8 min read

Johnson vs. McConnell

The first major fight of Mike Johnson’s speakership puts him directly in the crosshairs of his Senate GOP counterpart.
Johnson vs. McConnell
House Speaker Mike Johnson (left) and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (right) face off on Ukraine. (Photos by Johnson’s office and Gage Skidmore)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, November 1, 2023. The 2024 elections are 370 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

After a bruising — and chaotic — several weeks in session, the House took the first two days of this week off. Tonight, the lower chamber will return to Washington with a thicket of thorny issues on its plate.

The bill at the top of the agenda is a $14.3 billion Israel aid measure, House Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) first major legislative package since taking office. The House Rules Committee is set to meet this afternoon to prepare the bill for floor consideration; a full House vote is expected tomorrow.

Aiding Israel — one of the U.S.’ closest allies — while the country is at war with Hamas would have been a hugely bipartisan issue. But the Johnson bill includes a twist: $14.3 billion in cuts to the IRS, clawing back funding that Democrats had pushed through in their signature Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

The IRS cuts are being messaged as a spending offset to the Israel aid, but the move would only add to the deficit, since it would lead to the U.S. taking in less revenue. “Paying for new spending by defunding tax enforcement is worse than not paying for it at all,” Maya MacGuineas, the president of the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said in a statement. “Instead of costing $14 billion, the House bill will add upward of $30 billion to the debt.”

Most House Democrats are expected to oppose the Israel aid bill because of the IRS cuts, although at least one — Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), who represents one of the most heavily Jewish districts in the country — has indicated plans to support the package. “Foreign Policy and National Security being conducted as a future political mailer: ‘You chose the IRS over Israel,’” he wrote on X. “I am not going to take the bait.”

Democrats have also objected to the precedent of adding partisan priorities to an emergency aid package in the first place — although, as Bloomberg’s Steve Dennis pointed out, doing so is not unheard of. The last time the federal minimum wage was increased, in 2007, it was because then-Speaker Nany Pelosi (D-CA) tucked an amendment into an emergency bill to fund the war in Iraq.

Johnson is also facing opposition from his right flank, with Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) planning to vote against the package on “America First” grounds. “If Congress sends $14.5 billion to Israel, on average we’ll be taking about $100 from every working person in the United States,” Massie said. “This will be extracted through inflation and taxes. I’m against it.”

If Moskowitz is the only Democrat who supports the bill, Johnson could only afford six Republican defections for his first major legislative push to survive.

If the bill does make it to the Senate, even more problems await. Both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) oppose the measure because it aids only Israel, without funding for Ukraine and Taiwan included as well.

In an impassioned floor speech Tuesday, McConnell pushed for an aid package that addresses all three conflicts, seeking to tie them together as a fight against a united front of enemies:

“Russia, Iran, and China do not share an ideology. But they do share interests... Russia would love to see Iranian-backed terrorists in the Middle East weaken America and our allies. Iran would love to see a Russian victory against Ukraine that divides the West and deepens its own defense cooperation with Moscow. And China, for its part, would love to see America’s resolve – to stand with European and Israeli allies and re-establish actual deterrence against Russia and Iran – crumble.”

This split between McConnell and Johnson, now the two most powerful Republicans in Congress, lays bare the stark divisions currently cleaving the GOP.

While McConnell has experience on his side — 16 years leading his party on the Hill, compared to Johnson’s six days — he lacks support from a solid faction of his members. Continuing a months-long trend of senators in McConnell’s conference growing increasingly comfortable criticizing their longtime leader, Johnson’s ascension in the House has motivated Senate conservatives to firmly break with McConnell on Ukraine.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), for example, told Punchbowl News on Tuesday that McConnell, his home-state colleague, is “out of touch with the conservative base of our party.” According to a CNN poll in August, 71% of Republicans say Congress should not authorize new funding for Ukraine.

McConnell, likely in the twilight years of his congressional career, reportedly views Ukraine aid as his legacy-defining push, determined to leave the GOP as internationalist — not isolationist — as he found it. In former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), McConnell at least had an ally in these efforts: in September, McCarthy was one of 101 House Republicans who supported a $300 million aid package for Ukraine.

Johnson, then a backbench lawmaker, was in the slightly larger group of 117 House Republicans who voted against the package.

More issues set to come up in Congress over the rest of the week:

— Censures: Greene is poised to force a vote as early as tonight on a resolution censuring Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) for “antisemitic activity, sympathizing with terrorist organizations, and leading an insurrection at the United States Capitol Complex.” Tlaib spoke at a pro-ceasefire rally last month where more than 300 people were arrested for illegally demonstrating inside a House office building.

