When former Ohio governor John Kasich called for moderate Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives to elect a joint speaker as a way out of the current GOP-led impasse, it brought to mind a recent (rare) triumph of unity in Israeli politics.
Mansour Abbaswas the leader of Israel’s United Arab List party who in 2021 made history as the first Arab-Israeli to join a governing coalition. Israel’s 36th ruling government came about under circumstances similar to what’s taking place in Washington, D.C.: a fractious ruling party couldn’t put together the votes to rule.
No one imagined that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year grip on leadership would ultimately be pried loose by an Israeli Arab. But it happened: an out-of-the-box coalition agreement changed Israeli politics forever.
So here’s my question: Why can’t it happen here?
Former Ohio Governor Kasich’s tweet proposing the idea quickly gathered almost 3 million views and launched Kasich onto a round of TV and podcast appearances.
Wouldn’t it be great for America if a block of Republicans and Democrats work together to pick a Speaker to run a coalition-style government? A coalition allows the House to create policy from the middle out rather than the extremes in.
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) January 4, 2023
In a followup column in The Hill, Nancy Jacobson, CEO of No Labels, wrote that “electing a Speaker who can elicit support from the minority party could entirely transform the House of Representatives from a body dominated by the extremes to one committed to common sense,”
She put forward two names, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) or Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who are both members of Congress’s bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
“Having worked so well together,” she added, “and having accomplished so much as bulwarks against the demands of the far right and far left, a House led by either would almost surely prove much more productive legislatively than one in which a Speaker essentially controlled by McCarthy’s detractors.”
Kasich and Jacobson are on the right track. But why not go full-Israel here? If enough representatives could agree to share power, the speakership could rotate between two moderates, one Republican, one Democrat. The rules don’t say it can’t be done. That’s how Israel resolved its electoral impasse, giving the prime ministership to the right-wing leader Naftali Bennett of Yamina first, who then, in a rotation agreement, ceded the position to Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid.
Instead of reaching for the one savior, inside or outside Congress, who could take the reins on this runaway wagon, maybe it’s time for two drivers? Why not share? A Democrat takes the gavel for a year, followed by a Republican, both of them committed to getting their members to address the most urgent issues facing the country.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, and Naftali Bennett, right, when they took office in June 2021. Photo by Getty Images
In Israel, the coalition government was far from perfect — Abbas himself was refused a seat in the cabinet — but it notched some singular accomplishments, not least of which was its very existence. It was able to pass the country’s first national budget in three years. The coalition didn’t bring peace, unicorns and rainbows to the Middle East. But it did demonstrate that Arabs and Jews in Israel could govern together.
In an America as divided as any time since the Civil War, just the idea that Blues and Reds could work together would be a refreshing change.
The idea becomes less far-fetched if you think of our two party Congress more in terms of political blocs. There are far-right religious members of Congress — just as there are in the Israeli Knesset. Then there’s a left-wing group, an America First party-within-a-party, a Greens-affiliated faction — the blue and red labels in fact paint over a range of ideological diversity and differing priorities.
Israelis figured out a way to herd these cats for the common good, no doubt motivated by ousting a common foe, Netanyahu.
But our 435 representatives face a common foe as well: extremism. If the 20 members blocking Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s speakership have their way, they’d likely elect someone for the job who denies such extremism exists at all.
McCarthy himself, by kowtowing to this group and lying about Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurgency, demonstrated an inability to stand up for moderation — or to stand for much of anything, frankly.
In Israel, the coalition government was short-lived, brought down by Netanyahu’s machinations and, to be sure, the pressure of Israel’s own divisions.
No one can know what a joint speakership in Congress could accomplish. But its very creation would demonstrate a new way forward for a broken system and a deeply divided nation.