House of Horrors

Mike Johnson Is in Way Over His Head

Who’d have guessed a Trumpy backbencher would bungle the Speaker’s job?
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From Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

Once again, the federal government has started preparing for a government shutdown. And the blame should fall squarely on the shoulders of Mike Johnson, the election-denying Louisiana backbencher whom Donald Trump wanted to become Speaker of the House. It seems that MAGA Mike is learning firsthand that being Speaker is a much harder job than it looks, with Johnson trying to lead a caucus seemingly more focused on impeachment stunts and further restricting abortion access than keeping the government open. Perhaps electing an inexperienced zealot to be second in line for the presidency wasn’t the brightest idea. 

Well, now you’ll even find Republicans pointing out that Johnson wasn’t the first draft pick. “We went through five choices and Mike Johnson’s the fifth choice,” Representative Patrick McHenry told CBS News last week. McHenry, who served as Speaker pro tempore last year after Kevin McCarthy, his ally, was ousted, may feel like he can finally speak freely since he’s not running for reelection. He’s part of a wave of House GOP retirements that includes Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Mike Gallagher, and Ken Buck. (Notably, Gallagher and Buck both voted against the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.) In the CBS interview, McHenry continued to muse about Johnson: “He has not been around these leadership decisions. He’s had a really tough process. We’ve thrown him into the deepest end of the pool with the heaviest weights around him and [we’re] trying to teach him how to learn to swim. It’s been a rough couple of months.” Sounds like McHenry has a little Speaker’s remorse! Or, as Punchbowl put it bluntly on Monday: “Johnson, quite frankly, has been hesitant to lead on any issue at all.”

House members are not back in DC until Wednesday, even as the shutdown clock ticks away. Perhaps cognizant of that, Johnson told House Republicans on Friday evening that he had a plan for avoiding a shutdown, one involving four separate appropriation bills. While Johnson is said to not want to pass a continuing resolution, there may need to be a stopgap measure. On the Friday call, according to Politico, Johnson suggested party disunity was helping the Democrats and took issue with Republicans for tanking rule votes. The House GOP, while under Johnson, recently set a record for failed procedural votes.

Believe it or not, Johnson may have bigger problems than a government shutdown. House Republicans, who currently hold just a two-seat majority, are trying to orchestrate two impeachments based primarily on vibes.

The impeachment of President Joe Biden looks like the brainchild of the guy who helped elevate Johnson to Speaker. “Either IMPEACH the BUM, or fade into OBLIVION,” Trump urged Republicans last August in a Truth Social post. “THEY DID IT TO US!” It seems pretty clear that Trump hoped a Biden impeachment might help his reelection bid and muddy the waters enough to obscure his own two impeachments, along with the 91 criminal charges he’s facing. (Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.) As he’s racked up primary wins and is poised to become the party’s 2024 nominee, Trump has only ramped up his calls for Republicans to impeach Biden (while also driving them to blow up a bipartisan border bill, presumably to keep immigration in headlines through November).

You’d think Republicans might try to pretend their Biden impeachment crusade never happened following the charging of informant Alexander Smirnov, whose claims they’d been pushing and who’s now been accused of lying to the FBI and creating false records. And yet House Oversight Committee chair James Comer told Newsmax that Smirnov “wasn’t an important part of this investigation—because I didn’t even know who he was.” But Smirnov’s bribery allegations involving Biden and his younger son, Hunter Biden, “were frequently cited by congressional Republicans in their now stalled attempt to unseat” the president, according to The New York Times, which noted how right-wing media, having also seized upon Smirnov’s claims, remains “undeterred.” As for the Mayorkas impeachment, even conservative law professor Jonathan Turley said on Fox News that he didn’t think Republicans had “established any of those bases for impeachment,” adding, “The fact is, impeachment is not for being a bad Cabinet member or even being a bad person. It is a very narrow standard.”

Republicans did this to themselves by letting Trump call the shots. After Matt Gaetz led the charge to remove McCarthy, they went down the list of possible Speakers. Steve Scalise would have been the smart succession play, but Trump suggested the House majority leader couldn’t handle the job because he was “in serious trouble from the standpoint of his cancer.” Trump backed Jim Jordan, one of his most loyal attack dogs in Congress, but the Ohio representative couldn’t get the votes. Trump didn’t want Tom Emmer, who, unlike McCarthy, Scalise, Jordan, and Johnson, didn’t try to overturn the 2020 election. After Emmer won the Republican conference’s nomination to be House Speaker, Trump accused him of being a “Globalist RINO” who was “totally out-of-touch with Republican Voters.” Trump reportedly bragged later that he “killed him.”

Trump has a long history of picking people who kissed the ring but weren’t necessarily very good choices. Just ask Senator Mehmet Oz, or Senator Herschel Walker, or Senator Blake Masters, or Governor Kari Lake. Fealty to Trump may be a prerequisite for Republicans to land the job, but it doesn’t mean they can actually do it.