Republican Kabuki Returns

[ Posted Wednesday, February 28th, 2024 – 16:50 UTC ]

When he was elected to his leadership role, my initial reaction to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson's ascension was that the odds of him still being speaker beyond Valentine's Day were only about 50-50. Here we are at the end of February, and he's still speaker... but those odds might catch up to him soon. Congress has been punting the budget bill repeatedly since the start of last October, and they're lining up in punt formation once again. This time, however, it will be a very short punt and might actually end up with a budget (or at least part of one) being passed and signed into law by President Joe Biden as early as next week. Hey, stranger things have happened, right?

Sorry for the snarkiness, but reporting on this endless cycle of ineptitude begins to grate, after a while. Johnson initially punted the budget deadline (which, if reached without a budget in place, will trigger a government shutdown) to early-to-mid January. Then he punted again, which is where we find ourselves now. For some inexplicable reason, Johnson insisted on a two-part deadline, with only part of the federal budget due by this Friday night and the other parts (the bigger parts) due the following Friday. But -- due in no small part to the insanely-generous vacation schedule Congress keeps -- this was never going to be realistic. So now they are talking about punting both deadlines again, but this time only for a matter of a few weeks.

Even if a shutdown is averted this week (and signs are looking increasingly positive that this will be the outcome), it still won't solve Johnson's basic problem. He is painted into a corner by the most extreme faction of his own party, even while the rest of his party and almost all of the Democrats would be happy to strike a compromise and just get the budget done once and for all. The extreme GOP faction is never going to be satisfied that their demands have been met, so it is pointless to even try, really. But Johnson still works beneath a dangling Sword of Damocles -- the "motion to vacate the chair" that any one House member can move for at any time. Now that one more Democrat has been sworn in (the guy replacing George Santos), Johnson's margin is down to only two. He can lose two Republican votes and still put together a partisan House majority, but that's it. So any three of his hotheads could kick him out at any moment -- which they are (again) already threatening to do over the budget negotiations.

This forces Johnson to perform a little Kabuki theater, where he strongly argues for all the poison pills the extremists are demanding in the budget while at the same time knowing full well none of them have any chance whatsoever of making it into the final deal. But to assuage the hotheads, Johnson has to be seen as fighting very hard... before he eventually bows to reality and passes a reasonable compromise budget. The only way he'll avoid that motion to vacate is if he can convince the Chaos Caucus that he tried his hardest -- he really did!

We are in the midst of this Kabuki right now, and it will continue right up to the point that Johnson puts a compromise which (most likely) has already passed the Senate onto the House floor... where it will pass with virtually every Democratic vote and a huge number of Republican votes as well. The hotheads, of course, won't vote for it -- but they were never going to vote for anything which they saw as falling short of their absolutely unrealistic goals.

The only big difference this time is that an actual budget agreement could be in sight. Up until now, the end of the Kabuki-theater phase has meant voting on a continuing resolution that punts the ball deeper into the calendar. This time around, it could end with actual budget bills being voted on instead of just another C.R. This would all begin to take place next week, though, since this week will be consumed with getting a very short-term C.R. passed (so none of the government has to shut down this Saturday). Or, at the very least, this time they may pass a continuing resolution that punts the entire budget to next year -- just throwing in the towel and putting everything on autopilot. Either way, this could be the last act in this year's Kabuki drama (until it begins all over again heading into this October, for next year's budget).

The big question for Johnson is whether the hotheads will chuck him out or not. He doesn't seem to raise their ire in as personal a way as the deposed Kevin McCarthy did, but that may not be enough to save him. All it would really take would be one tiny word of encouragement from Donald Trump, and a motion to vacate will be filed (that's my educated guess, at any rate). If Johnson is unceremoniously defenestrated, it will mean further chaos as House Republicans will then have to attempt to elect a third speaker in a single term of Congress.

