Economy 27-03-2024 13:02 4 Views

The House GOP thought it was moving past internal drama. Then more showed up.

House Republicans finally felt they were done going through the stages of grief. Over months of infighting, emotions ran the gamut from denial to depression while they watched the conference struggle with the aftermath of ousting the speaker of the House. But many Republican lawmakers had begun to accept that their slim majority was unlikely to find compromise within its ranks, and while personal animosity among some members persisted, it had waned significantly.

Then, on Friday afternoon after a grueling multiweek stretch of debates over government funding, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) handed a single sheet of paper to staff on the House floor that detailed a motion to remove House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) from his role, once again ripping open the wounds of the past five months.

When the House returns to Washington next month, the GOP majority will have to govern under the pall of uncertainty as Johnson looks to find compromise on two of the most divisive policy issues for Republicans: how to fund Ukraine, Israel and other foreign democracies while also defending U.S. borders. Though Greene’s resolution was meant to serve more as a “warning” than a signal that a vote is imminent, it has forced Republicans to grapple with the possibility that they could again be without a speaker if critical legislation is not handled in a manner the far right approves. Even worse, to some lawmakers, they may be forced into closer coordination with Democrats.

The persistent demands of the furthest-right flank, who often refuse to strike deals with a wing of the conference they consider unwilling to fight for the most conservative goals, put Johnson in a tenuous position while trying to piece together a policy puzzle that can pass a Democratic-led Senate and land on the president’s desk. Several far-right members have publicly hinted they would support ousting Johnson if he bungles this next fight.

Republicans thought threats to oust the speaker had largely subsided after many realized they weren’t likely to unanimously elect a third conservative speaker. It took three weeks to elect Johnson, in part because three previous speaker-designates couldn’t clinch the necessary 218 votes on the House floor. Complicating the math further, Republicans will soon have a one-vote margin to pass anything relying only on their majority once Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) steps down next month. And there are whispers among lawmakers that more are looking for the exits, possibly jeopardizing the majority.

That historically narrow margin and their track-record of disagreements will make it nearly impossible for Republicans to agree on a candidate within their ranks and could force them to rely on Democrats — a notion the far right despises — to choose a moderate Republican as speaker — or even Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) if conservatives are not careful.

For now, Republicans from across the ideological factions left Washington largely characterizing Greene’s effort as a selfish one they would not back. Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.), a moderate who represents a swing district, suggested the conference “make a bracket of Marjorie’s March Madness to guess who the next speaker is going to be,” while House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.) said he suspected she filed the motion “to get people to talk about her.” Greene said she did “not wish to inflict pain on our conference and to throw the House in chaos” but she thought it was time to “find a new speaker of the House that will stand with Republicans.”

Still, many recognize that if the question of whether to remove Johnson is ultimately posed, there are enough hard-liners upset at the speaker’s leadership over the past five months who would consider ousting him.

Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy, is open to removing Johnson, but only if Republicans agree before voting that they can unanimously elect his conservative replacement.

“I want the best leader we can have. I’m open to that. And if the best leader we can have is Mike Johnson — the best leader is not Hakeem Jeffries,” he said.

Early in their majority, Republicans were successful in finding policy compromise and passing a series of conservative bills with their narrow majority. But that success was rooted in part in lawmakers knowing the legislation wouldn’t become law; they were simply messaging bills Democrats in the Senate would never support.

That consensus began to fray months later, when then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) worked with Biden on a plan to avert a potential default on the country’s debt and set spending parameters for the next two years. The hard-right rebelled, sinking a procedural vote — a tactic they would go on to use multiple times — that froze the House floor. To break the logjam, McCarthy reneged on the deal and told House appropriators to curtail spending even more. When it was clear House Republicans’ spending proposals had bipartisan opposition in the Senate, McCarthy in late September relied on Democratic votes to prevent a government shutdown. Three days later, he became the first speaker in history removed from his role.

Those tensions have colored Johnson’s approach to leadership. He has had to do the same thing three times — suspending House rules that require a simple majority vote and relying on help from Democrats to pass a bill with a two-thirds majority — as he began to realize the hard right would not agree to compromises in an effort to send legislation to the Senate with only Republican votes.

The shrinking majority has complicated things even further. Leadership must now pair conservatives bills valued by a majority of Republicans — that likely will go nowhere in the Senate — with red-meat proposals to appease the far-right flank to allow passage through a simple majority. Committee chairs leading investigations into Biden and his administration are pivoting priorities rather than pushing for an impeachment vote they would lose. And Republicans are campaigning against each other as they blame incumbents for their inability to govern.

Republicans distrust of each other was on vivid display Friday as a member supportive of leadership’s agreement with Democrats on spending would cast a vote in favor of the bill, only to be countered almost immediately by a vote from a Republican against it, causing anxiety over whether the vote would pass. It did, but not without a cost. Less than half of the conference voted with GOP leadership to fund the government.

For over an hour Friday morning before the vote, a dozen members of the Freedom Caucus lambasted their “wasted” opportunity to use the levers of the majority to ensure conservative policy wins, repeatedly describing Johnson as “weak.” Good and several others pledged to spend the rest of the year making “it as uncomfortable and as painful as possible” for Republicans who voted in support of the measure in an effort “to expose them to their constituents back home.”

Asked later whether triggering a motion to vacate would push the speakership into the arms of Democrats, Greene told reporters, “[Johnson’s] already in the arms of Democrats.”

For months, moderate Republicans fearful of another motion to vacate have been engaging their Democratic counterparts to ask them a simple question: What would you need to keep a GOP speaker in the role?

The short answer is funding for Ukraine.

Democrats didn’t help save McCarthy because a majority of them didn’t trust him and were irate that he continued to blame them for House dysfunction rather than ask them for help. If Johnson needs Democrats help to keep his position, it also would come with a price. A contingent of moderate, vulnerable and governing-minded Democrats would vote to table a motion to vacate if Johnson puts a bill funding Ukraine on the House floor, effectively killing the threat.

“If they call forward that motion to vacate vote because he has brought Ukraine funding, I will whip votes to table that,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a moderate Democrat. “Let’s be responsible grown ups and protect democracy and not give Vladimir Putin a win.”

House Democrats have been calling on Johnson to put the bipartisan Senate funding plan on the floor for a vote, threatening to move unilaterally if they can amass a majority of votes. Leadership has heard from members that there is very little appetite to remove Johnson if he does the right thing on Ukraine, according to senior Democratic aides, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. But what that looks like depends on the circumstances.

In a statement Friday, Johnson said members “will be in active discussion” over the two-week break to roll out “an aggressive plan” to address the United States’ southern border, culminating in “a series of meaningful bills to begin to fix the problem.” He also pledged to “restore the historic, bipartisan support for Israel” and “complete our plan for action” on Ukraine, which stems from conversations Republicans have had to include more sanctions against Russia, lending and leasing U.S. military equipment and funds that Ukraine would eventually pay back, energy exports and other measures.

Whether Johnson decides to package these proposals or hold individual votes on each policy topic — as far-right members have demanded — is yet to be determined, according to multiple people familiar with his thinking.

But to try to launch a new effort crafting bills that garners support from all but one Republican seems like an impossible task given the deep divisions that exist on border security and Ukraine. Democrats and many GOP defense hawks growing anxious to aid Ukraine say there is only enough time to consider the Senate-approved bill, which includes funding to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and humanitarian aid for Gaza, but no border security after congressional Republicans overwhelmingly rejected a bipartisan compromise.

Yet if Johnson doesn’t consider the demands from the growing isolationist wing of his conference, he could be out of his job.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, admitted Johnson was “in a difficult spot” Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” acknowledging that ousting him “could actually throw the balance of power to Hakeem Jeffries.”

“We don’t need dysfunction right now,” he said. ‘With the world on fire the way it is, we need to govern.”

Paul Kane contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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