Republicans and Democrats alike have raised concerns in recent days that the House Republicans’ inability to choose a new leader is hurting the U.S. internationally.
“This is so dangerous what we're doing. And most importantly, it's embarrassing because it empowers and emboldens our adversaries like [Chinese President] Chairman Xi [Jinping] who says, you know, democracy doesn't work,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on ABC News’ Face the Nation on Sunday.
On Monday, a group of House Democrats sent a letter to the nation’s two top intelligence officials, asking them for a classified briefing on how China and Russia might be using the House GOP’s dysfunction “to discredit democracy globally in their efforts to promote an alternative authoritarian model of governance internationally.”
The 11 Democrats also expressed concern that the current episode could help Russia and China “enhance their ability to form economic and national security alliances, and harm our standing with strategic partners.”
The letter noted that a “propaganda tabloid” of the Chinese government had published an op-ed arguing that the removal of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, had “shattered” the notion that the U.S. is a “beacon of democracy.”
Why it matters
Toby Gati, a Russia expert who served in the Clinton administration, told Yahoo News that anti-democracy messages like these are intended for multiple audiences.
Poking fun at American dysfunction can help regimes justify their authoritarianism as necessary, Gati said. It can be used to weaken relationships between the U.S. and its allies and to reduce the potency of efforts to constrain Russian and Chinese aggression.
Easily disseminated by social media, such messages from sources aligned with the Chinese and Russian governments can also aim to increase dissatisfaction among U.S. citizens with their own government.
“The message we should be getting across is that in the end it always works out and we come out stronger,” Gati said. “But I can't tell you that that's the case now because I'm not sure I believe it.”
Gati said she is not concerned about what the Russians or Chinese think about U.S. politics, but that it is a real concern if the U.S. government is not able to act collectively to deal with crises, such as the war in Israel, the war in Ukraine and the looming deadline to avoid a government shutdown.
Understanding America’s 'power of example'
Fiona Hill, who served as an adviser on Russia to former President Trump, wrote in her 2021 book There is Nothing for You Here that “the projection of American soft power … the power of our example” has been hindered by “partisan spectacles” that have “undermined the country’s standing as a democratic model.”
Hill said she agreed with fellow analysts who concluded that “America's lack of internal cohesion and cooperation had become a 'top-tier national security concern' that could upend the U.S. role in maintaining the 'rules-based global order.'"
“Political polarization is ultimately a national security threat,” Hill concluded.
No end in sight
To become speaker of the House, a candidate needs to win the support of a majority of the chamber, which is controlled by Republicans. But since McCarthy’s removal, no Republican has been able to do so.
Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio have already seen their bids for the speakership fail amid dissent within the Republican ranks.
On Tuesday, Republicans selected Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota to be their next nominee for speaker in a closed-door meeting. But only hours later, Emmer withdrew from the contest after it became clear he could not get the near-total unanimous support needed to win the speakership.
It was, once again, back to square one for the Republicans, who have now gone three full weeks without a speaker since McCarthy was deposed by eight Republicans led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican. Gaetz worked with Democrats to vote McCarthy out.