Republicans’ values, not votes, are behind House failures

News & Politics

We hear the same excuse all the time: “House Republicans hold the slimmest majority ever.” Republican leaders, conservative pundits, and even Donald Trump have touted some variation on that line in defense of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and his routine betrayals of conservative principles and policies.

The excuse isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerous. It gives the impression that the landscape will improve next year if and when Republicans widen their majority in the November general election.

Republicans are unlikely to obtain a 60-seat House majority. At best, it would be a 10-seat majority. And at least half of the GOP conference is not conservative at all.

Wrong. The GOP’s problem isn’t numbers, but values. Unless conservatives engage in the current primary elections, we will be stuck with the same perfidious Republicans who sell us out time and time and time again.

Here are four points to consider when assessing the House Republican majority’s record since January 2023.

1) Republicans fumbled even with a larger majority

They might have the smallest majority now, but they didn’t start out that way. This Congress began with a 222-213 Republican majority. Sure, that’s small. But it was also what the Democrats had in the previous Congress. They had little trouble passing nearly every one of Joe Biden’s priorities and all his budget bills.

Before Republicans lost seats to retirement, they had a major leverage point with the debt ceiling. Both the debt crisis and the border crisis are vastly worse now than they were during Barack Obama’s administration, and Obama was a much better communicator than Biden. Yet, the GOP House led by former Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) managed to win concessions on the border in return for raising the debt ceiling in 2011.

Who would have thought we’d ever miss Boehner the Statesman? Despite total GOP unity around the Limit, Save, Grow Act in return for raising the debt ceiling, the feckless Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) not only conceded every single GOP demand but also gave Biden an extra year of free debt spending — more than he asked for.

That betrayal had nothing to do with the limitations of a slim majority. That was a betrayal of values. Most Republicans don’t believe in keeping their campaign promises when it matters most. Johnson is little different from McCarthy in that way. He threw away Republicans’ leverage to give Biden endless debt servicing in exchange for nothing at all.

2) The unprecedented budget sellout

Republicans had enough votes to unite behind strong appropriations bills as recently as March 22. They could have demanded an end to the border invasion in exchange for a budget. Johnson is hardly the first Republican leader to fear a government shutdown, but Biden is a very unpopular president pushing very unpopular policies. Not only did Johnson lack the nerve to demand real action on the border, but the budget vote deadline fell the same week as Georgia nursing student Laken Riley was murdered by an illegal alien gang member. Johnson and all but a few stalwart conservatives rolled over anyway.

Bad enough that Johnson refused to fight even one day on the illegal immigration issue. Worse, Johnson refused to accept an automatic $76 billion in non-defense spending cuts if he had simply advanced a clean, continuing resolution. Ideally, conservatives would have demanded policy riders on the final funding bill. But, if all else failed, simply passing a clean bill would have delivered “free” spending cuts, thanks to the “Massie provision” of the debt ceiling deal. Democrats had no leverage to shut down the government over a clean bill.

Or Johnson could have used the looming threat of those cuts to demand concessions from Biden on the border. But no. He all but threw away that option in January when he gave Democrats everything they wanted plus extra spending and a record number of earmarks. In the process, Johnson manipulated the rules, as has become his practice with every major bill, to bypass the Rules Committee and block all conservative amendments.

3) Johnson bungled FISA reform even with Democrats’ support

Tightening rules for obtaining warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act might be the only major issue of our time that draws broad bipartisan support. Johnson once again blew an opportunity to give conservatives a win, except this time with Democrats’ votes.

After stabbing conservatives in the back in December and passing the National Defense Authorization Act without Republicans’ anti-woke riders and needlessly attaching a short-term FISA extension, Johnson promised he would fight for conservative reforms in April.

When April came around, 86 Democrats voted for Rep. Andy Biggs’ (R-Ariz.) amendment that would have required a warrant before federal agents could quarry information on American citizens. Johnson himself cast the deciding vote to defeat the amendment, which tied at 212-212.

Again, this had nothing to do with the Republicans’ slim majority. Johnson had a chance to do the right thing. He did the opposite.

4) Funding Ukraine and Hamas for nothing in return

Donald Trump recently spoke out against Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s motion to vacate the chair, calling Johnson “a good man who is trying very hard.”

