House Republicans acknowledge this week was embarrassing, with back-to-back failed votes on impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and sending aid to Israel.
But instead of raging against Speaker Mike Johnson and other leaders, Republicans are responding to the unsightly spectacle with a that’s-just-life-now shrug.
Many Republican lawmakers appear to have accepted life in their tiny majority. They understand their party is dysfunctional and the House GOP has internal disagreements on just about everything. And they know that reality will haunt them until the end of the year — at least.
“Everything’s gonna be really tenuous as we go forward here, especially over the next four weeks as we try to fund the government,” said Rep. Kevin Hern, the Oklahoma Republican who leads the conservative Republican Study Committee.
He waved off questions about whether Republican leaders had fumbled the votes: “There’s obviously always going to be a story about whether the votes were whipped correctly or not.”
Johnson has shown more willingness to push ahead on uncertain floor votes than some of his predecessors, a tactic that leads to more public flops. He planned to put dual spy powers bills on the floor until his conference shouted the idea down, clearly miscounted the Mayorkas impeachment vote due to full Democratic attendance and has watched as his hardliners have blocked several bills from even coming to the floor. But in this case, even some of his loudest critics declined to blame Johnson for the current mess.
Johnson is largely getting a pass on Mayorkas, particularly, because Republicans are confident they can deliver on impeachment once Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) returns, since his ongoing cancer treatment made him the only absence in a tied vote. However, GOP lawmakers aren’t giving the three House Republicans who voted with Democrats on the measure the same leeway.
“I’m frustrated with three Republicans who did not vote to impeach,” said House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.). “Yes, it was somewhat of an embarrassment that we apparently didn’t know what the count might be and that we lost that by one vote, essentially. But it seems as if we can get it done next week.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) dismissed any frustration at all, stating that the vote put her own colleagues on the record. So the base knows who blocked them from taking action on President Joe Biden’s border chief.
“We have three Republican members, one that nobody really cares about because he’s retiring … [as] for the other two, (Mike) Gallagher and (Tom) McClintock, I’m sure they’re hearing from their constituents and maybe they’re finding out how important it is to impeach Mayorkas, even though they seem to have their own personal issues with it,” Greene told reporters Wednesday.
One House Republican, requesting anonymity to speak frankly, said the conference’s vote fumbles make them look like a “monkey trying to have relations with a football.” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) lamented that Democrats seem to stick together and “we don’t.”
“Ken Buck is leaving. I don’t understand that. He could have done it just for the Republican party,” he said, referring to another Republican who voted against impeaching Mayorkas.
That isn’t to say that every Republican was excusing Johnson. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who has been a frequent critic of the new GOP leader, publicly lashed out at Johnson and his supporters: “Name one thing that’s improved under the new Speaker.”
Still, most of the conference is more concerned that the public failure could be a sign of more troubles to come, with two government funding deadlines just a few weeks away. And they’re not happy about giving voters more reason to think that their Republican majority isn’t able to govern, let alone fumbling their border message.
“The personality of the conference is that we want to push forward for things we truly believe in, but then we trip ourselves up over some nonsensical things from time to time,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said, adding Republicans should be asking themselves “what are we doing right now that is going to guarantee we are going to stay in the majority.”
Johnson, who critics have previously theorized is in over his head, insisted he wasn’t to blame for the twin setbacks on Wednesday, saying they were a “reflection on the body itself.”
“Last night was a setback. But democracy is messy,” he told reporters in a press conference. “You’re seeing the messy sausage making the process of democracy play out. And it’s not always pretty, but the job will be done at the end of the day.”
And some members signaled they aren’t concerned at all. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) responded that it’s “like this every year” when asked about House dysfunction, and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a typical leadership critic, said he didn’t “have any beef” with Johnson bringing Mayorkas impeachment to the floor.
“If that makes us look dysfunctional, I can think of far more examples than that,” Biggs added.
Any lingering irritation over the Mayorkas vote was mostly turned on Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who ultimately opposed impeachment, despite the two other Republicans opposing the vote. Johnson and his leadership team had crowded in a circle in a corner of the House floor Wednesday evening, realizing as Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) was pushed onto the House floor in a wheelchair that they didn’t have the numbers.
Johnson and other leaders quickly turned their focus on the Wisconsin Republican, pressuring him to change his vote. But Gallagher, who chairs the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, refused to back down, noting that he has “consistently whipped no” on this issue. In other words, he’d told GOP leaders about his intention to vote against impeachment — they just hadn’t counted on full Democratic attendance.
“I want to fix the problems at the southern border. And I want to be a team player … I felt it was a matter of principle for me,” said Gallagher, noting that he’s taken “unpopular votes before” when asked about what kind of blowback he is getting now. “I just didn’t want to contradict the arguments I’d made in opposition to Trump impeachment.”
As Gallagher was telling a gaggle of reporters that he respected his colleagues’ difference of opinions, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), leaned into the circle and remarked to him: “I have respect for you.”
Katherine Tully-McManus contributed reporting.