In turn, Rep. Becca Balint (D-VT) will force a vote on a resolution censuring Greene, accusing the Georgia lawmaker of “repeatedly [fanning] the flames of racism, antisemitism, LGBTQ hate speech, Islamophobia, anti-Asian hate, xenophobia, and other forms of hatred.”

— Expulsion: Tlaib and Greene aren’t the only members who might face punishment this week. A group of New York Republicans is set to force a vote as early as today on a resolution to expel Rep. George Santos (R-NY), the serial fabulist freshman lawmaker. The measure would need two-thirds support in the House for Santos to be ousted from the chamber.

The House has only expelled five members in its history; the most recent one was then-Rep. Jim Traficant (D-OH), who was kicked out in 2002 after being convicted of ten felony counts, including bribery and racketeering.

— Appropriations: Meanwhile, we are now 16 days away from the government funding deadline. Both chambers of Congress are expected to continue working on the 12 appropriations bills — although pretty soon, attention will need to turn to a stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown.

More news to know.

(CNN screengrab)

🇮🇱 Israeli airstrikes caused extreme damage at the largest refugee camp in Gaza on Tuesday. Dozens — potentially hundreds — of people were killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry and a local hospital. Israel said the strike succeeded in killing a senior Hamas commander, which Hamas denies.

🚔 Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified that more than 600,000 migrants evaded law enforcement at the southern border last fiscal year.

⭐️ Texas Rep. Kay Granger won’t run for re-election, according to the Fort Worth Report. Granger, 80, has been in Congress since 1997; she currently serves as chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, charged with shepherding spending bills through the chamber.

💸 Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) used his taxpayer-funded expense account to buy nearly $12,000 worth of food and drinks at MetLife Stadium, including at a Taylor Swift concert. After facing questions, Murphy’s office said the state Democratic Party would reimburse the taxpayers.

📚 The number of American home-schooled students has increased 51% in the last six years, making it — by far — the country’s fastest-growing form of education.

The day ahead.

Kamala Harris will meet with Rishi Sunak today. (Number 10)

President Joe Biden will spend the day in Minnesota. He will tour a family farm in Northfield, 40 miles outside Minneapolis, and deliver remarks there to announce new investments in rural America. He will also attend a campaign fundraiser in Minneapolis before returning to Washington.

  • Notably, today’s trip will take Biden right to the home turf of Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), who announced a primary challenge against the president on Friday. Biden has so far brushed off Phillips’ campaign, refusing to even take a phone call with him.

Vice President Kamala Harris is in London for the United Kingdom’s Artificial Intelligence Safety Summit, which is being branded as the first major gathering of world leaders focused on AI. She will deliver an address this morning on the Biden administration’s AI vision, coming on the heels of President Biden’s recent AI executive order.

  • Harris will also meet with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and attend a private dinner hosted by Sunak and his wife. Per the Washington Post, Sunak’s rhetoric on AI has been much more focused on “doomsday scenarios” than Biden’s.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will be with Harris in London. He will host a roundtable on antisemitism with Jewish community leaders, attend his wife’s AI speech, and join the dinner with Sunak.

The Senate will continue consideration of the “minibus” package, which combines the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, Agriculture-FDA, and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills. The chamber is set to vote on two amendments by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): one mandating an audit of the Federal Reserve, and another revising spending outlined in the package.

The House is scheduled to vote on six bipartisan pieces of legislation:

  • A resolution declaring that Iran obtaining nuclear capabilities “is not acceptable.”
  • A bill sanctioning financial backers of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and their affiliates.
  • A bill sanctioning foreign ports and refineries that process petroleum exported from Iran.
  • A resolution urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
  • A bill requiring a review of the curriculum used at Palestinian schools funded by the U.S. and the UN to ensure the removal of content “encouraging violence or intolerance toward other countries or ethnic groups.”
  • A resolution condemning “the support of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations at institutions of higher education.”

Censure and expulsion votes are also possible.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Vidal v. Elster, which stems from a Californian’s quest to receive trademark protection for a t-shirt with an unflattering message about former President Donald Trump.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will hold a press conference to announce whether the Fed will continue increasing interest rates.

Donald Trump, Jr. is expected to testify at the Trump Organization’s $250 million civil fraud trial.

Before I go...

Here’s something fun: Who wore it better?

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT):

Or Gov. Ned Lamont (D-CT):

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