Oh, he is trying hard, all right. Johnson cleverly and deviously worked with House Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to ensure they got everything they wanted on additional billions in aid to Ukraine and Hamas while ignoring conservatives’ demands for a strong border bill.

Johnson and his lukewarm Republicans sabotaged their leverage on every must-pass bill. But they had a real chance to fight on the foreign aid bill because it had no deadline. It was essentially a Democratic Party wish list.

While it may be true Republicans lack the votes to pass good bills, they certainly have no obligation to help pass the Democrats’ standalone priorities. But because Democrats wanted Ukraine funding so badly, Johnson had the chance to dangle Ukraine funding in return for border security.

Remember, Johnson promised to oppose Ukraine funding. When he reneged on that, he promised a watered-down version of Schumer’s Senate bill in return for better border security.

In the end, out of nowhere, Johnson agreed to pass the full Senate bill without the possibility of amendment, which included $60 billion for Ukraine, $9 billion for Gaza, $3.5 billion for the very refugee groups thronging our border, and the ability for Biden to redirect Taiwan aid to Ukraine.

Now, Biden is making a mockery out of Johnson and the GOP by holding up weapons shipments to Israel, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he sent them to Ukraine.

So, what happened to border security? Johnson could have easily tied HR 2 in with the other foreign aid bills, just as he sewed together the four aid bills after passing each of them separately. He didn’t lack the votes. Every Republican and five Democrats wound up voting for the border bill. But whereas the four bad foreign aid bills were packaged together, the border bill was left out of the package. It was rendered a meaningless standalone bill that the Senate could safely ignore while funding for Ukraine, Hamas, and the border invasion sailed through.

Johnson reported HR 2 as a new border bill sponsored by Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) as a way of protecting him against a primary challenge. Gonzales previously referred to the House border bill as “not Christian” and “very anti-American.”

Nothing will change in 2025 if we don’t change

It’s important to set the record straight not so much to relitigate the past as it is to prepare for the future.

Again, Mike Johnson’s stewardship of the House is not a math problem but a values problem. Trump and the establishment are trying to convey the impression that we just need to wait until next year when Trump is (somehow) back in the White House and Republicans will have a few more seats in the House.

A majority matters less than who makes up that majority. The solution is not a greater Republican majority but rather a greater conservative majority.

Let’s sleep through the primaries, not push for better leaders, unite behind a phantom general election, and live happily ever after.

No. Let’s not. Even under the best of circumstances, Republicans are unlikely to obtain a 60-seat House majority. At best, it would be a 10-seat majority. Given the lack of accomplishments and the pointless fights with Democrats on unpopular issues, it’s a fair bet the Republicans won’t keep the House at all.

Fact is, at least half of the GOP conference is not conservative. Sixty-five members of the Republican Mainstreet Caucus are often to the left of the establishment. That means the RINO caucus is double the size of the Freedom Caucus.

Oh, and this is before we even discuss the Senate GOP, which makes Mike Johnson look like Chip Roy.

So, let’s try to imagine 2025. Suppose Trump is re-elected and follows through with his promises to end birthright citizenship, cut spending, and greatly curtail foreign aid. Suppose Trump supporters push an even more transformational agenda, such as liability reform for vaccine makers, reining in the FBI, and erasing transgenderism and environmental extremism from federal agencies.

Pick your important issue. Then understand that your Republican opponents will vastly outnumber the margin of any GOP majority.

A majority matters less than who makes up that majority. Right now, more than half of House Republicans and a super-majority of Senate Republicans believe that debt-ceiling bills, budget bills, defense bills, and other large programs must not be allowed to expire for even a second. They will never have leverage to force changes even on popular issues because they refuse to use it.

The solution is not a greater Republican majority but rather a greater conservative majority. We need to focus on the congressional primaries and replace every Republican member who believes in protecting Ukraine’s borders more than our own.

Absent aggressive intervention in primaries, the general election will be close to meaningless. Sadly, if we continue to sleep through the primaries and allow Trump to support every incumbent RINO while also opposing the incumbent chairman of the Freedom Caucus, we will never advance our agenda even with a historically large Republican majority.

Then again, at this rate, there will be no GOP majority at all, which is fine because we never really had a majority to begin with. Conservative influencers can’t be bothered with trivial things like primaries.

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