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Nov 15, 2023, 6:25pm EST
politics

Under Johnson, House Republicans still look ungovernable

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
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The News

House Republicans ended their grueling, 10-week session on a low-note Wednesday, after rebellious members tanked a key procedural vote on yet another one of the party’s government funding bills. Leaders promptly canceled the chamber’s remaining business until after Thanksgiving, leaving GOP lawmakers to vent their frustration over conference’s continued dysfunction.

“One thing! I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing! One! That I can go campaign on and say we did,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, thundered from the floor in a moment that quickly went viral.

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Our View

The lesson: Republicans may have a new speaker in Mike Johnson, but the party is still paralyzed by many of the same old problems that bedeviled his predecessor. Wednesday’s vote suggested that, if anything, those challenges may be intensifying, as party moderates become more comfortable with hardball tactics that were previously reserved by their right-wing colleagues.

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Since picking up the gavel, Johnson has managed to pass party-line Israel aid legislation that is considered dead in the Senate and a temporary spending bill to avoid a government shutdown that received more support from Democrats than Republicans. In the meantime, he’s failed to move any of his party’s appropriations bills, which are in theory the GOP’s top priority at the moment. Two of them had to be pulled from the floor entirely for lack of support.

The legislation that crashed Wednesday would have funded the Departments of Commerce and Justice, as well as science programs and other related agencies. Nineteen Republicans voted against a rule that would have allowed the bill to be considered on the floor. Most of those nays were hardline conservatives who have been a perpetual thorn for leadership. As Rep. Bob Good, R-Va. told reporters, the group felt the bill didn’t include enough budget cuts for federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI that they claim have been “weaponized” against Americans. Hard-right members also said they voted no out of anger that Johnson had chosen to pass a clean stopgap funding bill with Democratic help the day before.

But the Commerce bill also drew opposition from four New York moderates, who didn’t want to be forced to take unappealing votes on conservative policy amendments when the final legislation was unlikely to pass even with their support. It was the first time this year that centrists showed they were willing to thwart a rule vote, much the way hardliners have done.

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“We are at a point where these appropriations bills cannot pass and to continue putting these bills on the floor to take one idiotic vote after the next is counterproductive,” Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y. told Semafor. Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y. said he and his fellow centrists were done cooperating after holding their noses on tough votes for 10 months. “There’s an inherent right for an American to have self defense,” he told reporters. “And by not being a part of the [Commerce] bill, I exercise my right to defend myself politically.”

This wasn’t the first time centrists have flexed their muscle recently; last week, they helped derail another appropriations bill over a fight regarding abortion policy. Where former speaker Kevin McCarthy mostly faced uprisings from his right, Johnson is now dealing with what you might call a 7-10 split, where both the moderate and conservative ends of the conference are demonstrating their willingness to kill a bill.

Johnson does still have one advantage that McCarthy never did, in the form of deep personal goodwill from movement conservatives who see him as one of their own. And there’s no sign that hardliners are looking to depose him, yet.

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But could they turn on him eventually? On Wednesday, Roy told reporters that Johnsons decision to pass a temporary spending bill without cuts, and to do with Democrats under a so-called “suspension of rules,” already counted as “strike one and strike two.”

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Room for Disagreement

Johnson is still expressing public confidence, despite his rocky launch. “We’re not frustrated. This is part of the process and we’re working toward consensus,” he told reporters Wednesday. “I’ve been on the job for less than three weeks. I think we’ve had a great run”

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