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Today’s Republican Meltdown in Congress
Plus: A government shutdown looms, and Marjorie Taylor Greene is in a slump.
Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass, The Bulwark’s twice-weekly newsletter on Congress, campaigns, and how Washington works.
Or doesn’t work, as the case may be: Today’s newsletter looks at the many ways things seem to be falling apart in the Capitol. For starters, an elbowing in the back, a near-fistfight in the middle of a hearing, and an insult-laden shouting match. One factor adding to the stress, of course, is that government funding is set to run out at the end of the week. We’ll break down the situation and what’s being done to ensure a shutdown doesn’t happen. We’ll also look at the ways in which Marjorie Taylor Greene’s affinity for privileged resolutions has resulted in a hot streak of embarrassing losses in recent weeks.
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The first rule of Congress is…
Congress is a strange place. The longer a chamber stays in session, the crankier and more irritated with one another lawmakers become, like toddlers who have missed a nap. It’s hard to convey this facet of life in Congress to well-adjusted adults—you know, the sort of people who work with the same colleagues every day and don’t lose their minds over it. But in both the House of Representatives, which has been in session for ten consecutive weeks, and the Senate, which has been in session for five, the pot is starting to boil over.
Before noon today, there were two near-fistfights in the Capitol. First, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), one of the Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy as speaker, was on the receiving end of a sharp elbow in the back from the former speaker.1 According to Burchett and the NPR correspondent who was interviewing him at the time, McCarthy elbowed him so hard he lunged forward. Burchett then chased after McCarthy and his security detail to question him.
McCarthy denied the elbowing, but Burchett didn’t buy it. “He's the type of guy that, when you’re a kid, would throw a rock over the fence and run home and hide behind his momma's skirt,” Burchett said, adding that it was a “sucker punch.”
Meanwhile, during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing across the Capitol, Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) tried to instigate a physical altercation with a witness. Mullin (wearing no jacket) rose from his seat on the dais, professing a desire to fight the general president of the Teamsters union, Sean O’Brien.
“You’re a United States senator, sit down,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, the committee’s chairman. Sanders also admonished O’Brien and declined to let him respond.
Mullin and O’Brien have been engaged in a months-long personal feud. They’ve previously engaged in veiled threats and tough talk online, with Mullin challenging O’Brien to a mixed martial arts fight “for charity.”
And just a couple hours later, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) erupted at Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) in a House Oversight Committee hearing. Moskowitz questioned Comer on his repeated insinuations and claims that President Biden has engaged in corruption by loaning his brother money. Moskowitz pointed out that Comer has also reportedly given his brother a loan, citing a recent Daily Beast report detailing the transactions.
Comer called Moskowitz a “liar” and a “smurf” (Moskowitz was wearing a bright blue suit) and declared “that is bullshit” in a minutes-long shouting match.
“Your word means nothing, Mr. Chairman,” Moskowitz responded.
All of these incidents today came from the men on the Hill. Maybe they’re too emotional to be in Congress.
Shutdown Watch 2: The Squeakquel
Funding for the federal government only lasts through this Friday, which means that unless something is done to avert it, a shutdown will commence at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday. Lawmakers have been scrambling (somehow they’re always scrambling) to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The House is advancing a continuing resolution this afternoon that would fund certain government agencies at current levels until January 19 of next year and others until February 2. The near-miss of a September shutdown and the prospect of an imminent Thanksgiving shutdown are apparently so fun, so entertaining to consider, that just before spring, House Republicans want to thrill the American people with it twice in the span of two weeks.
Assuming the continuing resolution gets through the House this afternoon as anticipated it will next have to pass the upper chamber. Many Senate Democrats have indicated they won’t stop it. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a floor speech Monday he was “pleased” with the House’s progress, adding:
The speaker’s proposal is far from perfect, but the most important thing is that it refrains from making steep cuts while also extending funding for defense in the second tranche of bills in February, not the first in January.
President Joe Biden will then have to sign the legislation, and that will mean the lights will stay on through the holidays. We’ll then get to enjoy a third and a fourth run at the cliff’s edge, an average for this period of almost one a month. There is also the possibility that a bill that provides funding for the entire government gets hashed out and signed into law before January—that would sure be a Christmas miracle.
