Angry GOP gets a needed break. But tough times lie ahead

Break 112823 AP File Alex Brandon

House Republicans are finally getting a break from each other over Thanksgiving after a grueling, contentious stretch that saw two fights over how to avoid a shutdown, three weeks without a Speaker, and even an allegation of a jab to the kidneys.

But when they come back, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is not set to have an easy time corralling the fractious, razor-thin majority as it faces continued internal funding fights, a progressing impeachment investigation and a likely vote to expel one of its own.

Johnson, speaking in a press conference before the House left the Capitol, expressed hope that his conference would be more cohesive and effective after the Thanksgiving break.

“This place is a pressure cooker,” Johnson said. “Everybody can go home, we can come back, reset,” and then: “We’re going to map out that plan to fight for those principles.”

Though Johnson had a victory in getting a bill to avert a government shutdown across the finish line, that move spurred anger among some Republicans who had been looking for spending cuts and policy concessions in the stopgap. 

Republicans left town on a low note, departing a day early after hard-line members of the House Freedom Caucus and their allies continued fights on other spending measures amid disagreements about larger strategy. A group of House Republicans, mostly members of the House Freedom Caucus, had torpedoed a procedural vote on a full-year spending bill for the third time in two weeks.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) had expressed particular outrage at the direction of the House GOP, getting heated in a nearly hour-long floor speech over the conference’s unwillingness to force a government shutdown in order to try to extract policy concessions, and suggesting that the House GOP majority had not done “one meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done besides, ‘Well, I guess it’s not as bad as the Democrats.”

“Speaker Johnson has now the time over Thanksgiving to coordinate a plan,” Roy said earlier Wednesday. “I’ve offered myself, and we all are available to figure out the best path forward. But we need to meaningfully reduce spending when we come back.”

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus, similarly warned that he expects to see changes in strategy when the House returns.

“We expect to see tangible results to move us down the field in the right direction at the right magnitude,” Perry said.

But others in the conference are pushing back at the right flank’s tactics.

“If we don’t have a wake-up call, if we continue to have members who will blow things up anytime they don’t get their way, it will be hard to govern the House,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), chair of the “pragmatic” Main Street Caucus. “I am hopeful that cooler heads will prevail, people will understand the importance of team dynamics, people will grow up, and we’ll get back to work.”

Spending issues are not the only challenge that awaits Johnson. In the coming months, he will face difficult decisions on whether to move forward with impeaching President Biden, as an impeachment inquiry over his family’s foreign business dealings —which was opened without a vote under ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — progresses.

A report from the Washington Post last week said the new Speaker had privately signaled there was not yet enough evidence to initiate formal impeachment proceedings — sparking criticism from the right. But in a statement released this week, Johnson said the impeachment investigation by Comer and Jordan was moving “toward an inflection point,” and that investigators have his “full and unwavering support.”

Johnson has said the impeachment inquiry has no “predetermined” outcome. But if he does move forward with a vote to impeach Biden, it could be a tough task to get near-unanimous support from Republicans on the matter in the slim majority.

And before spending issues or impeachment are resolved, one of the first items of business for Johnson is dealing with the push to expel Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) — which is quickly gaining steam after the release of a scathing Ethics Committee report detailing his fabrications and alleged financial transgressions. Though efforts to remove him have failed in the past, those pushing for expulsion now include the chair of the House Ethics Committee, Michael Guest (R-Miss.).

Santos’s distortions and financial red flags started to be revealed after his 2022 election, but GOP leaders had long declined to support punishing him out of concern about setting a precedent of inflicting judgment before the court process plays out. If the renewed effort is successful, Santos would be only the sixth House member ever to be formally expelled, and the first to be expelled who had not been convicted of a crime or had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

But Johnson gave an apparent green light to Republicans to vote to oust Santos.

“Speaker Johnson encourages all involved to consider the best interests of the institution as this matter is addressed further,” Raj Shah, Johnson’s deputy chief of staff for communications, said in a statement after the Ethics Committee release Thursday.

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