The Chaos Caucus wants the impossible. It wants to be the tail that wags the entire dog in Washington. It wants House Republicans to bow down to its wishes, and it also wants to dictate terms to the Democratic majority in the Senate and Democrat Joe Biden in the White House. It wants 100 percent of a loaf -- no fractional progress will ever be sufficient. The hotheads are angry they do not run the entire show, and they're never going to change this juvenile attitude towards the world. Saying their attitude is: "It's my way or the highway" is an understatement.

So Johnson will still have to push things to the absolute last minute -- be seen as "fighting hard" for all the hotheaded nonsense that they've larded the budget bills up with -- right up to the very end, when they all get stripped out and some sort of compromise will have to be passed. The only question for him is whether the hotheads then proceed to have a full-on parliamentary tantrum afterwards, or whether they have been lulled into not doing so by Johnson's Kabuki.

If you are thinking: "This is not the optimal way to run a government," you are entirely correct. But for more than the past decade, this is precisely what you get when you put Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives. Ask John Boehner. Ask Paul Ryan. Ask Kevin McCarthy -- they'll all tell you. In the end, Speaker Johnson isn't going to be any more successful assuaging the hotheads than they are, that's still my best guess.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


24 Comments on “Republican Kabuki Returns”

  1. [1] 
    dsws wrote:

    From previous thread: danger of ever becoming informed on any historical details regarding israel or ukraine that don't jibe with your fixed opinions...

    Maybe consider being a little more substantive?

  2. [2] 
    dsws wrote:

    Crap. I wonder what part of </i< didn't register.

  3. [3] 
    dsws wrote:

    Good grief. I should have quit while I was ahead, except for the part where I wasn't.

  4. [4] 
    dsws wrote:

    Really, I am capable of typing </i>, despite the preponderance of evidence.

    Anyway, I still think Democrats in the House should choose a "moderate" Republican to vote for as speaker, so that the worst-of-the-worst caucus would have less clout, and so that there would be more dissension within Party.

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    We all have days just like this - some of us more than others. :)

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I think Democrats voting for a 'moderate' republican in the House is a good idea. That would show real leadership!

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Do you have any candidates in mind?

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i think the dems had a chance to do that back in november, and missed the opportunity.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    That doesn't mean that they have to squander another opportunity.

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The problems is that there is SUCH a lack of imagination in the halls of Congress, as there is elsewhere. :(

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I was just thinking ... if Dems chose to lead and do what you say, wouldn't that give them a big say in who that moderate Republican speaker would be? They could choose to support someone, for instance, whose views on immigration reform would align to some degree with theirs ... is there any Republican in the House like that?

  13. [13] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    for your benefit i'll repeat some of what i've written on earlier threads. 80% of israelis support continued military action. why? because they're informed and paying attention. hamas initiated the conflict, continues to hold over 100 live hostages, and have indicated in no uncertain terms that they intend to repeat the exercise. it's easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize when you're not the one being shot, raped, kidnapped, and threatened with more of the same.

    Just about everyone in israel knows someone whose life has been affected by terrorist attacks over the past fifty years; to them it's not about the abstract long-term success of a political strategy, it's quite literally about their own survival. thus, while a unilateral ceasefire without precondition might seem like the humane thing to permit aid to civilians, it also prolongs the captivity of the hostages and increases the chances of terrorists to escape, plan, and strike again.


  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Who here has been advocating for a unilateral ceasefire without precondition?

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, who believes that indiscriminate bombing is the only way to decimate Hamas?

  16. [16] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


  17. [17] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Not true, Joshua. You are so blinded by your assumptions.

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I understand that the issues we are now discussing are very emotional. But, that is not a reason to forego friendships.

  19. [19] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Just reading what you write.

  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Actually, Joshua, you are reading much more than what I write and you need to stop doing that! Because, you are giving 'reading between the lines' whole new meaning...

  21. [21] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    going back and quoting everything you've written to prove my point isn't really something i enjoy doing, so i'll leave it to others who are more capable to prove you wrote what i read, no intra-line reading required.

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I tell you what, Joshua, if you just stop reading what I write altogether you might stop sounding so confused and we'll both start feeling better. :)

  23. [23] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    if that's what you'd like.

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Did I say that!?


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