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Rep. Pat Ryan: Republican Chaos

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Rep. Pat Ryan: Republican Chaos

Pat Ryan is an Army combat vet who represents New York’s 18th district. In this interview, he talks about the unprecedented House Speaker elections, right-wing extremism, and his new resolution.

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Pat Ryan:

I still believe in our system. I still believe in democracy. I still believe we're the best country on the planet. And we have enough people here in Congress, and more importantly, enough people around the country who still want to fix this and believe we have to fix it.

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

My guest today is my good friend, Pat Ryan, an Army combat vet, (I wore the Navy shirt for you today, Pat) who now, represents the Navy New York's 18th District.

I've brought him back on the show to discuss an incredibly important resolution he's introducing to the House floor as well as the chaotic state of the Republican party.

Pat, welcome back.

Pat Ryan:

Thanks, Ken. Good to see you. Beat Navy. Had to say it and then we can move past it.

Ken Harbaugh:

Beat Army. Alright. Let's get serious because we have to start with what's going on amongst your colleagues on the other side of the aisle. It's days like this I'm glad I am not in your shoes.

But give us a view from the trenches on what is happening inside the Republican's chaotic attempts to elect a speaker.

Pat Ryan:

Yeah. I mean, if we zoom out, and I think you and other folks have been doing a good job of highlighting this. We learned this day one when we're military leaders, when in charge, take charge.

And so, like it or not, the American peoples elected a slight Republican majority. They're in charge of the house. But from day one, it has just been chaos, division, dysfunction. Now, literal death threats from one Republican's to another's family.

I mean, I was talking to colleagues who I won't name who said they've been dealing with that the last week.

So, it's really brought out the worst in their party and the worst in themselves right at the moment where we desperately need to have some unity to have a path forward, to be supporting Ukraine, supporting what's going on in Israel, supporting efforts to deter Chinese aggression.

So, on a personal level, I just finished my first year and I knew it would be divided down here, but I did not think we were headed into this.

And so, what I've been focused on, what I think my democratic colleagues have been focused on is staying unified as not only Democrats, but I think at this point, Patriots really who want to just move the country through this, get going in a forward direction.

I'm hopeful that we may have one more week of total now, I think there's nine candidates now, in this next iteration of who's the most extreme far right candidate they can get. But once that fails, which I think it will, I hope that they'll listen and come approach us with some kind of coalition government to move us forward.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, as of this recording, you're right, there are nine entrants into this contest from the Republican party. Everyone more extreme than the next. It's not a good look.

But I want to go back to something that you mentioned in passing, which is the Republicans very slight majority. It is really worth mentioning that Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats, had exactly the same slight majority and we're able to get a whole lot done.

When the Republicans point to this very slim margin that they have as an excuse, it doesn't hold water.

Pat Ryan:

Yeah. And I came down here in a special election at the end of the last Congress. So, I had three months of a very different view of how the House can function, in my view, how it should function, where in just a few months, I was able to vote to pass a budget. Which is one of the most important things we can do, which we've failed to do under the Republicans in charge.

But we also passed the bipartisan infrastructure law, the single biggest infrastructure investment since Eisenhower.

And we're actually seeing that in my district. I represent about an hour and a half, two hours north of New York City. We're seeing improvements to roads and bridges. We're seeing broadband. We're seeing sewer and water pipes that used to be made of wood.

Literally, some of my cities have wooden pipes, and we're replacing those. We're removing lead pipes that are making young kids sick. So, we're doing good work from that.

We passed the CHIPS Act, which across the country is bringing back manufacturing jobs and semiconductors, quantum computing, and chips, including in my district, a $20 billion commitment from IBM to bring jobs back to our region and upstate New York, the Inflation Reduction Act, the list can go on and on.

And it's not just about these sort of bills or acronyms or accomplishments backwards looking. To me, what it says is it sets a forward direction.

Democrats want to bring the country forward. They want to lift folks in the middle class and working class up, bring jobs back here that are good paying to our communities, particularly rural communities like mine and a lot of others across the country.

