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Can discharge petitions save the dysfunctional House?

Mar 11

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On March 9, President Biden signed into law a package of six government funding bills. A subsequent batch of bills now poses a tougher challenge, as a far-right faction in the House blocks votes and discussions on a range of key issues from the U.S. border to Ukraine. To get around this, supporters of the bills are contemplating using a discharge petition, a procedural tool that, if signed by 218 House members, can force a vote without needing approval from the majority leadership.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan breaks down the role of discharge petitions in the House. Zeihan discusses how these petitions could prove beneficial in addressing what he refers to as the “Greenpeace faction,” a group hindering the House from voting on vital bills concerning aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and other important matters.

Excerpted from Peter’s March 11 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

The House of Representatives is looking like dysfunctional family as of late, and of course, the weird uncle stirring up the pot is the Greenpeace faction. Opposing nearly every bill that dares to exist, they’ve essentially halted all legislative proceedings.

Despite the need for aid to Ukraine, bulwark assistance for Israel and Taiwan, defense reform, entitlement reform and more, all we’re hearing from the House are a series of steady shrieks. However, we might be seeing some action very soon thanks to discharge petitions. A discharge petition, requiring 218 signatures, forces debates on critical issues and gives bills a fighting chance at being passed. Even if – especially if – the speaker would rather the bill not see the light of day.

Hi, everyone, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado. As a rule, I try not to comment on US domestic politics, especially during campaigns, which it seems like we’re always in one now. People are finicky the systems change corruption scandals erupt. And it is rare, especially at the congressional level, that it affects international affairs, economic structure, or foreign policy, which are my big issues. We have an exception now, because we have a faction of Republicans who define themselves as rightist, who had basically blocked the House of Representatives from functioning. Basically, there’s this clause within the ruling agreement, if that’s the right phrase of Republicans, that if a single member of the House of Representatives decides to challenge the speaker on any issue, it immediately goes to a general floor vote. And since the Republicans only have about a two seat majority now in the house, you can count on the Democrats not stepping in to help the Republican Speaker, it basically means they lose the job that’s already happened once the session, and it’s in danger of happening again. Now, the current speaker is guy by the name of Johnson who was selected because he is a member of a group that’s at least partially affiliated with that cluster on the far right. But he’s actually trying to govern. And that’s kind of hard, because you basically have this cluster of about a dozen Republicans who have each and every one do not sign off on absolutely everything, then nothing can be brought to the floor for debate or vote. Obviously, that is really pissing off the bulk of the Republicans in Congress, not to mention Democrats because they can’t get anything on the floor. But before you poopoo just speaker Johnson too much keep in mind that he’s always just one annoyed person now away from losing his job completely. And so this is just where we are right now. This has the cost celebrate, of this faction of the Republicans, which I call the Greenpeace faction, because they’re opposed to everything is, of course, Ukraine and aid to Ukraine, and that has significant battlefield implications and is doing significant damage to American, short, mid and long term security concerns. But it’s popular with their constituents. It’s popular with that wing of the party. And of course, in a presidential campaign, Trump has a few things to say about it, too. But it’s not just this, that has been a problem. There is no aid to Taiwan, there’s no aid to Israel. There’s no defense reform, there is no movement on congressional debates for, say, the super carriers, where there’s no criminal justice reform, there’s nothing on entitlements, this faction has blocked absolutely everything. And this Congress is definitely going to go down in history as the least productive Congress in American history by a very, very wide margin. Whether or not that’s going to resonate with anyone at the ballot box way too soon to know. But what it means for now, is that if you are a member of a centrist Democrat or centrist Republican group, you’re looking for ways to still get things done. And so what you’re going to be seeing over the next week or three is something called a discharge petition. Basically, that’s what happens when a majority of the elected representatives in the House get together and jointly say, I want this on the floor for debate and vote. They need at least 218 signatories. If they can do that, then it is forced to the floor after a long, convoluted new unnecessarily complicated system. And it can only be brought to a vote on like the first or the third Wednesday of a full moon, Blue Moon. And virgins have to be involved or something. It’s weird. Anyway, it’s a laborious process that at best takes a week can take several months. And if the speaker because he’s been hounded by the Greenpeace’s decides he wants to throw a wrench in plans, all he has to do is peel off one of its co sponsors and the whole thing falls apart. But right now, that is the absolute only way that something can get a vote on the floor. that defies the Greenpeace faction. So what we’re going to see probably in the next couple of weeks is this be brought to the fore specifically for Ukraine. And if that is successful, we will probably see it almost immediately used again, specifically for Taiwan or specifically for Israel. And once we get to that point, and grant we’re already talking probably get into the summer months here. The Democrats and the Republicans who are actually interested in governing are going to discover that it’s the only way for the House of Representatives to function. And if we get to that point, basically doing an end run around speaker Johnson will be the only way that the House functions, which is of course the end of his political career, but it’s not very high on most of these people’s to protect lists. It does certainly and any possibility that this Congress is going to be more productive, but at least in this scenario, it will get a few things done. How long are we stuck with this? Well, at least until after the elections and November we’ll find out the makeup of the new house. It will sit in January along with a He knew were re elected president. And at that point, we will have an idea. But before you’re like, Oh, we just have to wait till then it’s like no. Both parties are a degree of dissolution at the moment. As the factions make them up, move around. So it odds are at this point in the blink party structure, that the Greenpeace faction is actually likely to get more seats between now and then. Which means that for the Republicans to be the party of power in the house, they’re gonna need to get significantly more seats, so that they can not just out vote, the Democrats but also out vote, this faction of Republicans, and while my political tea leaves telling me that Joe Biden is a shoo in here, it’s not because anybody likes him. And so the chances of his coattails being particularly long are not great. So this is where we are today. With the House of Representatives being broadly non functional. There is no reason to be overly optimistic that this is a limited time affair.

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