Rep. Dan Bishop talked a big game.
He’s spent months creating chaos in Congress, taking hardline positions that risked both a historic debt default and a government shutdown. He’s repeatedly threatened to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for working with Democrats to avoid both.
But it appears that his defiance was limited to press gaggles, TV hits and social media posts, because when it came time to back up his words with actions, Bishop instead backed down.
Bishop voted against Rep. Matt Gaetz’s “motion to vacate the chair” on Tuesday, a rare procedural move that removed McCarthy from the speakership. It’s the first time in U.S. history that a speaker has been involuntarily removed.
“One person’s play call with roughly 5-7 potential supporters portends no path to success, only chaos,” Bishop said in a statement ahead of the vote.
It’s a little late for that. Since a new Republican majority took over the House in January, Bishop and a small group of his colleagues have done nothing but attempt to grind government to a halt, all while insisting that their obstructionist tactics are actually intended to make it work more efficiently.
Here’s a recap: Bishop was the first House Republican to publicly float ousting McCarthy after McCarthy snubbed the hardliners in his caucus to negotiate a debt ceiling deal with President Joe Biden back in May.
“It is inescapable to me. It has to be done,” Bishop told reporters then. He also noted that a motion to vacate wasn’t something he could do alone, and his colleagues “who have courage” would have to join him.
Over the past few weeks, as Congress flirted with a possible government shutdown, numerous media outlets quoted Bishop again saying he’d support a motion to vacate.
According to CNN: “I would support it if somebody brings it.”
Reported by The Washington Post: “I’m prepared to support a change in leadership through the mechanisms of motion to vacate the chair, if necessary.”
Just last month, he said he’d be happy to work with Gaetz on a motion to vacate the speaker, and would be willing to file it himself if needed. POLITICO reported that he already had a replacement in mind.
This is not to say that Bishop should have gone along with the plan to overthrow McCarthy. We have not supported the guerrilla tactics of Bishop and his hard-right colleagues, saying last week that such behavior is more about showboating than it is legislating. And Bishop, of course, is allowed to change his mind.
But he still bears responsibility for the “chaos” that he says will arise from ousting McCarthy, whether he voted for it in the end or not. He already opened Pandora’s box, and closing it now makes little difference. It’s akin to arsonists trying to throw a splash of water on a fire that they started themselves. Whatever damage it inflicts is still his fault.
In his statement, Bishop said that while he believes the Republican Party is due for a reckoning, he has chosen to pursue that reckoning outside of Congress by running for state attorney general.
“I cannot impose this burden on an institution from which I am soon to depart,” Bishop said.
Since when? Bishop formally announced his run for AG in August and was rumored to be considering it well before that. Yet he was pushing for such a reckoning in Washington — and voiced support for a motion to vacate — as recently as late September.
Bishop has always been one to say and do things that others won’t, for better or worse. Not this time, it seems. Bishop has repeatedly accused Republican leadership of posturing and broken promises, saying “there are vows to do things that seem never to be followed through on.” Yet he now looks equally feckless.
If he’s not willing to follow through in the biggest moment of all, then what was it all for?
Nothing. It was for nothing. By bailing on the mess that he created, Bishop is essentially admitting that his rebellion was never a serious effort. It was never designed to lead to anything constructive. It was always about chaos.