Whereas Republicans, I mean, at best, they're treading water, but really taking us backwards, in my opinion, in terms of removing rights and freedoms, but also just economically. I mean, we are now, 26 days, I believe it is, from another government shutdown, and they can't even choose a speaker.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah, I couldn't agree with you more. We are a long way from Washington here in northeast Ohio. You're a long way from Washington up there in New York's 18th.

And I often hear mostly from media types that Congress is dysfunctional. I'd like you to address that because my perspective, which I often find myself arguing against my neighbors on this, is that Congress isn't dysfunctional.

I mean, you look at how much the Democratic party is able to achieve. It is a single party that has taken this anti-democratic path of burn it all down, that is the sole source of the dysfunction in Washington. And it's not fair to say our system writ large is broken. One party has decided to break it.

Pat Ryan:

I think you're right. And again, to your previous point, if you need any more evidence, the split screen contrast of the 117th Congress, last one where we did all those things I just talked about, and 118th, which has just been total gridlock at best.

At worse, they've advanced really dangerous policies to make climate change worse, to put more deadly guns on our streets.

Every single bill they've had, they've essentially tried to add in a nationwide abortion ban, regardless of what it actually had to do with. Including the defense bill, which to me, is sacrosanct above many others and a lot of dimensions. So, you're right.

And when you put forward Jim Jordan as your leader, an avowed public unabashed election denier, and in my view, insurrection enabler.

When you put forth Jim Jordan, who led the bill on a nationwide abortion ban, who multiple times has voted to weaken, privatize, and sunset Social Security and Medicare, who … the list goes on and on. And by the way, who hasn't passed a single bill in 16 years in the House of Representatives.

When you put him forward, how can you be taken seriously at your word, that you want to govern, that you want to be bipartisan?

Meanwhile, we have extended, and I've been involved in many of these conversations, a hand for some kind of even short-term coalition government that would be inherently bipartisan, given the slim majority of five seats that they have.

And just last week, you saw Elise Stefanik in particular, who's my neighbor further north of New York, say, “I will not do any deal with any Democrats in any way.” I mean, that's just not how this is intended or designed to work.

Ken Harbaugh:

That's not the Democratic contract at all. Do the American people, by and large get it? That's what worries me most.

When Jim Jordan was first nominated, we know him well here in Ohio, I welcomed that because I thought it would expose the hypocrisy and frankly, the nihilism of today's Republican party.

Are your constituents beginning to see just how unable to govern and anti-democratic the Republicans are?

Pat Ryan:

I think beginning to, but it requires helping people understand what is happening. Because as you can appreciate, there's just so much going on in folks' lives.

And I do think, unfortunately, trust in Congress over decades has been (if you can look at the polling and the data and the numbers, you can just talk to folks in your community) declining.

Because we have failed at, in multiple ways over the decades, most of my lifetime, to meet the moment on a bunch of fronts, on big problems in the country that need to be addressed, gun violence, immigration, climate change, a more fair economy. All those issues rather than solving them there, there's been a lot of infighting.

And I think it is difficult within that context to characterize what is … it really unprecedented, even in the long history of challenging and polarizing times. This is unprecedented.

I mean, vacating the speakership never happened in almost 250 years. Not being able to choose another leader, and we're now, 20 days in, completely unprecedented.

And they've really devolved, I mean, I have two and four-year-old boys. The Republican party right now, is fighting worse than my two young boys who we can at least say, “Hey, guys, calm down. Let's get it together here.” So, we have more work to do.

Myself and a another fellow veteran, Chris Deluzio, Naval Academy grad from Pennsylvania, we wrote an op-ed trying to highlight this.

Trying to say, “Look, this is a moment where we have to rise above the chaos, which has really been bred by the far right kind of MAGA ideology that's taken hold of the party that Jim Jordan represents, that obviously Trump not only represents, but has really brought to the fore.”

