Will Hakeem Jeffries Become Speaker Before the Election?
Given the way things are going for House Republicans, it’s not far-fetched.
IT’S NO SECRET THAT HOUSE REPUBLICANS can’t stand their jobs or each other.
More retirement announcements within the GOP House conference are expected early this winter, as is a brutal power struggle over government spending that runs out in late January and early February. House Republicans will also battle over security assistance for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, which is supposed to be coupled with immigration fixes that they say they want—but will likely oppose anyway. Their shared goal will be to avoid appearing to compromise with President Joe Biden.
Republican lawmakers are also fighting one another over the extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and tension is building in the ranks of the nihilists in the House Freedom Caucus because a few of them have dared to back Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the Iowa caucuses on January 15 instead of Donald Trump.
An effort to impeach the president will further divide the GOP conference and could backfire: If Republicans don’t locate an actual crime, high or otherwise, to accuse Biden of—and the evidence to back that claim up—they may not be able to convince their colleagues in swing seats to take a vote that could cost them their jobs.
And Ever Kevins are still furious at the Never Kevins, a rift exacerbated by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s resignation from the House this month—shaving the House majority by yet another seat.
With the expulsion of George Santos and the coming resignation of Rep. Bill Johnson—who will depart next March to become president of Youngstown State University—Speaker Mike Johnson will be managing a majority on the edge of one or two seats by the spring. The special election to replace Santos on February 13 will be highly competitive and the GOP can’t bank on retaining that seat.
The spinning confusion of the present is only going to intensify. Our writers slow things down enough for you to see them accurately. Don’t miss another clarifying Bulwark story:
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene criticized House GOP leaders for agreeing to hold the vote to expel Santos, lamenting that “Now in 2024, we will have a 1 seat majority in the House of Representatives. . . . I can assure you Republican voters didn’t give us the majority to crash the ship. Hopefully no one dies.”
The situation is not under control, and can’t be. It will only continue to deteriorate. Mike Johnson knows more than we do just how hard Republicans are working to tank their majority in 2024, and it may not survive until next November.
Johnson enjoyed his warm welcome of a unanimous Republican vote to become speaker on October 25, and he was promised much “grace,” yet already a good number of his rank and file are mad at him. No one is talking about ousting Johnson, like they did to McCarthy—but in a few weeks or months, he may find himself wishing that they had.
In early November Rep. Chip Roy took to the House floor to embarrass his fellow Republicans, declaring them useless. In a vein-popping rage he urged his colleagues to come “explain to me one material, meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done.”
Johnson—as expected—has had a rough time getting the hardliners to agree to moving legislation, so he has delayed the worst battles for next year. Moving the defense authorization bill out of the House last week earned him a lashing—much of what the MAGA members would call “the woke” in the military was still permitted by the legislation because their abortion/transgender/DEI wish list didn’t make it into the final bill.
Like all important votes this year, Johnson had to depend on Democrats to pass the bill. An Axios analysis found the minority party has provided more votes for must-pass legislation this year than the majority has, making Democrats the “shadow majority” of the House.
House Republican “conservatives” were livid over the defense bill, and so was Steven Bannon. His massive “War Room” podcast audience has now heard him accuse Johnson of sanctioning “neomarxism and cultural rot” by permitting the bill’s passage, which would preserve “demonic trash” in our military.
“Mike Johnson, don’t tell me you’re a Christian. I don’t want to hear it. Don’t wear your faith. Don’t give me the Bible—I don’t want to hear more Bible verses!” Bannon thundered.
THE ONE THING Johnson can give Roy, Bannon, and the other ragers is impeachment. But many Republicans are already worried about the trap ahead. It wasn’t that difficult to back an impeachment inquiry—We’re just asking questions!—so Johnson was able to get all the House Republicans on board, providing this one “win” for the base. But voting to remove Biden from office for things he didn’t do while in office will be far more politically perilous.
Even their former House colleague Sen. Markwayne Mullin is pointing that out. In a recent Newsmax interview Mullin said, “What he did as vice president, what he did in between the two [offices] may not be impeachable.” And Mullin warned the Senate is unlikely to follow the House. “If they send us a case, make sure it’s convictable,” he said. “The bar’s real high, there’s no question about it.”
The members who will feel the most heat from impeachment may also be wondering if another campaign is worth it, after a new court ruling in New York will allow Democrats to redraw congressional maps that—alone—could flip the House majority next year. This will endanger Republicans who represent districts that Biden won—Reps. Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro, Brandon Williams, Anthony D’Esposito, and Nick LaLota. The 3rd Congressional District seat Santos just vacated will be affected as well. This will make it more likely that some of those lawmakers could retire instead of run for re-election—and anyone retiring from the 118th Congress is going to be tempted to leave before it ends.
Because the House GOP conference is miserable.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, who served as interim speaker for a short while after McCarthy was deposed, announced his pending retirement last month and was pretty blunt with Fox News’s Chad Pergram when he said: “We have good years. We’ve got bad years. We’ve had horrible Congresses. And wonderful Congresses. You have meaningful policymaking. And then you have the utter depths of stupidity.”
Rep. Ken Buck, one of the eight Republicans who toppled McCarthy, tore into his colleagues at his own retirement announcement last month: “Too many Republican leaders are lying to America, claiming that the 2020 election was stolen, describing January 6th as an unguided tour of the Capitol, and asserting that the ensuing prosecutions are a weaponization of our justice system,” he said in his video. Buck had threatened months ago to leave midyear to potentially become a CNN pundit but decided not to.
ANOTHER EXPULSION, while unlikely, is not impossible. The Ever Kevins have it out for Rep. Matt Gaetz, who led the charge to remove McCarthy as speaker. An Ethics Committee probe into Gaetz was paused but started up again in July. McCarthy recently said that Gaetz “belongs in jail” and then last week, while speaking to reporters on his last day, said “we all know it’s the ethics complaint on Gaetz. He’s doing everything to make sure it doesn’t come out, and that means he doesn’t care about anything else.”
If the ethics report is released and is terrible for Gaetz, he will be in danger of expulsion. Maybe not if it’s the last seat House Republicans have for a majority, but Gaetz has a lot of enemies.
For the many members who are job searching now, holding out until November to help their party hang on to the majority by one seat seems like a lot to ask. Especially if it comes down to Buck. Give that guy the right cable news contract and on his way out the door he will probably high-five incoming Speaker Hakeem Jeffries.