Miami Herald

Move aside, Johnson and McConnell. Trump is in charge


At this point, we should call them “alleged House Speaker Mike Johnson” and “purported Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.” Those men no longer run their congressio­nal caucuses. Donald Trump does – and heaven help us all.

The hapless Johnson (La.) has never really been in command the way a speaker is supposed to be, and it’s debatable anyone could impose order on this mob of “Animal House” Republican­s. All year, they’ve been stumbling around in a toga party of dysfunctio­n. After a mortifying defeat on Feb. 6 in the GOP’s ridiculous attempt to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Johnson claimed that “we’re governing here.” No, you’re not.

McConnell (Ky.), the Senate Republican leader since 2007, has long been one of the canniest political operators in Washington. Yet a project that had his full backing – the bipartisan bill to toughen border security and provide aid to Ukraine and Israel – utterly collapsed when Trump insisted that the border crisis not be eased before the November election.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) adjourned the chamber last Wednesday “to give our Republican colleagues the night to figure themselves out.” What they need is a little self-awareness: With few exceptions, such as Mitt Romney (Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), GOP senators are unwilling to do anything that might get them attacked by Trump.

Even McConnell, in the end, voted against the border bill he had championed. For a man so accustomed to being in command, it must have been a humiliatin­g surrender.

Trump’s domination of the Republican base and the right-wing echo chamber is complete. Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), who helped negotiate the failed package and extracted unpreceden­ted concession­s on border security from Democrats in exchange for the vital Ukraine aid, spoke angrily on the Senate floor about the pressure he has been under.

“I had a popular commentato­r,” Lankford said, “that told me flat-out, before they knew any of the contents of the bill … if you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidenti­al year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you, because I do not want you to solve this during the presidenti­al election.”

It has long been difficult to pass significan­t legislatio­n during election years, but this should have been an exception. Republican­s have spent months screaming about the crisis at the border, and Lankford, one of the most conservati­ve members of the Senate, did exactly what his party’s leader asked him to do. What senator will raise his or her hand the next time McConnell has a task to assign?

The serious question now is how Congress manages to get even its most basic and essential work done with Trump effectivel­y directing Republican­s in both the House and Senate.

How will the government stay open and operationa­l? The current stopgap funding measures are set to expire on March 1 and March 8. In the House, Johnson will surely have the usual Sisyphean travail of wrangling his MAGA nihilists and fiscal uberhawks into supporting any

reasonable funding extension. McConnell is usually a key figure in negotiatio­ns to avert a shutdown, and he has always had enough GOP votes in his pocket to ensure that a funding bill passes the Senate. But will those votes still be there when he asks for them? Or will Republican senators instead do whatever Leader Trump wants them to do?

McConnell did cobble together 17 GOP votes on Thursday in a procedural vote to advance a standalone foreign aid bill.

By a vote of 70 to 29 Tuesday morning following an all-night session, the Senate approved the emergency national security funding package, which includes $60 billion in war aid for Ukraine alongside funding for Israel, Taiwan and humanitari­an aid for Gaza.

However, the money for Ukraine faces dim prospects in the House. Johnson consistent­ly voted against Ukraine aid before becoming speaker, and MAGA loudmouths are taking an over-my-dead-body stance. If Johnson were to allow a Ukraine aid bill to come to the floor, I believe it could be passed by a bipartisan majority.

No one knows from one day to the next what Republican­s in the House and Senate are going to do. Maybe Johnson and McConnell should have a standing conference call with Trump to find out.

 ?? JABIN BOTSFORD The Washington Post, file ?? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) walk together on Capitol Hill on Nov. 29.
JABIN BOTSFORD The Washington Post, file Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) walk together on Capitol Hill on Nov. 29.

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