So, our call has been stop acting as partisans and start acting as patriots. And that's something we're just going to have to continue to call people to do, to transcend the moment that we're in.

Ken Harbaugh:

At the same time, you have Republicans in front of cameras saying that this chaos is the fault of Democrats. Let's play this short clip, and then I'd love your reaction.


“But Speaker McCarthy was elected, and he was the speaker of the House. He was the largest Republican fundraiser ever for us as House Republicans.

I mean, the Democrats knew what they were doing when they put up 208 votes to take him out of the speakership. And that's what created the current situation that we're in. So, then we had a conference meeting.”

“They didn't take him out of the speakership. I mean, you guys are the majority.”

“Sure, they did.”

“But you guys are the majority, right?”

“96% of the votes came from Democrats though, Brianna. I mean, just factually speaking, there were only eight Republicans and there were 208 Democrats. I mean, 208 Democrats voted.”

But sir, who's in the majority?”

“Well, the Democrats were the majority of that vote. And when we have a very small-“

“No, who’s in the majority in the House of Representatives?”

“The Republicans are in the majority, but the Democrats provided the majority of the votes to take Kevin McCarthy out of the speakership. In fact, they provided 96% of the votes.”

“Republicans provided the key votes. They're in the majority, they can provide enough votes, obviously to put a Republican speaker in place.”

“Brianna, the Democrats provided 96% of the votes. 208 Democrats voted to remove the Republican speaker of the House. Eight Republicans voted to remove the Republican speaker of the House. So, 96% of the votes came from Democrats to remove the Republican speaker of the House. It was the largest fundraiser that we've ever had. They knew what they were doing.”

“It's some interesting verbal gymnastics. I will give you that. But I want to talk about the future here.”

“What do you mean gymnastics? I'm just talking about the facts. 208 Democrats voted. They were the vast majority of the vote to take Kevin McCarthy out of the speakership.”

“I’m talking about how it works, and that is if the majority in the House of Representatives, your party is responsible for electing the speaker.”

Ken Harbaugh:

So, Pat, what do you make of that? I mean, it is some clever, I guess, verbal ju-jitsu trying to say that because the Democrats are aligned and not helping out the Republicans, it's their fault. But from the trenches, what's the take of you and your colleagues?

Pat Ryan:

Well, I mean, it's just straight up lying and deception, unfortunately, when rather than taking responsibility (as I said, when in charge, take charge) that the Republicans are in charge and they've failed in every aspect, they pass blame and cast blame.

And one of the differences that both makes me proud to be a Democrat, but sometimes frustrated is we don't lie.

And so, when I see colleagues out there blatantly misleading and I'm surrounded by Republican members in my district, so in my local media, for example, these excuses and lies about democratic responsibility are being blamed, and I have to answer them.

And depending on who I'm talking to, I do that different ways. But at the end of the day, I do think folks, when you take the time to say, “Look, the way this works is when you're the party in charge, you have to choose a leader just like you do in your business or your organization.” They're like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.”

And then sometimes when I remind folks when Nancy Pelosi was our speaker, would you have expected any Republicans to help support her or sort of keep her in power and they're like, “Oh yeah, actually.”

So, some of this too is just the rules of Congress aren't always intuitive. And so, it's you just kind of helping remind people of that.

Ken Harbaugh:

That narrative that they're Republicans or some Republicans are pushing that there is culpability on the democratic side. It's getting a lot of pushback.

But I'm surprised more people aren't turning the tables like you described doing, and making the point that Republicans wouldn't have dared vote for Nancy Pelosi or bring it to the present. If only a handful of Republicans voted for Hakeem Jeffries, we'd be out of this mess.

I mean, the hypocrisy is really obvious when you point it out by turning the tables that way.

Pat Ryan:

And right out of the gate, I was one of the few (and more have been doing it) that did that, that said, “Look, we just need five chaotic Republicans to come forward.”

