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Mike Johnson’s Time for Choosing

The speaker should hold fast and take the negative example of Kevin McCarthy to heart.

Congressman,Mike,Johnson,(r),Attends,House,Judiciary,Committee,Field,Hearing
Credit: Iev radin

Let’s review. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican, was ousted from the speakership after over 10 months of poor to middling efforts to advance conservative interests against Democratic opposition in Congress and the White House. The final straw came in October, when he relied on Democratic votes to pass a continuing resolution, prompting a motion to vacate from Florida’s Rep. Matt Gaetz. 

Following McCarthy’s departure, The American Conservative’s own Bradley Devlin asked Republican House members what they wanted in their new leader.

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“We need a leader with the basic qualities of leadership,” Virginia’s Bob Good commented. “Someone who is trusted by the conference, and someone who is a fighter, and understands negotiations and leverage and that will fight for more than just trying to become Speaker.”

“The next thing I’m looking for is leadership and vision,” Montana’s Matt Rosendale said. “A vision of where we want to go, and the ability, the leadership ability and skills to organize the group and help pursue it. You have to be able to incite enthusiasm in your vision.”

“Conservative members must have trust that the next Speaker of the House will fight hard on key issues like securing the border, energy independence, and cutting government spending,” said Byron Donalds of Florida. “The next Speaker will need that trust and belief to win their votes.”

Following some inconclusive hurly-burly, the next speaker was Mike Johnson of Louisiana. This week will test his mettle against the standards set by his colleagues.

Despite filibuster opposition, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer passed through a mammoth bill 70–29 laying aside $95 billion for defense in Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. (No money was allotted to securing the southern border of the U.S., following the failure of Senate Republicans to secure a satisfactory deal.) A narrow plurality of the country and a strong plurality of the Republican voters whom Johnson and his colleagues nominally represent have become skeptical of spending more money on the Ukraine war. That alone should be a check on a huge no-strings funding package. Yet as Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio wrote in our pages Monday, the bill under consideration is more dire than mere blank-check funding.

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It gets worse. Back in 2019, Democrats articulated a novel theory of impeachment, based on Trump’s refusal to spend money from the USAI—Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. Five years after impeaching Trump for refusing to spend money on Ukraine, they have drafted a new law that again requires Trump to spend money on Ukraine. If he negotiates an end to the war, as he has promised to do, they will undoubtedly argue that he has broken the law. We are nearly a year away from an election that could give Trump the presidency, and Ukraine-obsessive Republicans have already given the Democrats a predicate to impeach him.

Stopping not just dubious cash outlays for foreign governments but this bill in particular is a priority. 

So far, Johnson seems disinclined to move the legislation. “The Republican-led House will not be jammed or forced into passing a foreign aid bill that was opposed by most Senate Republicans,” he said Wednesday. 

Yet doubts remain. An embarrassing failure to count votes resulted in the February 6 failure to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, prompting questions about his ability to whip the caucus and advance its priorities. Per POLITICO, Johnson is “polishing his reputation for dithering in the face of tough decisions,” presiding over Do Lung Bridge–like madness with almost pure ad hoc decision-making. A Democrat-authored discharge petition is floating around; only a few defections from the GOP will allow Hakeem Jeffries to ram the bill through without any guidance or input from the speaker at all. McCarthy is encouraging Johnson from the sidelines to make the former speaker’s errors again.

A handful of congressmen are reportedly working on a counter to the Senate’s bill, which they say will be more amenable to House conservatives. Will Johnson be able to avoid defections while the particulars are ironed out, probably at length? Will he be able to get the caucus to pass the revision? 

This is a matter of both competence and personality—it returns to the question of mettle, the standards Johnson’s fellow congressmen set after his predecessor’s departure. Does Johnson “incite enthusiasm”? Is he a leader of men? Is he a ditherer, or worse? Is he just Kevin McCarthy without the Hibernian charm?

As our own Curt Mills recently pointed out, McCarthy would have happily moved this deeply unsatisfactory bill through with Democrat support, ignoring the larger part of his own constituents; this is a vindication of his removal. Johnson should hold fast and allow the sometimes unruly business of the elected legislature to work itself out instead of hustling through a clean, orderly hobble on the party’s future work.

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