Mike Johnson is being haunted by Kevin McCarthy


    • Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was forced to cut deals to win the speakership.
    • McCarthy’s agreements are now making Speaker Mike Johnson’s life more difficult.
    • In particular, McCarthy granted power to conservatives who frequently defy Johnson’s wishes.

House Speaker Mike Johnson’s troubles can be attributed to his predecessor, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

It was no easy task to manage this narrow Republican majority, and McCarthy’s efforts to attain his long-desired position created a significant obstacle for Johnson, as well as any other potential speaker.

In January 2023, McCarthy and his allies found themselves in a situation where they had to make a deal with the 20 holdouts who were causing a standstill in the chamber by refusing to accept McCarthy as their leader. To resolve the deadlock, McCarthy had to offer a series of concessions.

Conservatives now use two significant measures as ammunition to attack him and Johnson. The House Freedom Caucus is deeply invested in safeguarding the authority these agreements provide them. In fact, they have established a dedicated team called the Floor Action Response Team (FART) to closely monitor any potential alterations.

One of the most significant changes was the introduction of a new rule allowing any individual lawmaker to file a motion to vacate, which is the formal procedure for removing a speaker from the House. McCarthy had previously considered this approach as a redline, but eventually accepted the alteration. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, made history by utilizing this rule to initiate McCarthy’s removal. Currently, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, has initiated the process to oust Johnson.

Congressional experts at that time also expressed concerns about another aspect of McCarthy’s deal. He proposed granting three seats on the influential House Rules Committee to more conservative members. Although it may appear insignificant, this panel, commonly referred to as the Speaker’s Committee, is instrumental in the speaker’s ability to maintain control over the proceedings on the floor.

The speaker’s ability to achieve desired outcomes rests on their authority to select committee members. The rules committee plays a crucial role in shaping the legislative process by establishing procedures and exerting control over amendments and debates that may hinder progress. This has led to conflicts between conservatives and the panel, as conservatives advocate for more inclusive discussions. While speakers like McCarthy have pledged to facilitate more debate on the floor, implementing this promise can prove challenging in reality.

The House is kept in motion by the Rules Committee, but Johnson has had to navigate around it due to anticipated opposition to significant bills. However, this alternative approach comes at a high price – legislation now needs to secure two-thirds support instead of a simple majority. Consequently, Johnson has had to depend on House Democrats to prevent partial government shutdowns, allocate funds for the Pentagon, and successfully pass a bipartisan tax bill worth $79 billion.

McCarthy’s intention was not to complicate his life. According to Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma who recently chaired the Rules Committee, McCarthy simply sought to address potential issues at an earlier stage.

According to Cole, McCarthy’s perspective is that any issues that arise should be addressed in the Rules Committee rather than on the floor. Cole stated, “We’ve always managed to pass a rule without any problems.”

Cole emphasized that the issue did not lie with his panel but rather with the events that unfolded afterward. It is important to mention that Johnson completely bypassed the panel. And once the panel’s work reaches the floor, the situation becomes even more chaotic. Since the GOP took control in 2022, they have encountered seven unsuccessful attempts to pass the rule on the floor. Passing the rule is a crucial legislative step as it allows for the commencement of debates on the actual legislation. In contrast, CNN reports that the House went over twenty years without experiencing such a failure.

The House GOP’s need for McCarthy’s deals is further compounded by the fact that they currently hold one of the slimmest majorities in history. At the start of this Congress, Republicans had a 221 to 218 majority. However, this number has been reduced due to the expulsion of former Rep. George Santos and the early resignations of members who have grown weary of the constant drama. Unlike the Senate, states cannot simply appoint someone to fill a vacant seat. Instead, special elections must be held, a process that can take months. In the case of Santos, the GOP could even lose the seat. This means that Johnson will soon be left with just a one-vote majority for any party-line legislation.

Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, offered a somber assessment of Johnson’s situation.

According to Gingrich, the current leader holds the slimmest majority in recent history. However, this majority is not a genuine one due to the presence of a few individuals who prioritize their own interests over the collective well-being, referred to as “narcissists.” Gingrich expressed his views to Politico.

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