Opinion 5 ways to ‘crazyproof’ the country against the chaos of a GOP House


HR King
May 29, 2001
By Greg Sargent
Columnist |
November 10, 2022 at 1:10 p.m. EST

Although Democrats shocked the political world by overperforming in this week’s elections, there’s still a good chance Republicans will end up controlling the House. If so, there will be zero time to waste: Lawmakers should use the lame-duck period before the new Congress is sworn in to build safeguards against a GOP-controlled House’s capacity to sow full-blown chaos.

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This imperative doesn’t apply just to Democrats. Plenty of Republicans, particularly in the Senate, discern the threats posed by a GOP House. They could join Democrats in acting for the good of the country — and for the good of their own party as well. Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein calls this the “crazyproofing agenda,” and, in at least some of these cases, that’s not much of an overstatement.
Here are five ways Congress can act in the lame-duck period, if necessary:

Defuse future debt ceiling crises​

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House Republicans are already threatening to use potential breaches of the debt limit — which would trigger default and economic disaster — to extract policy concessions from President Biden and Democrats on other fronts.


Congress should neutralize this weapon of extortion, because even the mere playing of this game threatens severe damage. In the lame duck, Democrats in the Senate — joined by Republicans who recognize the threat — could raise the debt limit beyond what would be needed during the Biden presidency, or even much higher, rendering it void. Or Congress could transfer control of debt limit hikes to the treasury secretary.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans might see self-interested motives for this. Imagine Donald Trump running for president next year while urging a MAGA-fied House to maximize debt limit extortion to damage Biden. Would incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) really resist? McConnell might not want to get caught between Trump and GOP senators who don’t want to imperil the global economy.
Any GOP House majority is now certain to be very narrow, which would only further empower the MAGA caucus to create chaos by withholding its support for debt limit hikes. McCarthy would be loath to raise the limit with Democrats, because that could subject him to the MAGA caucus’s wrath and possibly mean a leadership challenge.

But in truth, this is a no-brainer even if Republicans don’t win the House, because the debt limit is a useless relic. There’s no good-faith reason to weaponize it, as it involves borrowing to cover spending Congress has already appropriated. If 10 GOP senators won’t act, Democrats should use the simple-majority reconciliation process to raise and neutralize it.

Reduce the risk of a stolen presidential election​

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A GOP House takeover would make the case for revising the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which dictates how Congress counts presidential electors, even stronger than it already is.
In the wake of the 2024 presidential election, a GOP House could very well vote against counting legitimate electors from one or more swing states won by a Democrat. In this election, the ranks of election deniers in the House have grown.

In another scenario, if Kari Lake becomes governor of Arizona, she could certify sham electors for a losing GOP candidate. (Lake has explicitly said she wouldn’t have certified Joe Biden’s electors.) Or a GOP-controlled state legislature could defy a Democratic governor and try to appoint the loser’s electors by itself. A GOP House could count such sham electors, potentially meaning a constitutional crisis or stolen election.
Reforms advancing in the Senate and House would help avert such scenarios. They would require Congress to count the correct electors, mandate that governors certify electors in keeping with the rule of law and create frameworks for court challenges to abuses.
Importantly, 10 Republican senators support this approach. It’s in the interests of principled Republicans: If it’s harder to pull off such a scheme, those Republicans will face less pressure from bad actors to execute it. Even if Republicans don’t win the House, Congress should do these reforms in the lame duck, while 10 GOP senators are still willing to support them.



HR King
May 29, 2001

Avert chaotic gridlock on immigration​

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McCarthy has already threatened that a GOP House will refuse any action on immigration until Republicans deem the border secure — which they never, ever will.

But some Senate Republicans support a compromise that would pump new funding into adjudicating asylum claims at the border and also into removing migrants who don’t qualify. The lame-duck Congress could try to pass something like this combined with protections for hundreds of thousands of people brought here as children, which some Senate Republicans also support.
Current protections for “dreamers” are likely to perish entirely from court challenges, which would be an abominable humanitarian outcome. The asylum system badly needs more money and staffing. But after running a campaign saturated with vile “invasion” language, a Republican House cannot be expected to help dreamers and would surely only support something like a full rollback of asylum.
In the lame duck, Democrats can prod GOP senators to act on these fronts. Kerri Talbot, deputy director at the Immigration Hub, tells me failure to support dreamers and the asylum system now means “more chaos later.”

Prevent defunding of aid to Ukraine​

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Many Republicans genuinely seem to be on the right side here. After McCarthy suggested a GOP House might end U.S. military aid to Ukraine, McConnell quickly declared Republicans would continue to support it. And the aid does have broad bipartisan support.

That said, the MAGA caucus in the House could grow more powerful. MAGA celebrities such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) are vowing total defunding, and a power struggle might unfold among Republicans over future aid if powerful right-wing media voices urge MAGA Republicans to oppose it.
In fairness, some Republicans appear to want only to impose more oversight over aid to Ukraine as opposed to halting it. In principle, that could be done in good faith. But it could also end up being used as a stealth tool for defunding.
Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein suggests another possibility: Republicans could withhold support for Ukraine aid as leverage to squeeze Biden for other concessions. Ukraine experts fear that drama around funding risks signaling unreliable support for Ukraine, prompting disarray among our allies.

For these reasons, Ornstein suggests, Democrats should find 10 Republican senators now to support a long-term appropriation for Ukraine aid and, if that fails, pass one via reconciliation to “give the president more flexibility to do what’s necessary.”

Protect investigations of Trump​

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After the Mar-a-Lago search, numerous Republicans called for defunding the FBI. Though that seems outlandish, a GOP House might attempt to defund investigations or prosecutions of Trump in a more targeted way.
House Republicans are also expected to run hearings into ongoing law enforcement investigations of Trump. Here again, oversight could theoretically be exercised in good faith. But it can also be abused. And harassing or defunding investigations solely because they’re targeting Trump is not good-faith oversight. It’s precisely the opposite. And if those investigations become a more serious threat to Trump, House Republicans would likely exercise leverage to defund them, perhaps with government shutdowns.

So Ornstein suggests a longer-term appropriation for the Justice Department should be considered: “The lame-duck Congress should do everything they can to lock in funding.”
The first two of these are no-brainers no matter what happens in the House. The last three will be more urgent if Republicans do win control. Either way, Democrats should be ready to act — and prod serious Republican lawmakers to join them.