And I have to say nothing, I think, frustrated those sort of Biden district quote unquote “moderate” (although I don't think they are moderate anymore) Republicans more than when I said that.

Because then they had to answer that question. Yeah, Hakeem keeps getting more votes than anybody else. Why isn't he the speaker at this point? He seems to be the only one who actually can lead a coalition.

And the Democratic coalition, let's be clear, it's a big broad coalition. We don't all agree on everything by any means, but we agree on core principles. We agree most of all in small D democracy, that we don't want election deniers running our House.

That with a 2024 election coming up the way it is, and the likelihood of Trump as the candidate, imagine a certification vote with Jim Jordan anywhere near leadership circles or some of these other election deniers, that's a very — I mean, we cannot say enough how dangerous that is, how close to the precipice we are, if that is where the Republican party is right now.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah. And just a reminder, a certification vote is normally a pro forma exercise to say, “Yeah, the people have voted, this is the president.”

We saw that it can be turned on its head on January 6th, 2021. And if a certification vote is controlled by an insurrectionist conspiracy theorist, who knows how that goes next time?

I think if it were Jim Jordan, we know how it would go and democracy would be thrown out the window.

I want to talk about those Biden districts with Republican reps that you referenced, because it gets to the incentive structure in the Republican party with the primary voters the way they are. It is really hard to see them able to actually represent their districts.

You know what I'm getting at. The right thing to do would be to side with the Dems on issues of national security, on issues of small D democracy. But what seems to be motivating them more than anything is surviving a Republican primary. Can you validate that for me?

Pat Ryan:

Yeah. And that's certainly the lack of backbone, the spinelessness, the really just caving to the worst forces, the MAGA extremists far right forces in the party. That's probably when people ask me sort of how has it been down there? What are your takeaways?

The level of sort of running scare that you see from Republicans who otherwise I think we wouldn't agree on some of the public policy things, but we'd agree on small D democracy as you said, is much greater than I thought, and it's very dangerous, especially in the moment that we're in.

I've had multiple Republican colleagues who are from those districts or in districts that are so fairly purple, maybe tinting red, validate that it is that fear of a far right primary opponent powered by the same forces that Jim Jordan mobilized to bring death threats to Republicans if they didn't vote for him for speaker.

It's that really divisive kind of energy that would come to the fore powered by Trump. And so, that is what folks are afraid of right now. And it's incentive structure wise led to further and further right, more and more extreme.

Including many of those members voting against for example, in the defense bill, which prior to coming to the house floor was pretty bipartisan, didn't have all the culture war sort of issues in it.

They were added in including blocking reproductive healthcare and abortion care for all active duty women's service members. 20% of our force and added into the farm bill, added into all these normally routine critical for the function of our country bills. They've added these culture war sort of poison pill litmus tests.

And every single Republican, except in maybe one or two in a few cases is voting for them.

Ken Harbaugh:

Can you talk about the psychology of that, not the politics, but what motivates someone to hold on that tightly to a job that between you and I isn't that great every day? What drives people to give up so much in terms of integrity and honor to hold on to this job?

Because you and I both know people who have gone the other way and almost to a person, I'm not going to call anyone out, they seem happier for it.

The Republican reps who stood up, who said, “No, I'm not going to cave to this fringe element within my base, I'm going to do the right thing.” They lost their jobs, but they hold their heads high.

Pat Ryan:

Yeah. And this is where I keep deliberately pushing this language of patriotism to me. I keep going back. Well, I'll answer your immediate question, but I want to tie it to a broader sort of imperative.

I don't understand the psychology. I truly don't. I just think it's moral cowardice really. There's no other explanation because if you're just a thoughtful person who's studied any history and followed what's happened in our country and how other dangerous moments like this, it's clear we're in one of those moments.

And so, if you don't do the right thing, you may have some short-term wins politically, but the long arc of history and history looking back at those folks, for example, who voted not to certify the election over half of the Republicans in Congress at the time, they will and should be judged incredibly harshly.

