Bully Politics

Historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman discuss the rise of bully politics, a GOP style as prevalent now as it was in Congress in the decades leading up to the Civil War, when Southern Congressmen threatened, intimidated and physically attacked their northern colleagues. Here’s a nice slice, to whet your appetite:

Heather Cox Richardson

Because defaulting on that debt is essentially for the country to commit financial suicide, and all the things we’ve talked about in the past that would come from that. But what was really interesting about the way that the media talked about it and the way that pundits talked about it was they talked about it as if it was a Democratic problem. When in fact the Republicans were simply saying, “No, we’re not getting anything to do with this. We’re just not going to play.”

And so, the Democrats finally said, “Okay, we’ll do it on our own, even though you people ran up almost eight trillion of this in a 28 trillion debt. We’ll go ahead and do it ourselves.” And then the Republicans filibustered it, and said, “No, no, you can’t do it that way, either.” The Democrats go ahead and on a straight party line that is only Democrats vote to raise that debt ceiling, they go ahead and they buy the country until about December 3rd, to go ahead and figure out a way to raise the debt ceiling more permanently. And so, what happens?

Joanne Freeman:

So, following the agreement on raising the debt ceiling, Majority Leader Schumer gave a speech on the House floor, and he basically criticizes the Republicans for the brinkmanship, the game playing that they showed on this issue. And these are his words, Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans insisted they wanted a solution to the debt selling, but said-

Charles Schumer (archival):

Republicans played a dangerous and risky partisan game. And I am glad that their brinkmanship did not work. For the good of America’s families, for the good of our economy, Republicans must recognize in the future that they should approach fixing the debt limit in a bipartisan way.

Joanne Freeman:

Now, I will point out that’s a statement of fact. Schumer says, this is what the Republicans did. They had this risky reconciliation process that put a lot of things at risk and the brinkmanship didn’t work. So Heather, what was the response to that statement?

Heather Cox Richardson:

This is what made us want to do this episode. The response was that McConnell came out absolutely swinging. And now there’s a number of reasons he might have done that. He’s actually not operating from a position of strength right now in a number of different ways. But he says, “Last night in a bizarre spectacle, Senator Schumer exploded in a rant that was so partisan, angry and corrosive, that even Democratic senators were visibly embarrassed by him and for him. This tantrum encapsulated and escalated a pattern of angry incompetence from Senator Schumer.”

And then he goes on to say, this is in a letter to President Biden, “I am writing to make it clear that in light of Senator Schumer’s hysterics.” Important word there. “And my grave concerns about the ways that another vast, reckless, partisan spending bill would hurt Americans and help China, I will not be party to any future effort to mitigate the consequences of Democratic mismanagement.”

Now, what jumps out at you there is that the Republicans did everything they possibly could to make it almost impossible to pass the raising of the debt ceiling and to throw the country into default. That’s not negotiable. That’s actually what happened. Schumer said, “Hey, this is what happened.”

Joanne Freeman:

And I’m glad it didn’t work. That’s the extent of that statement.

Heather Cox Richardson:

And McConnell comes back with, “This is a bizarre spectacle. It is hysterics. Look at how we had this moment.” And this is actually how a lot of the media portrayed it. We had this moment in which we were all getting along so nicely. And now he’s gone ahead and thrown a monkey wrench into that, “And I’m not going to play anymore.”

Joanne Freeman:

The striking thing about that then is, if you’re talking about ranting and hysterics, and pumping up the emotion, that’s coming out of McConnell’s statement, that’s really not coming out of what Schumer is saying. So, he’s basically very upset that Schumer just made a blunt basic statement of fact about what happened. He doesn’t like that they were called out.

The Rise of Bully Politics

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