Economy

House Speaker chaos: ‘One dumpster fire at a time’

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‘We needed bills brought to the floor that are supported by the majority of the majority,’ fulminated Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., on the House steps Wednesday night.

In other words, Republicans wield the House majority with 217 members. So Greene insists that at least 109 Republicans should be in favor of an issue before voting. A ‘majority of the majority.’

But Greene did not necessarily practice what she preaches.

In an audacious move, Greene had just forced the House to tangle with her resolution to remove House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La. The House soundly thumped Greene’s effort into parliamentary oblivion on a vote of 359-43. Seven members voted present.

Greene is a member of the majority party. Yet 196 of the 217 members of the House Republican Conference voted in favor of killing Greene’s motion to dismiss Johnson.

Clearly, a majority of the majority.

As we say, it’s about the math.

In fact, only 11 Republicans — including Greene — voted for a prospective recall of the Speaker. Yet, as House Democratic leaders promised, a staggering 163 Democrats voted to protect Johnson. It was perhaps one of the most extraordinary cross-party votes in decades on Capitol Hill — especially considering the fact that the minority party successfully shielded Johnson, safeguarding his Speakership.

But let’s be clear: had Democratic reinforcements not arrived, Johnson would no longer occupy the Speaker’s suite. Only eight Republicans favored dumping former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last autumn. But 11 Republicans seemingly wanted to upend Johnson this time — even though the GOP majority is more narrow now than eight months ago.

‘The Democrats saved him,’ fumed Greene. ‘(Former House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., voted for him. Pelosi doesn’t vote for Republicans unless she has full control of the House. (House Minority Leader) Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. The entire leadership team. (Reps.) Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Jamie Raskin, D-Md. They all voted for Mike Johnson.’

Media scrum

Greene procured lengthy audiences with Johnson in the Speaker’s office on both Monday and Tuesday as she laid out her complaints. A massive scrum of reporters then clustered around Greene after each conclave. 

On Monday evening, the press blob occupied Statuary Hall in the Capitol, just in front of a statue of Sam Houston. By Wednesday night, the daily press forums with Greene graduated to the House steps. The demand for Greene was so high among reporters, that staffers from the House Radio/TV Gallery brought out a mic stand for her.

‘Oh, is that for me?’ asked Greene on Wednesday night as she walked gingerly down the House steps after the vote to sidetrack her Speaker gambit. A mobile swarm of photographers slid delicately next to her, snapping photos, as though trained in ballet.

Greene may have at least temporarily won over the attention of the Congressional press corps as reporters wondered if and when she might move against Johnson. But Greene’s relations with GOP colleagues took a hit. Kendrick Lamar and Drake get along better than Greene and most of her fellow House Republicans.

Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wisc., briefly heckled Greene as she descended the Capitol steps to speak to reporters.

‘You can be productive, or you can be destructive. Ms. Taylor Greene is choosing destructive,’ said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D. ‘It’s going to sow discord and dissent.’

‘Moscow Marjorie has clearly gone off the deep end. Maybe the result of the space laser,’ posited Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y.

‘Marjorie is going to find herself in a very lonely place,’ predicted Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio.

Dozens of Republicans howled and booed when Greene called up her resolution to remove Johnson late Wednesday afternoon. In fact, no one was sure if Greene would follow through or just continue to milk her ploy. After all, Greene first announced she would attempt to bounce Johnson back in mid-March. Some Democrats even wondered if Greene’s daily summits with Johnson may warrant reconsideration of their position to defend the Speaker.

‘When Speaker Johnson meets with her for hours, people should be asking, ‘What is Marjorie Taylor Greene extracting from the Speaker?’’ asked House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Ted Lieu, D-Calif.

No support

Colleague Tyler Olson followed up, inquiring whether Democrats would still support Johnson.

‘It would depend on what Marjorie Taylor Greene is able to extract,’ replied Lieu.

As it turned out, Greene apparently didn’t cull any concessions out of Johnson. Not that she gave the Speaker much of a chance. She dialed up her motion to vacate the chair the next day. Support for Greene’s maneuver never materialized.

‘Weeks ago, when I filed my motion, I said ‘this is like a pink slip.’ And in my mind, I was hoping it served to be a warning to Mike Johnson. Maybe shake him up and wake him up,’ said Greene. ‘And apparently it didn’t serve to be a wake-up call at all.’

Ironically, the House dodged a rather unnoticed disaster Wednesday — thanks to Democrats assisting Johnson. The House voted on an interim bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration for one week. The vote came right before Greene offered her motion to remove Johnson. The House OK’d the bill preemptively, anticipating the Senate would sync up this week. The Senate later plodded through a bill to re-up the FAA for five years — as well as the temporary measure.

Based on the 11 Republicans who voted alongside Greene, had the Democrats not bailed out Johnson, the House likely would have voted to declare the Speakership empty. Just like last October. If the Speakership is vacant, the House shuts down. It’s paralyzed. It can’t do anything.

That would have imperiled the FAA.

Yes, the Senate likely would have aligned with the House on a Band-Aid bill for the FAA as it did on Thursday night. But the Constitutional officer of the House — the Speaker or his designee — must sign the ‘enrolled bill’ (a bill, approved by both chambers) before it goes to the President for signature. So, even if the Senate lined up with the House later on a stopgap FAA bill, its authorization may have lapsed if there was no Speaker to sign the bill.

Could an acting Speaker Pro Tempore sign a bill? Maybe. But opponents could challenge the legality of that.

Democratic intervention

Former House Acting Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., did little besides gavel the House in and out of session when he filled the void following McCarthy’s departure.

That’s the problem with vacating the chair. The House nosedives into a cryogenic freeze until it elects a Speaker. It took 22 days to tap a Speaker last October. Who knows how long it would take in these circumstances? 

Democratic intervention salvaged Johnson’s Speakership. But it also kept planes in the air, air traffic controllers in the towers and travelers aboard planes. That might not have been the case had Democrats followed their own lead from October when they refused to assist McCarthy.

So what’s next for Greene? Could there be consequences? Sanctions? Shunning? Another motion to vacate? Greene didn’t rule that out this week.

Anything is possible.

But House members are now used to the chaos.

‘One dumpster fire at a time,’ said Dusty Johnson.

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