House GOP fails first test of leadership

York Dispatch editorial board

As Republicans prepare to take over leadership in the House, there is little indication the relatively lukewarm voter support they received is prompting partywide reflection.

After all, Democrats control all three branches of the government and the party out of power usually enjoys big off-year gains — picking up an average or 30 or so seats in the House. Add to that President Joe Biden’s under-water approval ratings and rampant inflation and there was no reason to doubt GOP predictions of historic election-night gains.

But that red wave-soaked mandate never materialized.

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That might cause responsible Republicans to reconsider the scorched-earth path their legislative leaders too often take. That might lead responsible Republicans to craft an agenda of sound and sober policy-making to demonstrate to the voting public that the party can sensibly respond to the economic, public-safety and international crises it so gleefully portrayed in its campaign ads.

But responsible Republicans have become something of an endangered species.

And the party has no platform to fall back on. Recall, at the 2020 Republican National Convention/Trump Family Reunion, party leaders failed to adopt a formal platform, instead agreeing to simply support the president.

So, it probably shouldn’t have been surprising that the GOP House agenda is to revert to campaigning against the Biden administration, the House January 6 committee and Democrats in general. The strategy, in a word: investigations.

Prepare yourself to hear a whole lot about:

  • President Biden’s son, Hunter, his business dealings and his infamous laptop;
  • The origins of and public-health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • The FBI raid of former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence; and
  • The House January 6 committee’s investigations, operations and findings.

It’s hard to credit any of these possible probes as good-faith efforts to inform the public, rather than government-funded forums for partisan pot shots. In fact, they have the potential to do real damage.

GOP focus on tertiary aspects of the January 6 insurrection such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s responsibility for Capitol security or treatment of the arrested rioters are transparent efforts to distract from the elements that made that day such a threat to the nation and its democracy. Yes, they would salve the wounded ego of a sore-loser former president; no, they would not add to the public’s understanding of the crucial and germane events of that day.

None of this is to suggest House Republicans ought to cede their legitimate oversight role regarding the executive branch. One of their stated investigation topics — the hasty and chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan — is an absolutely appropriate area of congressional inquiry. (Although it must include the terms of that pullout negotiated by Biden’s predecessor.)

But congressional investigations are most effective when they are conducted in a fair, bipartisan manner, such as the ongoing January 6 probe. Instead, House leaders have all but promised to use this platform to even political scores, besiege the president, delight the former president and grandstand for their base.

Should they follow through; should they devote their slim new majority and their grand penchant for payback to endless investigations at the expense of legitimate lawmaking, they will once again prove themselves unfit to meet the responsibilities they’ve been granted.

Voters issued an unmistakable demand this month for public service over partisan politicking.

By ignoring that plea in their eagerness to abuse their newfound authority, the incoming House majority is failing its first test of leadership.