The House GOP can’t even go on vacation without fighting

It wasn’t pretty—particularly on the House side—but Congress got the government funded, but the bruising battle to do that doesn’t end beleaguered House Speaker Mike Johnson’s headaches. In fact, it could put him in an even tougher position with his fractious caucus when they return from their two-week recess, on April 9. Hanging over him are his party’s very slim majority and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s threat to oust him if he brings a Ukraine aid bill to the floor for a vote.

Colorado GOP Rep. Ken Buck is gone as of Friday, and happy as a clam to be out of it. "No rearview mirror," Buck said in his exit interview on ABC's "This Week" Sunday. "Happy to move on." He added that leadership has “serious problems with setting priorities,” including the ongoing ridiculous impeachment efforts of President Joe Biden and a bunch of cabinet secretaries. “We have a very tragic circumstance in Ukraine. We have spiraling debt, all kinds of out-of-control problems, and we focus on messaging bills that get us nowhere,” he said.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican, is hot on Buck’s heels. His surprise announcement Friday that he’s starting his retirement from Congress early, on April 19, will leave Johnson with only one vote to spare—and looking over his shoulder if he puts a Ukraine aid bill on the floor.

Greene has said such a bill would be her trigger to activate her motion to vacate the chair, which would force a vote on removing Johnson from the speakership. A few other Republicans, including Freedom Caucus Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina, are playing coy. Just to rub Johnson’s nose in it a little more, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie taunted Johnson with this X (formerly Twitter) poll:

Do you approve of the job Mike Johnson is doing as Speaker of the House?

— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) March 23, 2024

More than ever, Johnson is going to need Democratic votes to hang onto the speaker’s gavel and get anything accomplished. That basically puts Democrats in control of the Ukraine debate. It also puts Johnson in even more of a bind. Having to rely on Democrats for protection and to pass critical bills will create only more turmoil for him with his Republican detractors.

On top of all that, there are vacancies in top seats on committees. In another surprise announcement on Friday, Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger of Texas stepped down. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, currently the chair of the powerful Rules Committee, immediately announced he wanted the Appropriations job, and he’ll likely get it. 

Cole, an ally of the current leadership, could do both jobs but that would probably serve to further enrage the Freedom Caucus and their allies. Reps. Roy, Norman, and Massie are all on the Rules Committee—the deciding voting bloc that has proven to be a massive headache for Johnson already. They could raise hell and demand that another one of their own get the chairman’s seat, another brewing flashpoint for Johnson.

All this while Johnson has to worry about Buck’s parting shot. He warned in an interview with Axios, on March 12, “I think it's the next three people that leave that they're going to be worried about.” One of them—Gallagher—is on his way out, and all the turmoil ahead makes Buck’s prediction even more likely.


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