Today, members of Congress cast their votes to elect the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. Control of the Republican caucus is officially in the hands of the same rogue, extremist fringe that forced Rep. John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Ohio) to retire and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to withdraw his candidacy to succeed him as speaker, and that’s not going to change any time soon.

Which begs the question: How did the Republicans get here?


Since the GOP took the wheel of the 114th Congress in January, all they seem to have accomplished is driving the institution into the ground—guided by ineffective, chaotic leadership that’s part and parcel with the Republican Party’s new extremism.

This clearly wasn’t the outcome BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (or Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE, who’s spent the last few weeks trying to decide whether or not to pursue a leadership position—the third highest in the land, by the way – no one with serious legislative ambitions has any compelling reasons to want) were anticipating in 2010 when they were busy trying to grow the Republican rank-and-file and ride the Tea Party wave to elect first-time, conservative House candidates across the country.

What the Republican leadership didn’t see coming was the monster their Tea Party-dabbling was creating. Or that their strategy of using the redistricting process to gerrymander districts to ensure Republican victories and minimize the voting power of an increasingly diverse electorate was about to back fire, big time. 

That’s because, by rigging the congressional map with safe Republican districts, the party triggered a primary process in favor of candidates from the extreme fringe of their party. When the only race in the House district is the low-voter-turnout primary, the winner is the radical right-wing candidate.

And redistricting, in combination with Citizens United, created the perfect extremist storm. Candidates, who are so far right that they wouldn’t have been electable before (or at least not electable in a general election), are now virtually guaranteed safe seats for life by winning these low-voter-turnout primaries, and these candidates now have unlimited funds from deep-pocketed donors like the Koch Brothers to carry them through those primaries in districts that are already safely Republican.

To see the damage this system has done, you don’t have to look any further than the Freedom Caucus.

Of the 36 members of the caucus identified by the Pew Research Center last week, a full 72 percent were elected in 2010 or later.

In fact, 33 of the 36 Freedom Caucus Republicans won election (or reelection) in contested races in 2014—by an average of 65 percent of the general election vote.  That means they were running in districts that are so safely Republican, the only real competition in an election is among Republican candidates during the primary.  On top of that, the members’ districts are 83 percent white—in a country where people of color, unmarried women, and young people now make up the majority of the voting electorate.

And even though they make up a minority in the House overall, the Freedom Caucus’s monolithic stature within the Republican caucus means its members have been able to position themselves successfully as a voting bloc with the power to obstruct the will of their own party’s leadership.

The full membership of the Freedom Caucus has never been made public (they say it’s “nobody’s business”), but according to Pew, with the exception of one woman and one person of color, the Freedom Caucus is made up of all men, who all happen to be white. Their membership includes a man who’s called abortion worse than the Holocaust, a man who’s accused Planned Parenthood of selling “dead-baby parts,” and a man who’s supported cutting Social Security checks to seniors by two-thirds.

The Freedom Caucus’s hijacking of routine legislative proceedings like deciding a new budget to force their extreme, anti-woman agenda (or, to quote one of their Republican colleagues, “blackmailing…their colleagues who hold a different view”) has become commonplace.

The Congress that redistricting has wrought has now voted more than 50 times to repeal all or parts of Obamacare.  They’ve shut down the government at a cost of $24 billion to the U.S. taxpayer. They’ve led the fight to defund Planned Parenthood, voted to block a DC law making it illegal to fire women for taking birth control, and wasted millions of dollars and countless hours on wild-goose-chase investigations conducted through sham committees like the House Select Committee on Benghazi—which just gave us a demonstration of their ability to waste taxpayers’ time in real time by wasting 11 hours of it live on television.

Collectively, the members of the Freedom Caucus are categorically opposed to comprehensive immigration reform, and almost every policy that would benefit hardworking women and families (ending gender discrimination in pay, raising the minimum wage, and legislating paid sick and family leave are all anathema to them).  Oh, and dare we say, they are also apparently opposed to the idea of  the U.S. having a functioning government, without understanding that a functioning government is necessary to have a functioning economy.

The unfortunate truth is that this chaotic new low is the new normal for the Republican Party—and we can expect that we’ll only see more of the same.

What we need to do now is clear. Americans deserve to be able to cast their votes in competitive districts where candidates actually have to compete for their support—not districts where the electorate is gerrymandered and the results are rigged from the very beginning. They deserve to hear candidates having a real conversation about what they’re going to do to make life better for the next generation—not trying to one-up and out-extreme each other’s conservative records.

So how do we unrig these maps and fix this problem? The answer: It starts by winning elections.

Not only do we need to win legislative seats, but, in many states, electing progressive Democratic governors is our best hope of getting a better map—and giving power back to voters who’ve been disenfranchised by Republican redistricting.

Whether you’re a Democrat looking to create a more representative government and increase the diversity of perspectives at the governing table—or a Republican hoping for a return to the kind of moderation required to get things done in Washington—unrigging the map and transferring redistricting power to independent commissions is the only way forward. 

With everything that matters to hardworking women and families on the line in this election, none of us can afford to sit this one out.

The next round of redistricting is in 2020—and the time to take action is now. 

Schriock is the president of EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics, and co-chairs the Democratic Governors Association’s Unrig the Map effort, which can be found at