House Speaker Mike Johnson is no Nancy Pelosi. In fact, he just put himself in the running for the worst speaker in the modern age, surpassing even ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy with unforced errors. His ineptitude was on full display Tuesday when he plowed ahead with two critical bills, knowing there was a very good chance of defeat. That’s either hubris—believing he could bully his way through—or wishful thinking, but either way, it’s incompetence.
Let’s start with the failed vote on impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Impeaching a cabinet secretary is a very big deal. It hasn’t been tried since 1876, when the House impeached Secretary of War William Belknap for blatant corruption, taking kickbacks to fund an extravagant lifestyle. Even then, the Senate voted to acquit (though Belknap had already resigned). So what Johnson was doing with this impeachment resolution would already have been historical, even if it hadn’t been so blatantly unjustified. This is the epitome of the kind of vote you don’t gamble on, but that’s exactly what Johnson did.
He brought the resolution to the floor Tuesday, knowing that three Republicans opposed it. Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, who was supposedly the surprise “no” vote that tanked the resolution, says he had been telling leadership for months that he was against the impeachment. And while Johnson also knew that every Democrat would vote against it, he rolled the dice on Democratic Rep. Al Green not being present—and Johnson lost, which he also knew could happen.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Johnson made his day worse by pushing through a stand-alone Israel assistance bill that needed a two-thirds majority to pass. He knew that a majority of Democrats opposed it. He knew it would fail, and he inexplicably went with it anyway, apparently thinking he could blame the Democrats for defeating it. The end result, however, is that pro-Israel groups are now worried that this sends a message that Congress is divided on support.
Is Johnson feeling any chagrin over this debacle? Nope. It’s not his fault. Asked by reporters why he gambled on the impeachment resolution, he said, “[D]emocracy is messy. … We have a razor-thin margin here, and every vote counts. Sometimes, when you’re counting votes and people show up when they’re not expected to be in the building, it changes the equation.” Those tricky Democrats, all showing up to stand for the principle that you can’t impeach an official over a policy dispute.
Asked about criticism of his leadership and inexperience, including from his fellow Republicans, he said, “I don’t think that this is a reflection on the leader. It’s a reflection on the body itself and the place where we’ve come in this country.” That’s definitely hubris because it is all a reflection on his leadership.
You know who else had a razor-thin majority in a deeply divided Congress? That’s right, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, who would have never allowed such a humiliating defeat to happen. In the previous session of Congress, with the slimmest Democratic majority in the House in roughly 80 years, Pelosi passed massive legislation, including the Inflation Reduction Act, American Rescue Plan Act, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act, all of which are helping drive the U.S. economy’s strong comeback.
Johnson’s going to try again on the impeachment resolution when Republican Rep. Steve Scalise returns following medical treatment, and on the Israel funding bill next week, but the outcome isn’t any more certain on either. Scalise might be able to return from his stem cell transplant recovery soon, or he might not. The special election to replace the expelled Rep. George Santos in New York next Tuesday could go to a Republican, or it could reduce the GOP majority by one more vote. And while Johnson is considering putting the Israel bill back on the floor through the rules process so it would just need a simple majority vote, that’s a dicey plan. One of the hard-line GOP Rules Committee members, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, is publicly trashing his leadership, saying replacing McCarthy has “officially turned into an unmitigated disaster.”
Johnson has demonstrated his incompetence and turned far-right members against him multiple times over. This debacle will only make the hard-liners madder and more ungovernable, and everyone else in the GOP conference frustrated. And this is what he has to work with to fund the government in about a month’s time.
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Republicans demanded border security, worked on a compromise deal with Democrats, and now want to blow the whole thing up. Biden is promising to remind Americans every day that the Republican Party is at fault for the lack of solutions to the problems they claim are most important.