And they will never be able to remove the stain, in my opinion, of that specific vote.

There's this letter that at the time I think he was maybe not even a general, he was a rising military officer. Ulysses S. Grant wrote to his dad and his sister in 1861.

And I'm paraphrasing, but it essentially said, “Whatever you used to think about our politics, I have a new way of looking at it. At this point, we have a flag and we have a constitution and we must uphold them. And there are two parties, there are patriots and there are traitors. And I, for one, will be on the side of the patriots, who I believe will win the day.”

His is much more eloquent than my clumsy paraphrasing there. But we are very close, if not at a moment like that, where if you've now, failed to certify an election, you've voted multiple times for a known insurrectionist to be the speaker of the House. You've endorsed Donald Trump.

You're trending if very dangerously close to, and that is a word I don't use lightly, but that to me is behavior that isn't for the good of a country. And we have to be clear-eyed about that.

Ken Harbaugh:

You referenced earlier the threats that members have received for, in one case voting against Jim Jordan. I want to play a short voicemail that just is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the threats these members are receiving.


“Several of those lawmakers who oppose Jim Jordan's bid for speaker, are now, receiving credible and terrifying death threats.

Over the weekend, it was made clear that supporters of Jordan's were going to launch a pressure campaign that apparently had Jordan's blessing until last night. And in the intervening time, well, it got pretty ugly.

And we have some exclusive audio right now, of a threatening message that was left as a voicemail for the wife of one of the Republican lawmakers who opposes Jordan.

This has only been edited to take out identifying information of the wife and the lawmaker. We've bleeped out some of the language, but not all of it. And I want to warn you, this is pretty ugly stuff. Take a listen.”

“Why is your husband such a pig? Why would he get on TV and make an asshole of himself? Because he's a deep state prick, because he doesn't represent the people?

So, what we're going to do is we're going to [beep] come follow you all over the place. We're going to be up your ass [beep] nonstop.

We are now Antifa, we're going to do what the left does because your [beep] of a husband gets on TV, ‘Oh, the bad guys, they did this. So, I'm going to vote for Kevin McCarthy, a piece of shit who everybody knows.’

And for his piece of shit ass to talk about Americans who are actually fighting for Americans as the bad people, says everything about him.

So, [beep] you, [beep] your husband, and we are going to — we're not like the left, we aren't violent, but we're going to follow your ass every appointment you have, everything you [beep] do.

Your husband's an asshole, you should [beep] talk to his stupid ass. We're at war, Israelis being killed, and your dumb husband is acting like a [beep] two year old. No wonder he's a [beep] war mongering piece of shit.

So, listen, you're going to keep getting calls and emails. I'm putting all your information over the internet now, everybody else's, and you will not be left alone because you're [beep] husband. Jim Jordan, or more conservative, or you're going to be [beep] molested like you can't ever imagine.

And again, nonviolently, you won't go to the beauty parlor. You must be a bitch to marry a ugly [beep] like that.”

Ken Harbaugh:

So, Pat, a couple questions. A year or two ago when I was working on a piece about this, I had a member of Congress tell me, “Please don't highlight the fact that we're receiving these kinds of threats because we don't want to energize those who are sending them.”

I think that that approach has shifted because the American people need to see just how radicalized the right wing fringe has become. How dangerous it has become to speak the truth within that party.

What are you seeing from within Congress?

Pat Ryan:

Yeah, I agree with your sentiment that any thought that this will go away, that this is an aberration, that somehow keeping it quiet will tamp it down, is obviously and tragically not the case.

And these threats against my colleague Don Bacon and others who I won't name out of respect for the conversations we've had, who've really been affected by it.

And not coincidentally, actually many of the 20 to 25 folks who voted against Jim Jordan are people who I know on the other side through caucuses that bring together military service veterans and other national security veterans who I do think are at least relatively better at zooming out and understanding the broader moment that we're in.

So, we have to be clear out about this. As hard as it is for folks to grapple with and hear, it's so important that the broader American people hear this and know the really dark and divisive forces that are swirling here and that there are consequences when these threats are brought out.

