Just as House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) managed to keep the government open by following the Kevin McCarthy playbook, so too will the party’s right flank not veer from its McCarthy-era (no, the other McCarthy era) retaliatory tactics.
After giving Johnson a hall pass for averting a shutdown with Democrats’ help, House Freedom Caucus members have spent the last 24 hours shouting insistently into the ears of reporters that the Johnson honeymoon is OVER, the grace period is DONE and the no-more-mister-nice-guy time is UPON US. It’s all cover for opting against booting Johnson from the speakership even though he committed the same grave sin that ended McCarthy’s term. The prospect of recessing for the first time in two-plus months likely had more to do with it than anything.
The House sent the clean CR over to the Senate, which is expected to pass the measure this evening. It’ll then be sent to President Biden’s desk and Congress will have averted a shutdown — by opening the door to repeated shutdown threats in coming months.
But in House Republicans’ repeated attestations that next time Johnson blocks their hijacking there will be blood, some themes emerge. Politico reports that far-right members have a plan they’ll roll out once everyone returns from Thanksgiving. It’s the same plan they enacted when McCarthy put an end to their debt ceiling hostage-taking and worked out a deal with the White House: Simply grind legislating to a halt.
“There is a sentiment that if we can’t fight anything, then let’s just hold up everything,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) told Politico.
Another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) insisted that the right flank’s rebellion will only rear its head if Johnson doesn’t change his governing strategy.
“He’s got to find an opportunity to change the dynamics,” Bishop told Politico. “If he can’t, he’s going to follow the same path of not just the immediately previous speaker but a series of them who have not really proved successful.”
Bishop is perhaps unintentionally referencing a dynamic that my colleague Josh Marshall pointed out back in mid-October as an example of the repercussions of a Republican Party growing more and more extreme:
The congressional party is controlled and run by the hard right minority variously called the Tea Party or Freedom Caucus. But they are a bit too hot for national public consumption. They also rely on the idea that their far right policy agenda has broad public support but is held back by a corrupt/bureaucratic establishment. For both of these reasons a system was developed in which this far right group runs the caucus, but from the background, while it is nominally run by a mainstreamish Republican leader. Under John Boehner, Paul Ryan or Kevin McCarthy this basic dynamic remained more or less the same. It works for everybody because the Freedom Party calls the shots while the party maintains broad electoral viability via figureheadish leadership.