Chicago Tribune (Sunday)
Johnson running into same problems that hit McCarthy
WASHINGTON — By most accounts, Speaker Mike Johnson inherited a House Republican majority in disarray after the sudden ouster of his predecessor last month.
But as Johnson, R-La., tries to rebuild that slim majority, he’s fast running into the same hard-right factions and divisions that Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was unable to tame. That’s disrupting the party’s agenda, shelving priorities and leaving gnawing questions about any leader’s ability to govern.
Capitol Hill devolved into fresh scenes of political chaos this past week as tensions soared. A Republican senator challenged a Teamsters union boss to a brawl, one of several outbursts involving lawmakers, and the untested new speaker was forced to abandon his own party’s schedule and send everyone home early for Thanksgiving.
“This place is a pressure cooker,” Johnson lamented. Hopefully, he said, people will “cool off.”
But the outlook ahead appears no better. House Republicans who pledged to slash federal spending, investigate President Joe Biden and end a long string of Democratic policies have made only incremental progress on their priorities.
Even though McCarthy struck a surprising debt deal with Biden earlier this year that set a course to reduce federal deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, a conservative victory, it exists mainly on paper.
Republicans have failed to pass all the legislation needed to put all those cuts into law and have yanked some bills from the House floor. Centrist conservatives said the measures went too far, however, as the hardright faction demands
steeper reductions in government programs.
The GOP divide on spending underscores the disconnect between Republican ideals for shrinking the size and scope of government and the reality of cutting programs and services close to home.
Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., was one of the more centrist conservatives who voted against a procedural step on legislation to fund the Justice Department, among other agencies, because he said the law enforcement cuts would hurt public safety agencies.
“My constituents don’t want me voting for that,” he said.
Republicans are also incensed they have been enduring countless midnight voting sessions, considering hundreds of amendments — voting to slash Biden administration salaries to $1, trying to end “woke” policies on diversity and inclusion — on legislative packages that ultimately go nowhere.
LaLota said after 10 months in the majority, the strategy is not working. “My constituents want us to cut, but they want us to cut in the right areas,” he said.
On the eve of voting, Johnson laid out his strat
egy for the stopgap measure, drawing on the hard-right Freedom Caucus’ proposal to break the spending bill into two parts, with funding set to expire Jan. 19 for some agencies and then Feb. 2 for others.
But the conservatives panned the plan, and the caucus members said most would oppose it. Johnson rebuffed their suggestion to at least attach a Housepassed Israel aid package as a way to force the Senate to act.
Hard-right members rolled their eyes at Johnson’s strategy. But they said they wanted to give the new speaker the grace to find his way.
“The new speaker is respected. He’s admired, he’s trusted,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va. “You know, he’s human. He’s imperfect, like we all are.”
Republicans are well aware their slim House majority is increasingly at risk heading into the 2024 election season if they are unable to deliver on their promises to voters.
Johnson defended his three weeks on the job, saying, “I can’t turn an aircraft carrier overnight.” He insisted he’s in “a very different situation” from what McCarthy faced.