Ken Harbaugh:

Another thing we have to be clear-eyed about, and I'm probably going to get in a little bit of trouble for this, but one of the hallmarks of fascist movements throughout history is the violent internal policing that precedes the larger takeover.

When you look at the brown shirts, when you look at fascist movements in Italy, their initial number one enemies were their internal dissenters.

And I think that's important in making the link between what is happening within the Republican party today, and understanding how fascist movements arise, and evolve, and then gain power.

And that internal policing is really remarkable because it seems like the greatest enemy to the Republican party these days isn't you with ideas that are in some cases diametrically opposed, but it's their internal dissenters. It's that internal thought and behavior policing that has become the hallmark of this party.

Pat Ryan:

You're always much more eloquent than I, Ken. I was thinking about this the other night where I was actually thinking about a few of my Republican colleagues who had received these threats in the last few weeks and I mean, certainly relieved, but I've never received those threats, thank God. And I don't know many Democratic colleagues who have, on this topic anyway.

And you're exactly right, they're focused on the few remaining, and it's very few folks in the Republican party that have any backbone that are willing to speak truth to the rising sort of power that's coming to the fore.

I mean, when General Milley left, and Trump made those comments essentially threatening his life. And that's just another escalation in multiple years now, of targeted specific threats by Trump and as well as evoking others and invoking others to do the same against our senior most military officer who dared to speak up about the politicization of our military and other issues that were happening under Trump.

You think about that alone as an example of exactly what you're talking about, what that does to every other military officer of any rank, and soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, and now, guardian. I have to always remember to add that one.

So, I don't know how we put this back in the bottle. I really don't, other than, at this moment, we just have to call it out, fight against it, and hold the line.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah. I don't know how we get back to normal either. There is certainly a new normal. Let's focus on something practical though, because we can.

You have a piece of legislation that's either on the floor, going to the floor, compelling or at least putting pressure on Tuberville to stop his holds on military promotions.

There are other senior leaders who we don't have in place around the world at this moment of maximum danger and tension, especially in the Middle East.

Give us the quick primer on that legislation. And then I want to ask some specifics.

Pat Ryan:

Well, this is really obviously much of these holds that are tremendously dangerous and detrimental to our national security, particularly vis-a-vis the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza and the lack of Senate confirmed leaders in CENTCOM, in Fifth Fleet, in a bunch of critical operational and strategic command positions.

Given that urgency and given the fact that so far in the House, there's been no one raising this as an issue that although the process happens in the Senate, certainly I believe it's incumbent at this point, it's reached such a point of risk that every House member, in my opinion, should be saying this is ludicrous.

We should absolutely have these Senate confirmations move through, particularly given another dangerous conflict now in the Middle East.

And so, honestly, I had slim, but I did have some hope that we could try to get a few Republicans at least to start as co-sponsors of this, but impossible.

And that's another sign of how far just off the path the Republican party, especially in the House has become that I couldn't get one single co-sponsor of what to every person I've talked to in my district and across the country is just common sense legislation.

And it called for just the confirmation of these senior military officers really is sort of like, as you said, a way to show the House has this view to put pressure on the Senate, particularly Senate Republicans to unblock these blocks.

Ken Harbaugh:

Every person I've talked to in the military, and I still have immediate family members in the military, Republican or Democrat, has said this kind of grandstanding by Senator Tuberville is insane. It's harming the country, it's harming the morale of those in uniform.

What does it mean when you have two carrier battle groups approaching a war zone, one of them already in a war zone, and we have yet to confirm a chief of naval operations.

Pat Ryan:

There are so many implications to this. There's some immediate, and there are some, I think in some ways even more dangerous medium and long term consequences.

In the immediate term, just think about the complexity of that command as well as the deputy commander of CENTCOM, the commander of Fifth Fleet that oversees those carrier strike groups and many other positions.

