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Trump’s GOP Has Created the Most Dysfunctional Congress in Decades

Trump’s GOP has broken Congress as the rest of us suffer the consequences.

Former President Donald Trump is pictured with House Speaker Mike Johnson, House Majority Whip Rep. Tom Emmer and Rep. James Comer.

If anyone had any doubt about the dysfunctional nature of the modern GOP, recent events ought to have put that doubt firmly to bed.

In the past two weeks, Republicans in Congress have, at the urging of Donald Trump, squashed a hardline immigration bill that their own senators had painstakingly helped negotiate. The bill provided no pathways to citizenship for undocumented people, but it did significantly curtail the right to asylum and increase the ability of the government to temporarily shutter the southern border during periods when high numbers of migrants are crossing into the country.

Again, at Trump’s urging, the House has sat on military assistance to Ukraine as Russia went on the offensive. The House has also declined to vote on aid to Israel and Taiwan, despite the bill having passed the Senate with the support of nearly half of the GOP senators, including Mitch McConnell and most of the Republican Senate leadership. That support could well cost McConnell his minority leader’s job; in the wake of it, Ted Cruz and six other hard right senators held a press conference in which they came out against McConnell’s continued leadership role.

Now there are certainly reasonable grounds for debate on any or all of these “aid” packages and certainly room to critique the escalating militarism of this moment. But the GOP isn’t looking for reasonable, it’s looking for spectacle. Since the onset of the Cold War, the Grand Old Party has never met a war it didn’t like. Now suddenly, it is putting the kibosh on military assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The reason isn’t that Republicans suddenly got morally queasy about all of that military spending. Rather, it’s that the spending isn’t tied to further militarizing the U.S. border — despite the majority of GOP congressional members having opposed the bipartisan border measure the previous week that would have done precisely that.

The ideological contortions continue apace. National security hawks such as Lindsey Graham once held NATO as a supposedly sacrosanct treaty obligation and voted for legislation saying a U.S. president couldn’t withdraw from NATO without congressional approval. But now many of these hawks have stood up and defended Trump’s ghastly declaration that he would encourage Russia “to do whatever they hell they want” with European member-states who don’t pony up what Trump deems to be enough dollars in defense spending.

This isn’t just an internal party squabble; it is Great Leader cultism resulting in a stunning degree of political dysfunction. In fact, over the past 18 months, since the GOP picked up a razor thin majority in the House, Congress has become so inert due to the Republican Party waging war against itself in one chamber or the other (or in both) — and hardliners in the GOP, egged on by Trump, threatening to tank the career of any House speaker who cooperates with the Democrats to pass bipartisan bills — that legislation has virtually ground to a halt. In all of 2023, a divided Congress managed to pass only 27 bills. This compares to an average of 391 bills per year over the past two decades. In fact, you have to go back to the dog days of the Great Depression to find a less productive Congress than the current one.

When then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy worked with Democrats to secure passage of a stopgap spending measure to keep the government open — and paychecks flowing to the millions of federal employees — he was rewarded for his efforts by being booted to the curb by a rebellion of his own hard right members, led by the attention-seeking Matt Gaetz. In the wake of last week’s special election in New York, to fill the seat left vacant by the spectacularly dishonest George Santos’s resignation from Congress, in which Democrats won by an 8-point margin, Speaker Johnson’s majority is now even thinner; and, as a result, he is even more vulnerable to the whims of his own most extreme representatives and to the mercurial diktat of the MAGA leader.

All of this gridlock might be good for Donald Trump — who can continue to paint himself as a strongman riding to the rescue against ineffectual do-nothing Congress members and a Biden administration left with precious few options regarding the southern border “crisis” — but it’s terrible for the country, as many old school Republicans are realizing, resulting in a stampede for the exits with one GOP politician after the next announcing that they won’t be standing for reelection.

Instead of legislating, Congress has reduced itself almost entirely to posture politics. Over the past year, the House has censured Rashida Tlaib for critiquing Israel’s conduct in Gaza; has removed Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee; and has debated Marjorie Taylor Greene’s ludicrously opportunistic motion to censor Omar for allegedly “treasonous comments,” deliberately mistranslated by right-wing online agitators to stir controversy, about protecting the interests of her birth country of Somalia. The House has also censured Adam Schiff for statements he made during the impeachment investigation into Donald Trump, and Jamaal Bowman for setting off a fire alarm during a legislative session. It has pushed an entirely spurious impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden, despite the House’s own witnesses admitting they are on a fishing expedition. And it has recently impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — after failing to impeach him the first time around, following a breakdown in the Republican leadership’s vote counting abilities that allowed the Democrats to head off the impeachment by a couple votes. Mayorkas was impeached not for committing high crimes and misdemeanors, but for a border policy that the GOP didn’t like.

The House and Senate are increasingly ceasing to function as integral democratic forums and are instead becoming just “talking shops” — places like the Roman Senate in the time of the emperors, where blowhards sit around casting stones at each other while the important decisions of state are made out of the public eye and without the accountability that comes with an empowered legislative branch of government.

As Congress fades, Trump rises ascendant within the GOP, and what remaining institutional bulwarks there are against his most authoritarian, revenge-based impulses are crumbling to dust. It’s a spectacular political implosion with devastating consequences for the U.S.’s ability to function as a democracy. Small wonder, then, that 79 percent of Americans currently disapprove of the way that Congress is performing.

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