Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Johnson running into same problems that hit McCarthy

- By Lisa Mascaro

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.

 ?? KENNY HOLSTON/THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol ahead of a vote on a resolution to keep the government funded.
KENNY HOLSTON/THE NEW YORK TIMES House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol ahead of a vote on a resolution to keep the government funded.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States