How much room is there left in the Grand Old Party for those who don’t toe the MAGA line, 100% of the time?
On the day after the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the nation’s first Republican president, Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher’s surprise Feb. 10 announcement that he would retire from the House of Representatives when his term ends has given us pause.
Gallagher is 39 years old and only in his fourth term in the House. He was seen as a rising star in the Republican Party and in Wisconsin, where he represents Green Bay and the surrounding area. His voting record is solidly conservative.
But he was one of three House Republicans who voted against the dismissal of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. In a very embarrassing situation for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, the three votes against were enough last week to prevent the impeachment attempt from being successful.
In his statement about the vote, Gallagher said Mayorkas had been “shockingly incompetent” in office. But, he said, those who supported Mayorkas’ impeachment failed to show that he had done anything that rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional threshold for taking that step.
“Creating a new, lower standard for impeachment, one without any clear limiting principles, will not secure the border or hold Mr. Biden accountable,” Gallagher wrote in a Feb. 6 Wall Street Journal op-ed. “It would only open Pandora’s box of perpetual impeachment.”
Gallagher’s defection angered some fellow House Republicans. The blame for the embarrassment fell more precisely on President Johnson’s apparent inability to count the votes in his chamber. A Democratic member who had undergone abdominal surgery showed up in hospital attire to cast the deciding vote, surprising Republican leaders who had left no room for such surprises.
We are old enough to remember when a member of Gallagher’s group was able to explain such a vote by saying that they were fulfilling their oaths to support the Constitution and move forward. Apparently those times are behind us, unfortunately for the country. Gallagher said he made the decision not to run “with a heavy heart.”
Gallagher, a former Marine who served in Iraq, is a foreign affairs expert and an ardent supporter of American aid to Ukraine. In other words, Gallagher is the kind of Republican member of the House of Representatives who would once have been considered straight from the central cast.
The Wisconsinite is not the only House member to close the matter. More than 40 more people, both Republicans and Democrats, will leave the chamber at the end of this Congress. Some, as usual, are aspiring to higher positions. But many are simply done with what the House has become.
They include other highly respected Republicans, such as Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the first woman to chair the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. She is only 54 years old.
Removing a president, trying to impeach Cabinet members over performance and policy differences, and repeatedly threatening to shut down the government must wear down those who really came to Washington to do the nation’s business and make a difference. The House is simply an embarrassment under MAGA control, as many Republicans acknowledge.
The departures of reasonable and principled members like Gallagher and McMorris Rodgers will not improve things for House Republicans.
In Gallagher’s case, it seems he didn’t want to go; the realities of life as a Republican these days forced him to do so, once he opposed his leadership on what really should have been a matter of individual conscience.
For Gallagher and McMorris Rodgers, voting with their feet in this way is a stronger statement about their views on the near-term future of the Republican Party than any words they can offer. We’ll miss you.