As 2024 got underway, House Speaker Mike Johnson struggled in ways that were hard to miss. Following some notable and avoidable legislative failures, The New York Times went so far as to say the Louisiana Republican was facing a “political crisis“ of sorts, as GOP members raised the prospect of ousting him.
Punchbowl News spoke in early January to a “well-plugged-in House Republican,” who is not a Freedom Caucus member, who said a growing number of GOP members had “significant concerns” about the speaker’s ability to deliver. The unnamed Republican lawmaker added that there was a “growing feeling” that Johnson was in “way, way over his head.”
That was last month. Conditions are considerably worse now.
In the aftermath of these floor defeats, the speaker apparently thought it’d be a good idea to boast about his chamber’s capacity for dealing with affairs of state. The Hill reported:
Johnson also said it was “simply not true” that Congress is unable to do basic functions. “We’re governing here. Sometimes it’s messy,” Johnson said.
As someone who’s covered Capitol Hill for more years than I care to admit, I will gladly concede the point that the legislative process is often shambolic, even when it’s working. There’s a reason political observers have long compared lawmaking to sausage making.
But if the House speaker believes he and his colleagues are “governing here,” I have some bad news for him.
In the first year of the current Congress, productivity fell to levels unseen since the Great Depression, due entirely to the far-right majority in the lower chamber, and as a Washington Post report noted this week, “This year is on track to be worse.”
It’s not just that Republicans have killed the bipartisan border bill they requested, though that certainly doesn’t help. Making matters worse is the fact that Republicans keep flirting with government shutdown deadlines, unable to fund federal operations through the rest of the fiscal year.
Yes, the House occasionally manages to pass a bill or two, but the most meaningful legislation to clear the chamber invariably relies on support from the Democratic minority, not the GOP majority.
When Democrats oppose what their far-right colleagues are up to, the House speaker and his leadership team flail, careening from one debacle to another. A Politico report noted the morning after this week’s failures, “As for Johnson, it’s hard to be surprised by someone who hasn’t been very successful managing his conference in the first place, but somehow yesterday’s faceplant was still something to behold.”
The latest Times report on congressional Republicans’ dysfunction added that GOP members increasingly find the speaker’s strategies “baffling.”
The article went on to quote Republican Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, who said, “When you are handed the keys to the kingdom, as it were, when you have the majority, there is an expectation that you will be able to govern, and we’ve just struggled over and over with that.”
It was against this backdrop that Johnson insisted, “We’re governing here.” It’d be great if that were true. It’s not.