Six meek men

October 23, 2023 6:59 am
Six men in suits, most in front of American flags.

The Republican members of Alabama’s U.S. House delegation. Clockwise from top left: U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl of Mobile; U.S. Rep. Barry Moore of Enterprise; U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Saks; U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer of Hoover; U.S. Rep. Dale Strong of Madison and U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt of Haleyville. (U.S. House of Representatives)

At a key moment in the 1957 film “12 Angry Men,” Juror No. 7, played by Jack Warden, suddenly announces that he’s changed his mind about a teenager facing a murder charge. He goes from guilty to not guilty.

Not because he’s been convinced by arguments, or a need to get a life-and-death decision correct.

Juror No. 7 has tickets to a baseball game. Since the other jurors seem to be moving toward not guilty, it’s the best way to get there.

When another juror accuses him of cowardice and demands he justify his switch, Juror No. 7 first expresses outrage that he’s being criticized, then mutters “I, uh, don’t think he’s guilty.”

Alabama’s Republican U.S. House delegation finds itself in an equally profound battle over who will lead their chamber.

And so far, they’ve acted like Juror No. 7: doing what they think the majority wants, seemingly uninterested in the consequences of their choices.

When the right edge of the caucus managed to oust then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Oct. 3, all six Alabama Republicans — Jerry Carl of Mobile; Barry Moore of Enterprise; Mike Rogers of Saks; Robert Aderholt of Haleyville; Dale Strong of Madison and Gary Palmer of Hoover — dutifully voted for McCarthy. That’s where their caucus was.

Rogers, the chair of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, went further. He was a staunch McCarthy supporter during January’s drawn-out battle to put the California Republican in the chair. Rogers suggested that anyone who didn’t vote for McCarthy should be removed from their committee assignments. A camera caught Rogers lunging at Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the organizer of the resistance to McCarthy.

In the lead-up to McCarthy’s ouster, Rogers told a Montgomery audience that Gaetz and his friends had unrealistic expectations about spending bills. After McCarthy’s removal, he called Republicans who voted for his ouster “traitors;” said he would never vote for U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the House GOP caucus’ second choice for speaker, and floated the possibility of a coalition with Democrats.

Strong stuff, right?

Well, it all melted away in 72 hours.

Rogers abruptly announced last Monday that he would support Jordan for speaker because they both “agreed on the need” to pass bills critical for defense and agriculture.

If this really is how it went, Jordan got Rogers’ vote for very little. You can see the need for a lot of things and oppose specific plans to address them.

But at least you can roll Rogers’ Play-Doh convictions into something resembling a spine. His Alabama colleagues couldn’t go that far. Aderholt expressed “disappointment” in McCarthy’s removal; Carl suggested in one interview that maybe Democrats and Republicans should look for areas of common ground.

And then Carl endorsed Jordan, a candidate guaranteed to make that impossible.

Start with allegations from former members of the Ohio State University wrestling team that Jordan, then an assistant coach on the team, did nothing to stop a team doctor who was molesting players. (Jordan says he didn’t know.)

Then look at how the congressman feels about democracy. The Cleveland Plain Dealer lays it out.

Jordan waited two days after the 2020 election to pump lies about the outcome into public discourse. He joined a “Stop the Steal” protest in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He claimed, repeatedly and falsely, that there were voting irregularities in the states.

The night before the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Jordan texted Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, saying Pence should nullify the certified results of a democratic election.

Jordan had a 10-minute conversation with Trump on the day of the riot. He has refused to answer a congressional subpoena to discuss the call.

A man like that should not be in any position to oversee Electoral College returns, as Jordan would be if he were House speaker in January 2025.

But Carl and all his Alabama Republican colleagues voted three times for Jordan last week, just as easily as they voted for McCarthy.

Resisting a democratic election outcome isn’t an issue for our GOP House members, five of six of whom voted with Jordan to overturn the 2020 election results. Strong was not a member of the House at the time.

This isn’t a defense of McCarthy, who spent nine months flop-sweating through embarrassing capitulations to a dozen or so authoritarians in his caucus, vainly hoping that such humiliations would keep him in office.

Still, I’d think a group of people who supported their prior leader would at least frown a bit before lining up behind Jordan like he had $25 Iron Bowl tickets.

But they did. And I’m not at all certain that their votes come from any kind of personal conviction. They’re just doing what their party wants.

Their passivity became evident ahead of the vote. Their statements prioritized unity over discernment. They drew no public lines and laid out no requirements for their vote for the next speaker. If the hard right wanted a koala in the job, your GOP congressmen would have eucalyptus leaves ready.

Alabama sent a half-dozen men to Congress to lead. But it seems they mostly follow.

Their reasons — whether fear of the base, protection of privileges or a baseball game — don’t change the results. Their meekness has enabled the chaos engulfing the House as international crises mount and budget deadlines approach.

And it almost put an election denier in a place where he could start a constitutional crisis.

But that means nothing to Alabama’s House Republican delegation. Just like Juror No. 7, they followed their colleagues because they couldn’t be bothered to care about the result.


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Brian Lyman
Brian Lyman

Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006, and worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register and The Anniston Star. His work has won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association and Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. He lives in Auburn with his wife, Julie, and their three children.