Welcome to Silly Season in Washington

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The internet blew up over a heated exchange in the House Oversight Committee on Thursday evening. Ostensibly, the committee had gathered for a markup of a resolution to hold US Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress.

But it quickly devolved into chaos. Unsurprisingly, Marjorie Taylor Greene threw the first grenade when she mocked Jasmine Crockett, a freshman Democrat from Texas, for her “fake eyelashes.” That in turn led to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, asking for Greene’s words to be stricken from the record. When Greene asked if she had hurt her feelings, Ocasio-Cortez replied: “Oh girl, oh baby girl, don’t even play.”

Crockett, a former public defender used to boxing with Republicans from her days in the Texas legislature, responded in kind, by asking Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer if saying “bleach blonde bad-built butch body” would be engaging in personal attacks.

Jamie Raskin, top Democrat on the committee, first looked puzzled then appeared to be trying to hold in his laughter. Comer responded by saying “What now?” That led to even more shouting.

The fireworks masked an even deeper problem for Republicans, though. After spending the last six months on an impeachment inquiry, they’ve largely come up dry on impeaching President Joe Biden. Indeed, this markup was actually for a second contempt of Congress resolution for Garland after the House Judiciary Committee had passed one, which means the Oversight Committee had no real reason to pass a resolution.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene during House Oversight Committee hearing (Independent TV)

But that would have gotten in the way of one of the most important pastimes on the Hill: Silly Season. With Congress almost done with all of its important work this year, that means both chambers–the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House–are engaging in posturing and passing legislation with little hope of passing but does serve an important purpose: creating talking points for the campaign trail.

As hard as it might be to believe, Congress has had a pretty productive two months. After the dumpster fire that was last year’s protracted fight to select a speaker of the House in January and October’s fight to find a new speaker of the House, Democrats and Republicans did come together and finish their homework.

They passed the 12 necessary spending bills to keep the government open until September. After a monthslong back-and-forth negotiation on border security in exchange for aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, House Speaker Mike Johnson decided to pass the aid without any stipulations on immigration, which the Senate readily passed. Earlier this month, the Senate reauthorized the US Federal Aviation Administration with Senator Ted Cruz of all people leading the charge for Republicans to pass it.

But just like how spectators watch hockey just as much for the fights as they do the goals, voters want posturing as much as they do Congress to do their jobs, as much as they might complain otherwise.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during House Oversight Committee hearing (Independent TV)

This was the case this week, which House Republicans dubbed “National Police Week.” Republicans largely won their narrow House majority in 2022 not only because of concerns about inflation, but also concerns about crime. Indeed, many of the Republicans who won Biden-won districts in New York are former police officers. They hope to hold onto their majority–and wind the election for Donald Trump on the back of suburban fear about crime in cities.

Hence why they passed legislation to restrict Washington, DC from changing to criminal liability sentences. This bill is purely messaging, but Democrats decided to play along. That was why Democrats in tough districts and Ruben Gallego, the Arizona Democrat running for Senate, voted for the bill as well, despite the fact Washington, DC doesn’t have a vote in Congress and can have its will subverted.

The same can be said about Thursday’s vote by Republicans to restrict Biden’s ability to withhold aid to Israel. Republicans knew that this would never pass the House, but it was a good way to divide Democrats and accuse them of being anti-Israel, despite the fact that most Jewish Americans vote Democratic, including many who opposed the legislation.

It should also be noted that some Republicans also missed the vote because some of them celebrated Silly Season in a different way: they trekked up to New York to support Donald Trump in his criminal trial. The markup in Oversight partially took place because conservatives were dickering around with Trump.

Rep Jasmine Crockett offers an amendment as the House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Tuesday, 31 January 2023 (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

But Silly Season is not reserved for Republicans in the House. Democrats are still pretty steamed at the fact Republicans killed the bill they negotiated with Republicans that would have tightened US immigration provisions and spent mountains of money at the US-Mexico border in exchange for aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan in February. Hence why they reintroduced the bill this week.

Of course, the whole reason they wanted to pass that bill in the first place was to get aid to Ukraine and now that’s passed, there is little need for it. Furthermore, Republicans already said they hate it and progressives will consider it a betrayal of Democratic values to restrict immigration. Even James Lankford, the Republican who negotiated the bill with Democrats, told me he didn’t want any part of it.

“They’re trying to say it’s a bipartisan bill when I haven’t been a part of this at all,” he said.

But Democrats still want to look like they are trying on immigration because polling shows most Americans prefer the GOP to handle immigration.

Of course, Silly Season will come to a close soon enough. Members of Congress–as well as Biden and Trump–will hit the campaign trail soon enough. Silly Season will give them red meat for voters along with the nutrition that is governance.

Work will still need to be done to pass spending bills to keep the government open in the fall. But the chances are that Congress will pass a stopgap bill to last until the end of the year to keep the magic of Silly Season lasting a little bit longer.

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