The complexity of that command at best, the folks that now, are in those seats are having to do two jobs because essentially, they're still holding their previous one. They've been nominated for the next one, but they haven't been confirmed. The other person's probably in many cases has moved on.

So, you're now, trying to manage in the middle of a very complex hot war in Israel and Gaza in the Middle East, manage all of that among doing your prior job.

The other thing that you think about the message that that sends to those sailors and marines on those ships. “We are sending you into one of the most dangerous scenarios that any sort of planner could think up, could draw up.”

“And we're not even sending you with a commander who we've vetted and said, ‘Look, this is a Senate confirmed commander and leader as you go into harm's way.’”

That just, from a morale perspective, I think is really troubling and problematic. The other medium and long-term consequences, I think that are important. I hear my Republican colleagues on the Armed Services Committee constantly railing on and talking about recruiting.

Almost all of our services except for the Marines, have been falling far short of recruiting goals. And yet they do things like this, which undoubtedly dramatically, in my opinion, reduce the incentives and the desire for folks to go into the military at a moment like this where it feels like the military is increasingly politicized and under attack.

And why would you want to both put your life at risk and then get beat up for it by politicians, many of whom, and Tuberville in particular, who've never worn the uniform. It's just outrageous.

So, that was a long answer to your question, but there's so many pieces here, and the fact that this is still where it is, is, as you said, to everybody who's worn the uniform and is wearing it so, so maddening.

And the fact that this guy goes by coach on his website, I mean, like send him back to wherever he came from, he certainly is unfit to be in the United States Senate.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah. At the same time he is describing himself as the most military person there is.

I've done it before, but it's too good not to do again. Let's roll the clip of Senator, I believe it's Kelly calling him out for describing himself with no service history at all as the most military person there is. Roll the clip.


“Warren, to point out and comment on what Senator Tuberville just said. I think the quote was, ‘There's nobody more military than me.’”

“Nobody more military up here than me, but ...”

“But as far as I could tell, there's at least four of us, maybe more that served in the United States military in some cases for decades and at least three combat veterans.

So, I take great exception to what Senator Tuberville had to say. And I've heard him say it before, and it just doesn't make any sense.”

Ken Harbaugh:

So, the other less tangible damage is just US credibility and the optics of this. And I can't think of a better literal example of that than the photo of the wall inside the Pentagon with the frames that are supposed to show all of the service chiefs and the CJCS and so many of them are empty.

I mean, what must our adversaries in Iran, and Russia, and China think when they see this photo, which is supposedly a depiction of the leadership of the greatest military power in the history of the world, and there are just empty spots. That is just so damaging.

Pat Ryan:

Yeah. And the last thing we can afford to do right now, is allow our internal division and dysfunction to even further embolden our adversaries who are, I'd imagine probably vocally cheering and celebrating this kind of thing in from Beijing to Toronto, to every foreign capital around the world that cheers against America.

So, it's really hard to watch. It's really hard to watch, I'm sure for you and for a lot of your listeners that love this country, believe in this country, certainly believe in and support our folks in military uniform, willing to risk it all. And we just owe them more than this.

At the end of the day, when you remove all the politics, you think about the young man or woman raising their hand to take that oath of enlistment. This is not what they had in mind. This is beneath the dignity of that really solemn oath that they're taking.

And can't skip over the fact that there have been no Republicans really in either the House or the Senate at this point that have directly applied any pressure or called out Tuberville.

In fact, most of them that I've seen sort of like joke about it or they minimize it and they all own this at this point. There have been many opportunities to show some spine on this one.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah. Technical question. Does your resolution address the one person holds on ambassadorships or is it just the military positions?

Pat Ryan:

I focus, because I'm on Armed Services Committees, specifically on the military positions, but of course, yeah, we know the broader paralysis.

And in a situation like this, arguably the diplomatic seats and those other seats are equally if not more important when it comes to the complex negotiations regionally and locally.

