The 114th Congress is in full swing right now.
Representative John Boehner (OH-8, R) was re-elected Speaker Of The House but his re-election as speaker was not guaranteed.
25 members of his party voted against Boehner for Speaker Of The House. Among those submitted for nomination for House Speaker were Daniel Webster of Florida, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. The Constitution doesn't say anything about the Speaker of The House being a member of the House. Representative Jim Cooper (TN-5, D) nominated former Secretary of State and retired General Colin Powell as House Speaker.
Boehner's re-election as speaker was historic, expected, and a bit of performance art. As explained by the Washington Post and FiveThirtyEight there were expectations that Boehner would still be Speaker of The House.
The Washington Post feature discusses the historical significance of political divisions impacting the Speaker's vote. At the opening of the 68th Congress in March 1923, Republicans from the progressive wing had blocked the vote of Representative Frederick Gillett (MA, R). There were enough of these Republicans that they could have formed a coalition with the House Democrats in order to give their choice for speaker the gavel and certainly would have made the politics of the early 1920s interesting. Gillett knew the risks of alienating them and met some of their demands.
Two years later Gillett was elected Senator from Massachusetts and Republicans, along with President Calvin Coolidge winning re-election, increased their majority in the House from a narrow 225 seats to a more robust 247 seats. Incoming House Speaker Nicholas Longworth (OH-1, R) could stand to lose some defections but also preached party discipline. In response to those that opposed his candidacy for speaker and supporting third party candidate Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin in the 1924 presidential election, Longworth ran the progressives out of the party. They were allowed to return in two years if they publically swore public organizational allegiance to the party.
Boehner knew that he could afford a couple dozen defections. Besides, what are they going to do, work with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats? Now THAT would be an interesting coalition.
FiveThirtyEight took a more analytical approach to the vote though I wonder if they could have expanded on it by looking at more congresses. Going back to the 102nd Congress, only Boehner at the start of this congress did not receive 95% or greater of the votes for speaker from his party. Meanwhile in the minority party, the only time the opposition leader did not receive that same level of support was Nancy Pelosi at the start of the 112th Congress when 19 Democrats opposed her as their leader.
As FiveThirtyEight points out also, this is also for show. It is a way for a small group of legislators to show they are radical and play it up for their supporters online and back in their home districts. Besides the votes for party leadership in the House was long determined well before the pro forma vote for House Speaker when Congress opened their new session two weeks ago.
That is not the news that is dominating the new congress.
Prior to the start of the 114th Congress it was reported that Representative Steve Scalise (LA-1, R), the Republican Whip, attended a meeting founded by former Louisiana State Representative David Duke.
As in David Duke who ran for governor in 1991.
As in David Duke for ran for US Senate in Louisiana in 1990.
As in David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
As shown in this profile by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Duke is a spokesman for Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism, anti-gay, neo-Nazi, and other radical right politics. Duke is more known for his 1991 gubernatorial bid.
Because Louisiana has a jungle primary, any person of any party can run in the general election. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the top two advance to a run-off at a later date.
In this case, Duke claimed one of the top two spots ahead of incumbent Republican Governor Buddy Roemer. The other spot was claimed by Democrat Edwin Edwards who had his own baggage in his previous terms as Louisiana governor. Many of Edwards' friends said that the only way he would be elected governor is if Adolf Hitler was running.
Well… Edwards drew Duke in the November general.
The Edwards-Duke runoff gave rise to this slogan: "Vote For The Lizard, Not The Wizard" and this clever bumper sticker:
Because Duke's views were so toxic and poisonous, many Republicans ended up endorsing Edwards. Then-President George H.W. Bush and as well as Governor Roemer endorsed Edwards for governor. Edwards said that the only thing he had to do to beat Duke was "stay alive." On Election Day, Edwards defeated Duke 61-39. As ever the defiant one, Duke said he "won his constituency and won 55% of the white vote."
So far Scalise is playing the ignorant card in the deck that he didn't know he was speaking to an organization founded by David Duke. If you are in Louisiana and you don't know who David Duke is, you are either stupid, ignorant, dumb, or some combination of all three.
It doesn't help that when he was a state representative he attempted to kill a 1996 Louisiana House committee resolution that would have apologized for slavery as well as voting against creating a holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1999 and 2004.
One person suggested the resolution should be rewritten for it to pass out of committee and that person was David Vitter. As in the current Senator who is eying a run for the governor's mansion in Louisiana later this year. As in Senator David Vitter who admitted to being involved with the DC Madam and did not resign his seat because of the fear of a Democratic governor appointing his replacement.
