5 min read

House GOP in chaos (again)

Once upon a time, House leaders never held a vote if they didn’t know they could win. Mike Johnson just lost two votes in one day.
House GOP in chaos (again)
(C-SPAN screengrab)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, February 7, 2024. Election Day is 272 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

Let’s recap. Since the 118th Congress began in January 2023, the House Republican majority has:

  • Taken multiple ballots to elect a speaker (for the first time since 1923)
  • Removed a speaker in the middle of a session (for the first time ever)
  • Defeated a rule resolution, the procedural motions that govern the House floor (for the first time since 2002) — and then done so four more times!
  • Expelled one of their own members (for the first time since 2002)

And to that list of record-breaking chaos, add the events of Tuesday, when Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) suffered two extraordinary back-to-back defeats on the House floor.

First, Johnson watched as one of the House GOP’s top priorities — an effort to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas over his handling of the southern border — failed in a 214-216 vote.

Three Republicans voted against the measure, which wouldn’t have been enough to sink it — until a wheelchair-bound Rep. Al Green (D-TX) dramatically returned from a nearby hospital, where he had been recovering from emergency surgery, to deliver the final vote against the resolution, still clad in a medical gown. (A fourth Republican, a member of leadership, then switched to a “nay” vote to ensure the GOP could bring the resolution up again.)

It was the first time a leadership-backed attempt to impeach a U.S. official failed on the House floor since 1867, when the Radical Republicans failed in their first attempt to impeach President Andrew Johnson. (They would later succeed the next year.)

Speaker Johnson’s embarrassment continued with the very next vote, when his bill to send $17.6 billion in aid to Israel went down as well.

The bill had been put on the floor under “suspension of the rules,” which meant it required two-thirds support for passage. But the measure was rejected 250-180, almost 40 votes away from the required threshold. 46 Democrats supported the bill, while 14 Republicans voted against it.

It was once a given that House leaders would only hold a vote on a bill if they knew they had the support to pass it. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), for example, never lost a vote in her eight years wielding the gavel.

Johnson, the least legislatively-experienced speaker in 140 years, just lost two in a single night. Consider it yet another norm obliterated by his dysfunctional House GOP majority.

Both of the votes that failed Tuesday may eventually succeed. The GOP will likely have enough votes to impeach Mayorkas as soon as House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) returns from his cancer treatment (although there’s some dispute about when that will be).

And the Israel bill did receive a simple majority, which means it could pass if Johnson goes through the more laborious process of having a rule resolution approved by the Rules Committee and the full House before the measure is considered.

Such rule votes used to be routine in the House, but under Johnson — and his predecessor, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) — they have become opportunities for right-wing members to flex their power and deny the speaker the day-to-day procedural majority he needs to run the House.

That’s why McCarthy and Johnson have been forced to use “suspension of the rules” — once reserved for post office namings and the like — for several consequential bills, including the Israel measure yesterday and the bipartisan tax deal last week.

The next few weeks could bring even more chaos to the floor of the House. Government funding is set to expire in two batches, with March 1 as the first deadline and March 8 as the second. Johnson’s right flank will likely oppose any spending bills negotiated with Democratic support — which will be required for the packages to pass the Senate — so he may have to use “suspension of the rules” again.

Other floor fights, including on government surveillance authority and potentially a Ukraine/Israel aid bill, loom as well. Meanwhile, Johnson — who is already leading one of the smallest House majorities in history — could see his margin for error shrink once again if Democrats win next week’s special election to replace the expelled Rep. George Santos (R-NY).

From afar, Santos seemed to delight on Tuesday in the fact that his ouster was costing his former colleagues a key vote. “Miss me yet?” he wrote on X, with an image of the deadlocked impeachment vote attached.

More news to know.

Ronna McDaniel’s days as RNC chief may be numbered. (Gage Skidmore)

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Donald Trump’s claim that, as a former president, he is immune from being prosecuted on charges of attempting to overturn the 2020 election. “For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” a three-judge panel, including two Democratic appointees and one Republican appointee, wrote. (Read more)

Nikki Haley lost a primary to no one. “None of these candidates” took 63.2% of the vote in last night’s Nevada Republican primary, trouncing Haley’s 30.5%. Donald Trump was not on the ballot in the non-binding contest. Meanwhile, President Biden won the Democratic primary with 89.3% of the vote. (Read more)

— RNC chair Ronna McDaniel may soon be out the door. McDaniel has reportedly offered to step down after the South Carolina primary later this month, amid rumors that Trump and his allies are growing dissatisfied with her. McDaniel’s departure would likely give Trump the opportunity to handpick a new RNC chief. (Read more)

It’s not just the House GOP in chaos. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) faces his share of problems as well, after his own right flank has forced him to abandon the border security deal he spent months supporting. (Read more)

The day ahead.

Sen. James Lankford, the chief GOP negotiator of the Ukraine/border deal. (Gage Skidmore)

White House: President Biden will attend three campaign fundraisers in New York City. Vice President Harris will speak at the House Democratic retreat in Leesburg, Virginia. First Lady Jill Biden will participate in two events on women’s health in Atlanta, Georgia.

Congress: The Senate will hold a procedural vote on the bipartisan deal to boost border security and aid Ukraine and Israel. The package is expected to fail. The chamber may then vote on a standalone Ukraine/Israel aid bill.

Supreme Court: The justices don’t have any oral arguments scheduled today.

Thanks for reading.

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