Ken Harbaugh:

So, right now, we have those one person holds limiting our ability to send ambassadors to Egypt, Lebanon, Israel. That seems kind of important.

Pat Ryan:

Well, I think this is one of those things where for a long time it probably was okay. And it was just sort of the norms and the dignity with which people approached this were allowed government to still function and maybe slowed things down a little bit, but it worked.

When our democratic institutions stop working, whether that's the senate on confirmations, the Senate on other critical legislation, the Supreme Court passing down decision after decision after decision over the last few years, that's wildly out of step with the American people.

We have to be open to some set of thoughtful but meaningful reforms and changes.

The Senate filibuster is another example of a longstanding rule and precedent that was designed to make the Senate more deliberative, more thoughtful, more balanced, theoretically more bipartisan, but it's just done the exact opposite.

So, you hear a lot of people tied some almost like instinctively to, “Well, this is how we've always done it.” But if it used to work and it's now not working, I don't really care how you used to do it.

If it's not getting done what we need at a moment like this with our domestic challenges, with our global challenges, we have to be open to reforming that.

I mean, look, even the way we're choosing a House speaker doesn't seem to be working anymore. Hakeem Jeffries has gotten a plurality of the vote after vote after vote. To tie it back to our previous thread, I just thought there was a funny tweet this morning.

One of my Republican neighbors colleagues (and this shows you how unserious they are about this) put up a post saying, “Here's the nine candidates. Let me know what you think.” On Twitter. And you look at the replies, about two thirds of the replies say, “Vote for Hakeem Jeffries.”

So, at a certain point this isn't working, and we've got to open a discussion about the broader functionality of the Congress.

Ken Harbaugh:

We have talked a lot in the last 45 minutes about this moment of intense peril we face as a country in terms of our democracy around the world, in terms of supporting our allies.

I'm very nervous about all of this and how it may turn out, but one of the opportunities inherent in every moment of maximum danger is the chance for systemic change, is the chance to tackle those structural issues that have before now, gone ignored because there really wasn't an opportunity for that kind of deep systemic change.

Do you think there might be a silver lining in all of this chaos and all of this drama and the American people say, “Listen, we've got to change some rules.” Even if it's something like getting rid of the one person hold, I think we need to go well beyond that. But could something like that be on the cards?

Pat Ryan:

I hold out hope that it is, because that's the whole reason I'm here, despite all the frustrating, negative, and concerning things we've been talking about, is I still believe in our system. I still believe in democracy. I still believe we're the best country on the planet.

And we have enough people here in Congress and more importantly enough people around the country who still want to fix this, believe we have to fix it. So, I do think there are opportunities to do that.

One of the challenges that I felt as a new member is it's really hard structurally in the current rules of all these bodies to bring forth ideas that would upset the current balance.

Whether that's on campaign finance reform, because all of these senior members of Congress sort of raise money around very broken and corrupt system, whether it's these rules of how we choose leaders that sort of, in many cases protect the longstanding leaders.

So, we need the newer generation of leaders, ideally in a bipartisan way, but certainly in our democratic party to speak up with a set of thoughtful reforms. That's certainly conversations I'm having with colleagues.

And I think, again, the more we can frame these as, these aren't necessarily partisan, these are how do we make the institution work again?

Pew does a survey every year of trust in various institutions across the country. Trust in Congress (this was before the latest few months) is 9%. 9% of Americans trust Congress compared to say healthcare workers I think are in the 80s or 90s, nurses and so on. And that's because it's not working.

So, we have to put forth better ideas.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, I hold out hope that we can find some way to turn this moment of chaos and dysfunction into something good. And I'm glad that you are there in Washington helping, at least doing your best to try to make that happen.

Thank you so much, Pat, for joining us and keep up the good fight.

Pat Ryan:

Thanks, Ken. We're going to win it.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks again to Pat for joining me. To learn more about Pat, visit

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We're always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more, follow us on Twitter @Team_Harbaugh. And if you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to rate and review.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our audio engineer. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.

I'm Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

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