play our daily crossword.


My wife and I have been doing some television archaeology, digging up old shows that we didn’t notice or watch attentively when they first appeared. We recently started binge-watching The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series about the workings of a fictional cable-news organization and the (mostly) noble people who work there. The show, which ran from 2012 to 2014, is uneven but often compelling television, though maybe I’m biased because I very much like Jeff Daniels (who plays the chief anchor, Will McAvoy) and Sam Waterston (the network president, Charlie Skinner). But like Sorkin’s masterpiece, The West Wing, it is full of implausible and showy moments where each character periodically stops to deliver a long speech by … well, by Aaron Sorkin.

I don’t know how true to life The Newsroom is; I’ve never worked in one. (Matthew Yglesias wrote earlier today of his admiration for The West Wing as a show that reflects some realities in Washington; I think he is wrong. That show is Veep.) But there is an unsettling prescience to The Newsroom—which took many of its plots from actual events almost in real time—about politics and news and entertainment, and how all of them became indistinguishable in a country that doesn’t care about reality or government or decency or much of anything else. The Newsroom ended its run just as the GOP won full control of Congress, and two years before Trump arrived at the White House—events I suspect would have challenged even Sorkin’s creative powers.

— Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.