Feb 12, 2023 - Politics & Policy

How partisan warfare is consuming the new Congress

Illustration of the Capitol Dome with hands pointing out from behind it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden’s baiting of Republican hecklers wasn't just a signature moment in his State of the Union speech — it was in line with a series of partisan stunts that have marked the new Congress.

Why it matters: From moves aimed at tweaking political foes to spats that have challenged the House's decorum, members of both parties have jumped on opportunities to score political points and try to make things awkward for the other side.

Zoom in: House Republicans, in charge for the first time in four years, are leading the parade of antics. They seem especially determined to put Democrats in awkward positions while seeking leverage in upcoming talks over the debt ceiling and government funding.

  • At an organizing meeting for the Natural Resources Committee, a GOP push to allow members to carry guns in meetings led to a heated party-line debate. Members later argued on Twitter over Republicans who sported assault rifle lapel pins.
  • A GOP-backed measure denouncing socialism "in all its forms" passed the House and seemed designed to divide Democrats. It did just that: Dozens of Democrats voted against it, figuring it could be interpreted as a statement against Social Security and Medicare.
  • Democrats have fought back: After Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) pushed a plan for the Judiciary Committee to say the Pledge of Allegiance before meetings, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) questioned whether Republicans who supported former President Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election should be allowed to lead the pledge.

The intrigue: Besides the vote on socialism, Republicans have forced Democrats to vote on divisive issues that sometimes made them choose between party unity and re-election considerations.

The big picture: The often-petty back and forth between the parties likely adds to the challenge Congress faces in trying to cut a budget deal to keep the government funded and avoid a default on U.S. debt.

Yes, but: A glimmer of hope came on Thursday, as the House voted 419-0 to pass a resolution condemning China for "a brazen violation of United States sovereignty" by having a surveillance balloon fly over the U.S.

  • Republicans initially wanted to condemn the Biden administration's response to the balloon but negotiated with Democrats to instead draw up a resolution rebuking China.
  • “I think it was smart,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said of the resolution, “The initial play was, hey, let’s criticize Biden. Oh no, let’s criticize China. … I think it was better to unify. We should not ever think it needs to be a partisan hammer against the other guy.”
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