When Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., led the charge to oust then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last year, many conservatives were cautiously optimistic that his successor, Louisiana’s Rep. Mike Johnson, would lead the lower chamber more capably. Surely the man with the self-professed biblical “worldview” and somewhat conservative voting record would be the fighter GOP voters need to take on Democrats’ extremism, right?
With Democrats in control of the White House and Senate, the House remains the only tool Republicans have at the federal level to stop funding President Biden’s authoritarian agencies and destructive policies. Yet on nearly every major spending fight that’s come across his desk, Johnson has surrendered to Democrat demands and placed conservative priorities on the back burner.
The speaker’s latest act of betrayal came Thursday, when the House passed a continuing resolution, or CR, to keep the federal government funded through early March. Despite insistence from Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., and other House Freedom Caucus members on attaching a border security amendment to the bill, Johnson declined to do so, leaving America’s open border unaddressed for at least the next month and a half.
Another clear indication the CR represented a complete surrender by Johnson and House GOP leadership: more Democrats voted in favor of the measure than Republicans. In fact, 107 Republicans supported the bill’s passage, “while 106 opposed.”
Prior to that CR, Johnson supported a nearly $1.66 trillion “negotiated” package that would have increased federal spending beyond current eyewatering levels. It also failed to include meaningful provisions supported by Republican voters, including those addressing the ongoing invasion at the U.S.-Mexico border, Covid tyranny, and the weaponization of intel agencies to target Democrats’ political opponents. Weak-tea provisions reportedly included in the measure were a $6 billion claw-back in unspent Covid funds and $20 billion reduction in IRS spending.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly claimed the omnibus bill was “a good deal for Democrats.”
Johnson’s decision to kick the spending can down the road isn’t all that surprising given the Louisiana rep’s willingness to cede the only leverage national Republicans have to stymie Biden’s agenda. During November’s budget fight, Johnson and House Republicans passed a CR to keep the government funded through January, with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. — one of the House’s most radical leftists — praising the bill and claiming it included “[t]wo of the big things” Democrats wanted.
Johnson also declined to fight for conservative priorities in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024. Provisions axing the Pentagon’s radical abortion policy, drag shows on military bases, race discrimination, and using TRICARE to subsidize trans surgeries and wrong-sex hormones for service members and their families were also left out of the final bill. Meanwhile, the measure extended FISA, the program U.S. intel agencies have abused to, among other scandals, illegally spy on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Matt Gaetz: The Man Without a Plan
At first glance, Rep. Matt Gaetz’s maneuver to give McCarthy the boot appeared plausible. After all, McCarthy sold out Republican voters on May’s debt ceiling fight and a separate government-funding debacle that included little — if any — meaningful conservative priorities.
But with McCarthy gone, it became apparent Gaetz had no real plan on how to galvanize House Republicans around a more conservative successor. When Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., threw his hat in the ring for speaker, Gaetz emphatically endorsed him.
Scalise’s voting record, however, reveals the Louisiana rep is just as ineffective as McCarthy. If betraying conservatives and reneging on prior intra-party agreements were the reasons behind McCarthy’s ouster, as Gaetz claimed, then why replace him with someone from leadership who’s similarly failed to fight for conservative priorities?
Whatever Gaetz’s true motivations, the Florida Republican’s gambit clearly didn’t pay off. In some ways, Johnson’s speakership is worse than McCarthy’s because of the image the former quickly projected to GOP voters and conservative media.
After being plucked from obscurity to become speaker, Johnson was cast as the Bible-loving family man who was more than prepared to take on Democrats’ radicalism. In an age where leftism has taken a demonic turn (see Democrats’ obsession with trans-ing children), many conservatives found it refreshing to hear a leading GOP figure publicly espouse biblical values and recognize the spiritual elements at play in the current political landscape. Like many Republicans, he told GOP voters what they wanted to hear and left the impression that he cares about addressing major political problems.
Unlike Johnson, McCarthy never received the benefit of the doubt when he became speaker. The California Republican’s liberal voting record and time as majority leader under Paul Ryan’s lackluster speakership rightly gave many American restorationists reasons to be skeptical of whether he would fulfill his promises and fight on issues that mattered, when they mattered.
Unfortunately for McCarthy, these facts — combined with his betrayal on spending fights — led to a majority of conservatives supporting his ouster, paving the way for Johnson to assume the speaker’s gavel with little scrutiny. For conservatives, Johnson’s promotion offered the GOP a chance to halt Democrats’ extremist policies. That promise didn’t materialize, even for a little bit.
For Johnson, it doesn’t matter how tyrannical Biden and his administration become. All that matters is keeping the government open and avoiding backlash from leftist media, even if it means capitulating to Democrats on every single issue.
Whether he admits it or not, Gaetz helped usher in a new speaker who’s just as feckless as his predecessor. But unlike McCarthy, Johnson enjoys the appearance of a resolute conservative who’s backed by Republican “fighters” like Gaetz, allowing him to avoid the criticism he deserves.
Underneath the media hits and tweets is a House GOP still as useless and ineffective as the day they took power. And no amount of gaslighting can change that.