Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Johnson's Carriage May Soon Turn into a Pumpkin

The paint is barely dry on his new door plaque, and yet Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) has hit the ground running, and gotten his very first bill passed by the House. The vote was 210-199, with exactly one person crossing the aisle (Rep. Ken Buck, R-CO). The bill isn't about some trivial matter, like renaming a post office or changing House members' parking assignments. It is a broad-ranging plan for energy-related issues.

It is entirely possible that Johnson is feeling pretty good about shepherding a bill through the House so quickly. Maybe he's even telling himself: "Hey, this isn't so hard!" But the honeymoon isn't going to last. At some point soon, the clock will strike 12, the fantasy will be over, and the rubber (or, maybe, the glass slipper) will hit the road. Because, of course, this bill is never, ever going to become law.

Even if you don't know the contents of the bill, you could probably figure out that it's dead on arrival. First of all, comprehensive energy plans don't fall out of the sky. This bill was cued up and ready to go, to give the new speaker (whoever they turned out to be) a "victory" and some momentum. Further, you don't put together a near-unanimous Republican vote in just 24 hours, with virtually no whipping. Only an extremely partisan bill could possibly glide through so quickly.

And extremely partisan is exactly what the bill is. Not only does it incorporate no Democratic priorities (except, perhaps, a slight increase in funding for the Department of Energy), it actually reverses previous Democratic legislation. Most obviously, the bill would slash funding for green technology and for global warming mitigation. And so, it's never, ever going to pass the Senate and it's never, ever going to get a presidential signature. Put another way, this wasn't actually governing or legislation, even if it was dressed up that way. No, it was just posturing. We already knew Johnson would be perfectly capable at that; that's the easy part of the job.

Yesterday, Johnson also dipped his toes into the deeper part of the swimming pool, meeting with Joe Biden to discuss funding for Ukraine and Israel. After the meeting, the Speaker said that he wants to split funding for Israel and Ukraine into two bills, but that he definitely wants to send money to both. Let's see, that's one idea that many Democrats don't like (splitting the money) and one that many Republicans don't like (sending money to both, since "both" includes Ukraine). This does not seem a promising start.

Johnson's got some other troubles lurking beneath the surface. To start, the Speaker may be far-far-right, but for some Republicans, he's not far-far-right enough. In particular, Johnson is father to a(n adopted) Black son. And after the George Floyd murder, he told the press:

I was outraged. I don't think anyone can view the video and objectively come to any other conclusion but that it was an act of murder. And I felt that initially, as everyone did and it's so disturbing. And, you know, the underlying issues beneath that are something that the country is now struggling with. And I think it's something we have to look at very soberly and with a lot of empathy. And I'm glad to see that's happening around the country.

To some (maybe many) on the right, the notion that the U.S. might still have a racism problem does not sit right. And so, Johnson is being excoriated by many right-wingers, who accuse him of either "internalizing" the left's narrative on race, or just being an out-and-out pawn of the left. You know you're a very special kind of person when you look at Mike Johnson and say "liberal snowflake!"

Meanwhile, the Democrats think they have a political bonanza on their hands, what with the Republican Party having just made a theocratic fascist and insurrection enabler the highest-ranking member of the party. And they are already running an ad in New York, trying to handcuff various swing-district representatives to the Speaker:

We don't really know who is behind Courage for America (the PAC that paid for the ad), but it's pretty impressive that they pulled this together so rapidly. Were they also working on ads about Tom Emmer, Byron Donalds and all the other candidates, just so they could be prepared for anything?

So, there are plenty of folks who already have their knives out when it comes to Johnson. Meanwhile, when it comes to his GOP colleagues, well, the contentious speaker fight may be in the past, but the lingering resentments are not. The non-crazy Republicans fell into line behind Johnson so as to keep the Party from further embarrassment. But there are plenty of members who are still furious with the Freedom Caucus, and in particular with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). In addition, all of the wannabe speakers—Steve Scalise (R-LA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Tom Emmer (R-MN)—upset colleagues, including some who were previously supportive, with their actions during the whole fiasco. Cat herding is hard enough, but when the cats hate each other? And Johnson is stuck with the same narrow margin of error that McCarthy was, not to mention the same reluctance to reach across the aisle.

Finally, and more broadly, the fundamental operating dynamic of the House has changed radically from where it was just a month ago. For a fairly long time, the "Republican Party" has really been a coalition of two distinct factions: (1) the group that wants to govern, but in a very conservative way, and (2) the group that cares little for governing and values only bomb throwing and power for power's sake. Basically, it's the neo-Reaganites and the Trumpers. And the deal, such as it is, has been that the neo-Reaganites got nearly all of the trappings of power (leadership posts, committee chairs) while the Trumpers got to set most of the party's agenda. This is why little gets done when Republicans are in power, even when they have the trifecta.

The equilibrium was destroyed when the Trumpers began to push back at letting the neo-Reaganites monopolize the trappings of power, while the neo-Reaganites (in the person of Kevin McCarthy) decided that maybe it didn't work to let the Trumpers set the agenda all the time. Now that the dust has settled, the Trumpers have the trappings of power (even though they don't really want them) AND they are setting the agenda (at least, in the House). How will this work out? Who knows, but it's the extremely inexperienced Johnson who gets to figure it out.

It is very plausible that some, or many, House Republicans do things that put their majority in danger. In fact, at the moment, we'd say it's considerably more likely that the Democrats reclaim the majority in 2024 than it is that the Republicans hold it. The fact is, given that the modern-day GOP's core competency is opposing things, they are better off in the minority.

It is also plausible that the neo-Reaganites reach the breaking point, and decide they are no longer willing to dance the dance with the Trumpers. If so, the consequences would be... profound. Whatever happens will certainly be interesting to watch, as Johnson has been handed the sort of challenge faced by another Johnson, namely Lyndon, circa Nov. 1963, and he'll tackle it with the sort of skill set owned by a different Johnson, namely Andrew, circa Nov. 1863. This could get ugly. (Z)

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