House Republicans In Disarray, Once Again

[ Posted Monday, April 22nd, 2024 – 15:53 UTC ]

Republicans in the House of Representatives truly are their own worst enemy. It has been this way since the Tea Party revolt, more than a decade ago. And it shows no signs of changing or abating any time soon.

Here is the basic dynamic: House Republicans want to accomplish things, but most of the time they can't even get their own act together enough to get bills passed through their own chamber. The hardliner faction among them takes a "my way or the highway" approach and demands 100 percent of everything on their agenda. A lot of this is seriously radical stuff, so the more-moderate Republicans balk at voting for it. The speaker makes a choice and either puts the totally radical bill on the floor or he strips their stuff out and puts a more-reasonable bill on the floor. Either way leads to furious infighting among the GOP. For the radical bills, no (or very few) Democrats vote for them. Any radical bills that pass (most of them fail because some Republicans from swing districts refuse to vote for them) then go over to the Senate, where they immediately die. For the reasonable bills, Democrats vote for them en masse (as long as there aren't any deal-breaking "poison pills" in the bill). Reasonable bills pass with all (or almost all) Democrats voting for them and the reasonable Republicans (about half of them, give or take) also voting for them. But this inevitably leads to the hardliners trying to force out their own speaker. This already happened to John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy -- and now Mike Johnson is threatened by the same fate. The infighting is fierce during these challenges to the party leadership. Some Republicans enjoy fighting with fellow Republicans more than they enjoy sparring with Democrats, it seems.

We're in the midst of one of these cycles right now, of course. Johnson successfully got four foreign aid bills passed in the House over the weekend, which will be combined into a single bill that will likely sail through the Senate tomorrow (both houses are supposed to be on vacation this week, but Chuck Schumer has called the Senate back into session to deal with the bill, because time is of the essence for Ukraine).

But there was a footnote (of sorts) to all this House activity. Johnson split up the foreign/military aid bill into three parts, so separate votes could be held for the aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. He also added a fourth bill, which does a number of things (banning TikTok being one of them). But the hardliners in his party pushed for a fifth bill as well, one that basically reiterated the hardliners' border security demands. Crucially, this fifth bill would not be merged in with the others before heading to the Senate, meaning it wasn't part of the overall package. If the Senate voted on the border security part, it would be a separate vote. Johnson did try to put the border security bill on the floor. But in the process of doing so, the hardliners tanked their own bill. Here's the story:

The hard-line bloc has long objected to considering further Ukraine aid without legislation to secure American borders. In a nod to such demands, [Speaker Mike] Johnson proposed voting on a border security bill on Saturday that largely mirrors a tough conservative proposal House Republicans passed last year. But in protest of Johnson's foreign aid proposal, three hard-liners on the House Rules Committee -- GOP Reps. Chip Roy (Tex.), Ralph Norman (S.C.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.) -- prevented the bill from being considered under rules that would require only a simple majority for passage.

Other Republicans urged Johnson to still put the bill up for a vote under rules that would require two-thirds of the House for passage. The measure fell short.

Ah... but just saying it "fell short" doesn't tell the whole story. The actual vote on the border bill was: 215 ayes, 199 nays, with 17 not voting at all. If the hardliners hadn't tanked the bill in the Rules Committee, it would have passed. Unless all 17 of the not-voting members had voted against it, the bill had enough support from Republicans to pass.

In other words, they shot themselves in the foot, in a big way. But that has been the hallmark of the hardliners ever since the Tea Partiers started donning tricorn hats. They sabotage their own bills in some sort of "protest" over not getting the moon, the sun, and the stars. If their demands aren't 100 percent met, then they will throw a gigantic hissy fit and grind everything to a halt. They do this over and over again. This -- more than anything else -- has prevented Republicans from advancing their agenda, even when they control both chambers of Congress. Even then, the hardliners won't take "yes" for an answer. They refuse to consider not just half a loaf, but sometimes 90 or 95 percent of a loaf -- because things are never perfect enough for them. This has actually saved the country from a whole lot of very odious laws that conservatives have tried to pass during the whole Tea Party era. Even when Democrats are largely powerless to prevent Republicans from enacting their agenda, the Republicans self-destruct on their own.

Mike Johnson, of course, is no hero. He was not "brave" or "courageous" to finally move on a foreign aid bill that should have passed six months ago. A whole lot of Ukrainian soldiers died in the meantime -- ask their families how "brave" Johnson was to delay things for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Johnson is being lauded to the skies (by some) just for doing his basic job. The Ukraine aid passed with a whopping 311 votes -- including over 100 Republicans who voted for it. It could have passed with a similar margin months ago.

Johnson is being called "brave" because he faces the very real threat of another "no confidence" vote which may depose him as speaker. But in a sign of how truly disgusted most House members are, Johnson's speakership may be saved this time with Democratic votes. Democrats have learned that if you give Johnson enough time (way, way too much time, usually), eventually he will bow to the reality that the Senate and the White House are in Democratic hands and he will pass the bills that absolutely have to be passed -- without radical poison pills in them.

Since the House is on yet another weeklong break, things won't come to a head until next week. That's when Marjorie Taylor Greene will decide whether to force a vote on her "motion to vacate the chair." She's already got two more GOP House members who have publicly stated their support to boot Johnson, which would normally be enough votes to do so. And the bickering between House Republicans is getting vicious -- here's just one quote, from Representative Tony Gonzales: "It's my absolute honor to be in Congress, but I serve with some real scumbags." He's referring to his fellow Republicans, not Democrats.

House Republicans keep proving, over and over again, that they truly do best as a minority party. When they are powerless, they do a pretty good job of sticking together and denouncing every single thing the Democrats do (or try to do). They are really, really good at being against stuff, to put this another way. But when they get to drive the bus, they fail miserably. They cannot appease their own hardliners enough, ever. All they do is prove to the American people that they should never be in charge of anything. Which they are currently in the process of doing, once again.

Hopefully, the voters are taking note.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


One Comment on “House Republicans In Disarray, Once Again”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    Mike Johnson, of course, is no hero. He was not "brave" or "courageous" to finally move on a foreign aid bill that should have passed six months ago.


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