This has not exactly been a smooth process for Republicans. The continuing resolution is set to pass today under suspension of the rules and Democrats are needed to get it over the finish line. The procedural hurdle that is typically the majority party’s responsibility to maintain and the manner in which it was done has enraged a handful of Republicans—you know which ones.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) has been a vocal opponent of the plan. In a tweet yesterday, Roy railed against the continuing resolution as devoid of any positives for Republicans:
I can swallow temporary extension if we are getting actual “wins” on… well… ANYTHING. But not just a punt.
If you recall during the debt limit deal earlier this year, Democrats bailed out then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy in what was largely viewed as a major embarrassment for the House GOP. Because working with Democrats is one of the greatest sins a Republican speaker can commit, members of the Freedom Caucus retaliated by paralyzing the government for the week. The events surrounding the debt limit deal became material that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and his seven Republican colleagues used to justify their defenestration of McCarthy last month.
The cutthroat reality of the House Republican conference appears to have set in for Johnson, and he’s now doing the same thing his predecessor did by trying to work with House Democrats and advance something also palatable for the Democrat-controlled Senate and White House. Whether Republicans will retaliate the way they did against McCarthy is unclear, but you can probably bet on Johnson’s job being at least slightly safer than it was for the last guy.
In a CNN interview Monday, Gaetz indicated he has so far been impressed with the new speaker and intends to give him more leeway than he gave McCarthy, but he also warned he might unholster his motion to vacate again if he doesn’t see sufficient progress towards Gaetz’s goals next year.
Again, if we are seven months into the Mike Johnson speakership and we've only moved a single-subject spending bill, then Mike Johnson would likely face a similar fate. But in Mike Johnson’s first week as speaker, he was moving bill after bill, so he has shown a commitment and a sincerity in this process that was totally absent under Kevin McCarthy.
Republicans haven’t changed the rules that allowed Gaetz and company to cripple the House for three weeks last month, so he remains a threat. Passing continuing resolutions with the help of Democrats doesn’t do Johnson any favors.
All the Ls that’s fit to print
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has had a rough few weeks since the House got back to business. She has repeatedly offered censure and impeachment resolutions that her colleagues do not think are worth their time.
First, Greene attempted a censure of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) for her comments on the Israel-Gaza conflict and her association with a protest in the Cannon House Office Building in which police arrested hundreds. Greene’s censure failed because it attempted to whitewash the January 6th attack by conflating it with the recent pro-Palestine demonstration.
Her resolution used words like “insurrection” to describe the actions of protesters who legally went into a public building (after passing through a security checkpoint and metal detectors) and staged a protest in a common area where no one was killed and no government proceedings were interrupted. (Three individuals were later arrested for assault on a police officer “during processing.”)
Enough Republicans saw through the ruse or took issue with Greene’s liberal use of colorful language that her resolution went nowhere. Greene responded by calling her Republican colleagues names such as “Colonel Sanders” (Chip Roy), “Vaping groping Lauren Boebert,” and “CNN wannabe Ken Buck.”
Greene went back to the drafting table and altered language in the censure resolution, removing “insurrection” and replacing it with “occupation,” and making other, similar edits. When the House decided to advance another censure against Tlaib, this time offered by Rep. Rich McCormick (R-Ga.), Greene pulled hers before it could be subjected to another tabling.
Greene’s most recent rejection came last night, when eight Republicans voted to kill her impeachment resolution for Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The vote, which Greene forced through a privileged resolution, failed because it was impulsive. Impeachments are supposed to go through a fact-finding process in which specific crimes are supposed to be identified. Unsurprisingly, Greene didn’t take it that way.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) added salt to the wound Tuesday morning, telling reporters, “Marjorie Taylor Greene is a hard-working member of Congress, but she, I believe, lacks the maturity and the experience to understand what she was asking for and how ill prepared we would have been to do it.”
Don’t expect this behavior to lighten up any time soon. The use of privileged resolutions is an easy way for lawmakers to supersede the regular order and grab headlines on almost any subject they want. Even when they’re rejected, as is often the case with Greene, she can still rely on conservative media outlets to parrot her positions and decry the Republicans who don’t get on board, advancing her brand narrative as a fighter against a perceived Washington establishment.