JOHNSTON: Team Red’s new game plan

Newly elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks to the 118th Congress in the House chamber, in Washington, early Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Sports metaphor warning:  Many political journalists began as sports writers. The result is generations of writers who cover politics like sports. 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy survived his first grueling contest with a playbook handed to him by people who battled him. Not an ideal way to start the clock on a new season. 

While the House GOP has been scrimmaging in full contact, Team Blue has been resting on the sidelines, watching, practicing, and consulting their past playbook, all with an eye on a time clock that expires in November 2024. 

Former Education Secretary William Bennett once described politics as a football game without any timeouts. Either you are marching downfield against your opponent, or vice versa. There are no mercy rules and the umpires, well, they often wear jerseys, too. 

Speaking of umpires, the legacy media is already referring to McCarthy’s speakership as being in “name only.” They are focused not on substance but on perceived political dynamics. 

Not all “concessions” are signs of weakness. Most of these “concessions” look good to many voters. They return the House to the way it used to work, including the long-abused 1974 Budget Act. It prevents oligarchies from intercepting the legislative process and marching downfield with $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bills. 

Team Blue will try to keep the GOP from gaining any yardage. Some “mainstream” McCarthy loyalists might fumble, or worse, on this first play. But the new leadership’s blocking and execution will be paramount. Look for a few successful runs from scrimmage. 

The next series will be a series of option plays featuring committee organization that will be called on to execute the playbook. Plans to fix the border, establish term limits and cut spending will make their way onto the playing field. These “messaging bills” will pass on party-line votes before heading to the Democratic controlled Senate graveyard. But don’t be surprised to see one or two greeted by a presidential veto. Biden will want in on the action. 

There is one exception – spending bills. The House will send over 12 annual appropriations bills, like they used to. What the Senate does with them will be interesting. The Senate GOP will be able to use the filibuster to help their House brothers and sisters, if they are so inclined (Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, takes over as Appropriations ranking member). Watch this space. 

Each GOP bill will get them 3 yards and a cloud of dust. The real yardage may come from high-risk, high-reward investigations by Judiciary and Oversight and Reform Committees. 

This includes a special panel on the weaponization of the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and intelligence agencies along with Hunter Biden’s laptop and efforts by “science” agencies to censor expert but divergent opinion on covid and in conflict with the First Amendment. 

My expectations are low, other than the benefit of sunshine as a disinfectant, not unlike Elon Musk’s release of the “Twitter Files.” After all, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, and Eric Clinesmith (John Durham’s lone conviction) were aided by friendly DC-based jurors, judges, and prosecutors. 

Republicans will have subpoena power. But ultimately, without a Department of Justice or a Washington, DC-empaneled Grand Jury willing to prosecute, these scandals may fade short of an aggressive and thoughtful legal strategy, complex with smart communications. 

The newly-empowered investigatory committees need smart, experienced and media-savvy former federal prosecutors. When the hearings come, Members need to sideline themselves and let committee counsels direct the questioning. Members like their camera time, but they rarely use it well. 

As for a communication strategy, Elon Musk has shown the way with his brilliant, slow release of the Twitter Files. It provides fodder for Team Red. They should not expect much interest, time, or attention from regime media, which will be taking their cues from the very law enforcement and intelligence agencies that are being investigated. 

The House GOP has its work cut out for them. They can’t afford too many unforced errors. No point in getting angry with the refs or the fans. 

Don’t buy the spin that Team Red starts a new season with a diminished coach or quarterback. 

The game plan is solid, and execution will be the key. 

They’ve finally won the toss, and they’ve elected to receive. Play ball. 

Kelly D. Johnston was the 28th Secretary of the U.S. Senate and aide to three members of the U.S. House of Representatives