House Speaker Johnson must now confront his own party’s sabotage

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) talks to reporters during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on Feb. 14, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)

Mike Johnson promised a “well-oiled machine” the night he won the U.S. House speaker’s gavel. Four months later, he hasn’t delivered. Republicans’ impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden is unraveling, Ukraine war aid languishes amid GOP opposition as Russia advances on the battlefield, and the U.S. government is on the brink of a politically damaging government shutdown.

“Over 100 days in, we’ve yet to fulfill and execute policy,” said Republican Patrick McHenry, who briefly served as a caretaker speaker last October after Republicans ousted Kevin McCarthy. Johnson, a novice in high-stakes Washington negotiations whose tiny House majority is riven with infighting, won the speakership in October after Republicans rejected several more seasoned candidates. At the time, Republicans heralded the election of the 52-year-old socially conservative Louisianan as a fresh start for the deeply fractured party. Yet multiple senior House Republicans, granted anonymity to speak frankly, now portray Johnson as an insecure leader who faces a steep learning curve. Those GOP lawmakers complain Johnson keeps counsel mostly with an insular circle of his own staffers on even the most challenging matters — and that some senior colleagues are treated as objects of suspicion rather than allies.


They cite two back-to-back humiliating defeats in one early February evening, when the House not only rejected an Israel-only war aid package Johnson put up for a vote but also a marquee Republican impeachment resolution against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Johnson went ahead despite warnings from other Republicans, one lawmaker said.

Johnson rallied his party the following week to impeach Mayorkas on a second try, prevailing by a single vote after Republican Steve Scalise returned from cancer treatment. Tough Choices But Johnson now confronts a series of much tougher choices next week that he’s been ducking for months as he navigates a Republican majority at war with itself.

Johnson has repeatedly signaled he opposes a shutdown, thinks it’s bad politics and is willing to compromise to get a spending deal. Senior congressional aides on Thursday were still working on a deal but said they didn’t know whether a shutdown could be avoided.

Having already agreed to overall spending levels with Democrats, Johnson and his lieutenants have sought to temper conservative expectations they will get major policy wins in upcoming funding bills. But Republican hardliners are sticking with a laundry list of demands.

Johnson has toughened his stance against Ukraine aid without major concessions from Democrats on the border. He rejected a bipartisan Senate deal to impose new border restrictions, and he continues to insist on policies like forcing migrants to remain in Mexico while asylum cases are heard.

But the Biden team is stepping up attacks on Republicans for holding back aid after Ukraine’s chaotic retreat from the key city of Avdiivka over the weekend and the suspicious death in prison last week of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

Election-year politics are raising pressure on the speaker. Biden is telegraphing plans to cast a do-nothing Republican House as a villain. House Republicans’ efforts to target the president with an impeachment inquiry were damaged when a star witness was indicted for lying to the FBI and turned out to have ties to Russian intelligence.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, the party’s dominant figure, has intruded from the sidelines, denouncing the compromise on border restrictions Republican and Democratic senators reached and rendering it toxic for many GOP lawmakers. And Johnson’s biggest accomplishment — a package of tax cuts passed with the help of Democrats — is being held up in the Senate amid Republican opposition there. The speaker’s leeway to act will narrow when the House returns next Wednesday from an 11-day break and Democrat Tom Suozzi is sworn in as the winner of a special election to replace expelled New York Republican George Santos. Johnson can’t lose more than two Republicans on a party-line vote.

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