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House Republicans face a choice

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) tried to make the

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) tried to make the case that he was acting in his official capacity when he addressed the Trump rally on Jan. 6. Credit: Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker

Once in a while a dry understatement can school a politician.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) tried to make the legal argument he couldn’t be sued by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) for helping stir up the violent Jan. 6 siege at the Capitol. Brooks suggested he was acting in his official capacity when he spoke, at President Donald Trump’s notorious D.C. rally, of punishing political adversaries.

The Justice Department opted not to defend him in the case, which is why its court filings include this immortal sentence: "Instigating such an attack plainly could not be within the scope of federal employment."

A lawyer actually had to write this. But now that the congressman's job description has been resolved, we look ahead. Party noise from Brooks and his colleagues becomes all about the next election.

Plotting his return to control of the House next year, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) moves in a frenzy of overwrought protest meant to keep adrenaline and campaign money flowing. Thus the bumper-sticker and email contrivances grow louder, with yelps like: Vaccine tyranny! Racial curriculum! Democrat debt!

But "purple" district incumbents, perhaps Long Island’s, always must defend or reject the collective actions of their party conference.

McCarthy showed this week a determination to pander to the give-COVID-a-chance lobby. As a caution, Capitol physician Dr. Brian Monahan said he was reimposing a mask policy based on new federal guidance and the transience of visitors there.

So McCarthy blasted out a baseless Trumpian conspiracy allegation. "The threat of bringing masks back," McCarthy tweeted, "is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state."

"What a moron," an exasperated Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reportedly responded as she got into a car.

Kind of harsh, but there you go. At least this time nobody will accuse Pelosi of dodging.

McCarthy has essentially boycotted the Jan. 6 inquiry. Over the course of the year, he's flipped from acknowledging Trump bore responsibility for the deadly riot to trying to blame Pelosi and Democrats for a security meltdown.

In case you thought this D.C. cacophony can have no impact on next year's local races, think again.

People will be buying by the party brand. Long Islanders seeking House seats next year will be called on to either declare solidarity with or distance themselves from their party caucuses. Legislatures, unlike executives, work collectively if they work at all.

Membership in your faction defines your candidacy. Just as it will matter to Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in his race for governor, it will set a backdrop for the more moderate Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport) in his first reelection bid.

McCarthy's predecessor as GOP leader, Paul Ryan, recently cited the death of the party's clout in the last election. He called it "horrifying to see [Trump's] presidency come to such a dishonorable and disgraceful end."

With subversion always an option, Trump urged that President Joe Biden be kept from reaching any infrastructure agreement, at least until McCarthy can win back the House.

Even if Republicans wish to break free and leave the former guy's baggage behind, McCarthy will not do so, at least not now. His little mask rant shows a continued commitment to paranoid-style partisanship.

We'll see how that works out for him, the country, and the region.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.

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