And who says Louisiana politics isn't interesting.
The Steve Scalise-David Duke story plays into the 2016 campaign that is already in full swing and what it means for the Republican Party. They, other commentators, and myself know that the Republicans are in serious trouble when it comes to presidential elections. Though they had success in the previous November election capturing the Senate, several more governorships and state legislatures, and increasing their House majority to one that hasn't been seen since the start of the Hoover administration, November 2016 will be a reckoning for them again.
The demographics are not to the Republicans liking and this revelation will make it worse. Republicans need to do better with minorities, specifically Hispanics and Blacks, if they are to have a fighting chance in 2016.
In 2012 the Hispanic vote went for Obama 71-27 which was up from his 2008 total of 67-31 per the exit polls. The Black vote has gone consistently for a Democratic candidate since the 1930s. The gap between Democrats and Republicans in the Black vote has widen in part due to the dog whistle politics that Republicans pursued starting in the 1970s to court specifically Southern White voters who felt alienated by the Democratic Party taking a stand on civil rights in the 1960s. Senator Rand Paul (KY, R) believes that his party's path back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is trying to appeal to these voters.
When one of the members of the Republican Party in Congress is discovered to have spoke to group founded by David Duke, that is NOT a good starting point in trying to appeal to a group of people who have been demonized and brutalized and in some cases tortured and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.
When I get around to writing my book on how NOT to run for office, this incident will be a standalone chapter.
(writing) "Do… NOT… address… a group… or groups… founded…. by… David… Duke…"
Though it is easy to fault the congressman for speaking at this engagement and the House Republican leadership for choosing Scalise without properly vetting him for this position, I place the blame squarely on us.
Yes, us the voters.
Congress as an institution is very unpopular with approval ratings in the teens. In 2014 the average congressional approval rating was 15%.
And yet enjoys a high retention rate. As you recall in 2010, the mantra was "Throw The Bums Out." That should have been altered to "Throw The Other Side's Bums Out" because Republicans made gains that flipped the House. In that election the retention rate for members of the House was 85% and members of the Senate was almost equal to that at 84%. In 2014 Congress had a 95% retention rate.
And that is the central issue at hand. Steve Scalise, Louie Gohmert, Ken Buck, Michael Grimm, and others can say and do all the crazy stuff and we the voters tolerate this behavior. They know that the voters won't do anything about it because of the high retention rates congress enjoys. People in these districts will keep voting in these representatives because of the mindset of "I hate Congress, but I like my Congressman" and "Well, my congressman sucks… but I just can't vote for the Demmycrat because of what Fox News tells me."
For the people that voted for Republican candidates in the recent election, I ask you this: Do you REALLY support the views of the Republican Party?
Apparently the people that voted for Congressman Scalise do support his views which he apparently agrees with one David Duke. Again, he spoke at an organization founded by Duke and says that he is "David Duke without the baggage."
After all they elected him in 1996 to the state house and then elected him to the state senate in 2008 and then elected him to Congress via a special election in May 2008 and then re-elected him in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014.
In their coverage of the Scalise story, The New Republic offered their take on it. In summary it dives into the identity politics of Louisiana and touches on why Democrats will probably not win a statewide in Louisiana or anywhere else in the south for a while until there is a shift in political ideology (which probably won't happen for some time).
The last two paragraphs pretty sums up why Scalise cozied up to Duke or those that supported Duke's views.
Today, that is mostly reflected in conservative rhetoric and Republican social policy, less in visible allegiance between politicians and white supremacists. Things aren’t as bleak as they once were. Under fire, and with 12 years of separation, Scalise and his staff are unafraid to denounce Duke and his hate group. Back in 1999, when Duke was considering a run for Congress, Scalise wasn’t able to be so blunt. "The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can't get elected, and that's the first and most important thing."
There’s a generous and an ungenerous way to read that statement, though the generous read isn’t particularly exculpatory. Presumably Scalise wasn’t offering voters a delicate assurance that he or another Republican would submerge their white supremacism more skillfully than Duke. But if in 1999 you said “the first and most important thing” about Duke was merely that he couldn’t get elected, rather than his despicable racism, it says something important about the voters you were trying not to offend. Many of those voters are still alive today.
The 114th Congress has started. This will be a fun couple of years.
Indeed, Americans get the government it deserves.