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After Kevin McCarthy's ouster, could the U.S. House find a new way to govern?


It took just eight Republicans to throw Kevin McCarthy out of the speaker's office and throw the U.S. House of Representatives into chaos. Some congressional observers say this is a mess that's been in the making for years. So how did the GOP get here, and how does the Republican conference and the House find a path forward? Norman Ornstein has been writing and thinking about Congress and American politics for decades. He's a senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute, and he joins me now. Good morning, Norman. Welcome to the program.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Thanks, Leila. Great to be with you.

FADEL: So I'd like to refer to something you and Thomas Mann wrote in The Washington Post 10 years ago. In this piece, you said at the time you had no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the dysfunction lies with the Republican Party. So 10 years ago, did you predict what we're seeing now?

ORNSTEIN: You know, I pretty much predicted what we saw this week, but I wasn't quite as pessimistic in terms of where the country was going to be heading. But what we could see - and, you know, I've been around Congress now for more than five decades, worked closely with both parties, know a whole lot of the members. But what Tom Mann and I saw - and both of us were in this situation - was a dynamic that was changing one political party into something that was dysfunctional. And what we saw back then as well, you know, the - Eric Cantor, who was then a part of the leadership team, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan, back in 2010, wrote a book called "Young Guns:" - taken from the movie of the same name - "A New Generation Of Conservative Leadership." They didn't even mention their own leader, John Boehner. And they fanned out around the country to bring the Tea Party to Washington, basically told them that they were going to affect dramatic changes, cut spending and have big tax cuts and destroy the system as we had known it.

And those radicals they brought in really believed it, but they didn't accomplish those goals. And ultimately they turned against their own leaders. Eric Cantor was the first to go. He lost in a primary to a Tea Party radical. John Boehner, who had been the speaker, basically got forced out with some help from the others. Then Paul Ryan left. And now we saw Kevin McCarthy basically eaten alive because they had helped turn a party into something that was more radical, more distrustful of their own leaders and, frankly, has become a kind of cult.

FADEL: So if...

ORNSTEIN: And that's what we saw.

FADEL: So if one party, as you describe, is some kind of cult, is extreme, as you say, what is the path forward in a House of Representatives that has both and needs both to get pretty much anything done?

ORNSTEIN: It's not a very good path for governing. And, you know, what ended up killing McCarthy - and of course, we saw the roots of this directly and immediately back when it took him 15 votes to become speaker and he had to make concession after concession to his more fringe group. But, you know, that was to get 45 days before we have yet another showdown over shutting down the government. And part of that effort to even get that vote done meant cutting out funding for Ukraine. We're not looking at a good path ahead. We don't yet know who the replacement will be. We have a temporary replacement right now, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina. But if you look at the two candidates who are out there now - Jim Jordan, who is one of the most radical members and favored by the insurgents who toppled Kevin McCarthy, and then you've got Steve Scalise, who once defined himself as David Duke without the baggage - we're not looking at a better picture in terms of bringing things together and governing. We're not in a good place as a country right now.

FADEL: Norman Ornstein is a senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute. Thank you, Norman, for your time and your insights.

ORNSTEIN: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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