I watched Dr. Andy “Handgun” Harris at work last week. There he was, on national TV no less, hovering next to Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO), waiting for his chance to vote against Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker. I am not sure that Dr. Harris was waiting for Gaetz or Ms. Boebert to tell him how to vote, but it looked that way.
Harris cast his vote for candidates other than McCarthy for three days. On the fourth and final day, he switched. He told WBOC his votes against a McCarthy Speakership were part of an effort to win changes to House Rules that will empower House members to better represent their constituents. These rules include allowing a single House member to file a motion to “vacate” the House Speaker, put more Freedom Caucus members on the Rules Committee, and to create a new committee on the “Weaponization” of federal agencies by the Executive Branch.
The rules changes were part of the package of demands put forth by Mr. Gaetz and a group of 19 other right-wing Republicans. The group, who I call the “detractors,” won the day. While they ultimately allowed McCarthy to win the Speakership, the rules changes effectively eliminate McCarthy’s ability to prevent a group of roughly 50 right-wingers from hijacking Congress.
More simply put, Harris and his right-wing colleagues have been empowered to slow down or block the workings of Congress. Unless they get what they want, they can bring Congressional deliberations to a halt.
With the battle won, our Congressman Harris, always good at staying out of the limelight, left the rebellion, telling TV station WBOC, “These three days were well worth debating this both in public and in private so that we could come to a place where the American people can truly feel like someone can represent them in Congress.”
Harris’ statement is highly offensive and in direct contradiction with the rules changes that he and his fellow right-wingers won. The concessions that the detractors won make the House of Representatives a place where people not supporting the MAGA right-wing agenda will not feel like someone can represent them in Congress. Rather, they will feel that the House of Representatives has been hijacked by extremists indifferent to their needs or desires.
The Freedom Caucus will now effectively control the Rules Committee. Not only will it have a number of seats on the committee disproportionate to their membership in Congress, but the House Rules also have been changed to allow individual members to offer amendments to appropriations bills. Another rules change would prohibit the rules committee from amalgamating some or all of the 12 appropriations bills to allow them to move to enactment more efficiently.
The Freedom Caucus now will be able to block or force reductions in funding for agencies it does not like. Presumably, this includes the FBI (one of the agencies Republicans claim has been “weaponized” by the Federal government), the IRS, the Consumer Finance Protection Agency, and others. The Republican-controlled House passed a bill reducing IRS funding by $71 billion on Monday. The bill rescinds funding approved by Congress to modernize the IRS and increase enforcement last year. A good bill? No. The independent Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would increase the budget deficit by over $100 billion because the IRS will be less effective in catching tax cheats.
The new power also includes the ability to reduce the salary of specific federal employees. It remains to be seen how this provision would work, but could House Republicans force a reduction in salary of prosecutors investigating the January 6 insurrection or preparing to indict individual House members for their complicity in the events of January 6? Time will tell.
Curiously, while Handgun Harris did speak to some Maryland media, there is nothing on his website about what he was up to in Washington last week. Harris’ official website also does not mention that he is a member of the increasingly infamous Freedom Caucus. What is going on here? Anesthesiologists know not to disturb a patient while under anesthesia. Has Harris convinced himself that the First District, like one of Harris’ medical patients, is oblivious to his pursuit of a radical right-wing agenda? It looks that way.
In coming weeks, the impact of the concessions McCarthy made to win the Speakership will become apparent. Experts now worry about whether the Congress will be able to raise the debt limit, provide emergency funding in the event of natural disasters, continue to supply military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, and address other pressing needs. The Biden agenda is now in the ICU, put there with the help of Dr. Harris.
I particularly worry about the committee on the “Weaponization” of federal agencies. This is expected to be a “revenge” committee with an agenda focused on discrediting President Biden and his administration. The Committee is expected to set its agenda with the help of visionaries the likes of Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Expect some of the agenda to correspond to the conspiracies put forward by “Q.” Is Harris campaigning for a seat on the committee? Do not expect him to tell us. Or maybe he is waiting for instructions from Trump.
The House of Representatives has moved one big step forward towards ceasing to function. That, come to think of it, is one of the reasons Harris thinks he is in Congress. He does not see himself as part of the government, or as a representative charged with making Washington address the many needs of the Eastern Shore. Rather, he sees himself as part of a wrecking crew, inspired and directed by Donald Trump, to undermine government wherever possible.
The First District would not have re-elected Harris if his agenda were better understood. That is why Harris owes his constituents an explanation for what the hell he was doing in Washington last week.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects