On January 7, 2023, I wrote Drunk Redneck Attacks Matt Gaetz as McCarthy Claims Gavel. It might have been the last time something truly interesting and unanticipated happened in Congress. From that point forward, both Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his replacement Speaker Mike Johnson have ruled as the leaders of a Democratic majority, just as I said they would. In fact, they’ve been even more docile about it than I expected.

With McCarthy, I was pretty confident that he wouldn’t let us default on our national debt, and I was impressed when he cut a deal with the Biden administration and got the bills paid without losing his leadership position. But I knew and predicted he couldn’t last much past the September deadline to avoid a government shutdown, and he didn’t. He tried reneging on the deal. He allowed meritless impeachment processes to proceed against both President Biden and his Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas. It was all for nothing.

His successor Mike Johnson couldn’t change the math one iota. In fact, his slender majority kept shrinking and will soon be down to a single seat. Johnson wasn’t any more willing than McCarthy to suffer through a prolonger government shutdown that his party had no way of winning.

Speaker Mike Johnson on Friday pushed through a $1.2 trillion bipartisan package to fund the government for the rest of the year, with none of the deep cuts or policy changes that ultraconservatives had demanded. Those on the right fringe have been left boiling mad and threatening to make him the second Republican speaker to be deposed this term.

One of the key features of this Congress has been the Republicans Speakers’ usage of suspension of the rules. Normally, the Speaker pushes things through the Rules Committee which they control with an iron fist. But McCarthy gave away all his power on the Rules Committee to the far right Freedom Caucus in his wheeling and dealing to become Speaker. This meant his couldn’t get spending bills on the floor. The only alternative was to suspend the rules which got around the Rules Committee but introduced a two-thirds majority requirement for passage.

As you can imagine, once you concede that you’ll be needing mostly Democratic votes to pass your spending bills, you’ve lost the leverage to make “the deep cuts or policy changes that ultraconservatives…demanded.” This is what cost McCarthy his job, but it’s the exact thing that Johnson just did to keep the government open and operational.

Now, my point way back when McCarthy was still struggling to lock down the votes to become Speaker was that all of this nonsense was really unnecessary. At the end of the day, whoever became Speaker would rely on a Democratic majority and so why not elect a Speaker with mostly Democratic votes just the way we pass spending bills with mostly Democratic votes?

The whole last year and what’s left of this one could have been a lot more productive, and we’d already have funded Ukraine, for example. The silly impeachment nonsense never would have happened, and ironically the House Republicans would not hate each other so much and fewer have them would have retired mid-session.

I said it so many times I got burned out on saying it, but the functional majority in Congress is the bloc that pays our debts on time and passes our appropriations bills. This bloc was never going to be synonymous with the House Republicans in this Congress. They did not win a functional majority in the midterms and they never should have forced through a completely partisan Speaker. It was mistake for the GOP and for the country, and now we get to do it all over again in September when the funding runs out.

Will Johnson even make it that far? He could face a motion to vacate at any time. Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Green of Georgia was so chummy with McCarthy back in January 2023 but now she’s filed a bill to kick Johnson out for following McCarthy’s example. I think there’s a good chance that the Democrats will save Johnson, but only if he makes concessions, particularly on bringing a Ukraine funding bill to the floor.

In January 2023, I discussed what concessions the Democrats should demand in return for helping to elect a bipartisan Speaker, and it involved some power sharing on committees. I still think that’s a fair price, but I kind of doubt they’ll drive such a hard bargain on Johnson. I guess finding out will be the next interesting thing to happen in Congress.

5 4 votes
Article Rating