April 22, 2024

Johnson and the GOP’s Herd of Cats

The House speaker walked the tightrope and passed foreign aid bills. How high will the price be?

The House passed a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan over the weekend, and that has Speaker Mike Johnson in the hot seat. Who’s up for another round of Oust the Speaker?

Before getting to the merits of the legislation, I’ll make two overarching observations.

First, Republicans generally behave like a herd of cats. Bless Mike Johnson’s heart, but he has to get 218 Republicans to work together on the same priorities in one chamber of Congress in which 218 votes mark a bare majority. Democrats control the Senate and the White House, making GOP unity a precious commodity. It’s all the more frustrating that many House members seem hell-bent on ensuring GOP unity never happens.

By contrast, history has rarely seen goose-stepping unity like that displayed by congressional Democrats. Even when the 213 Democrat House members vote differently on legislation, they don’t devolve into nasty infighting the way Republicans do.

Second, Congress long ago abandoned the practice of voting for laws on a case-by-case basis, instead bundling everything together into omnibus monstrosities just to coax reluctant members to sign on. Johnson finally changed that this time, albeit by voting on four separate measures in quick succession.

“The Ukrainian aid supplemental passed in a 311-112 vote, with the support of 101 Republicans and 210 Democrats,” reports National Review. “Meanwhile, the Israel aid supplemental passed 366-58, with support from 193 Republicans and 173 Democrats. The Republican national-security bill passed 360-58. The Indo-Pacific bill passed 385-34, with Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) voting present.” The fourth bill includes a year deadline for Chinese ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a ban, and the whole bill is important given the growing ChiCom threat.

The biggest frustration among Republicans is that Johnson did not stick to his promise to prioritize border funding. That’s true, but it’s more complicated than that. Again, Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and they want an open border and intentional invasion. Republicans rightly rejected the Democrats’ bad border bargain earlier this year. It’s not Johnson’s fault that Democrats won’t help secure the border, and back-bench Republicans haven’t helped much by stoking GOP disunity.

The other big objection from the Right is sending billions more to Ukraine while America is clearly a wreck and when we can’t aid Ukraine enough to secure its victory in any case. Some argue that Asia should be more of a priority, but some Republicans simply don’t agree that it’s in U.S. national security interests to back Ukraine against Russia at all, especially when doing so is depleting American weaponry and resources. The Ukraine bill does include about $23 billion for replenishing U.S. weapons stocks, and, at least in theory, it makes the rest of the aid to Ukraine a loan — albeit one that gets wiped out after a few more months pass.

Notably, Andy Biggs (Arizona), Lauren Boebert (Colorado), Andrew Clyde (Georgia), Elijah Crane (Arizona), Matt Gaetz (Florida), Bob Good (Virginia), Paul Gosar (Arizona), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia), Andy Harris (Maryland), Thomas Massie (Kentucky), Troy Nehls (Texas), Ralph Norman (South Carolina), Matt Rosendale (Montana), and Chip Roy (Texas) voted against all four bills. Only Republicans opposed Ukraine aid, whereas a few Democrats obnoxiously waved Ukrainian flags on the House floor.

The foreign policy hawkishness of the George W. Bush years is a distant and bad memory for some Republicans, though not for Johnson, who echoed Ronald Reagan by saying, “We have to stand for freedom, and we have to be the beacon of light.”

Instead of looking at Johnson and seeing Reagan, Greene sees Nancy Pelosi. She’s spent most of recent weeks threatening another motion to vacate against the speaker, though it seems the person who’d benefit most from that spectacle would be Pelosi’s successor, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. It would be amusing to see Greene walk a mile in Johnson’s shoes. She wouldn’t, of course. For one thing, no one views her as a leader, and she’d far prefer to keep playing the role of the GOP’s AOC.

For what it’s worth, Donald Trump threw his support behind Johnson and the Ukraine package, which Senator Lindsey Graham credited for its passage.

As for Israel, that’s the one area where Democrats are having problems. The anti-Semitic and pro-Hamas caucus on the radical Left is seemingly growing, and that could crack the Democrats’ facade of unity.

What Johnson gets right is the strategic view. “I believe Xi [Jinping] and Vladimir Putin and Iran really are an axis of evil,” he said last week. “I think they’re in coordination on this.” That’s what ties the four bills together in terms of their importance. Haggling over the price, timing, or priority is one thing. Asserting that America has no interest in Ukraine, Israel, or Taiwan is willful blindness.

Domestically, Republicans aren’t going to win majorities in Congress this November if they don’t train their sights on Democrats instead of each other.

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