By Annie Grayer, Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju and Lauren Fox, CNN
House Republicans hoped to turn over a new leaf in the new year. But they returned to the Capitol this week confronting the same exact problems that plagued the party last year: a razor-thin majority, a rebellious right flank and looming threats of a government shutdown.
On top of that, lingering resentment over the ousting of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has continued to fuel bad blood in the ranks and contributed to the party infighting that has once again spilled out into public view.
Those tensions boiled over on Wednesday when a group of conservatives froze the business of the House by tanking a procedural vote in protest of the bipartisan spending agreement that House Speaker Mike Johnson hashed out with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. It was once rare for lawmakers to sink a procedural vote of their own party, but the hardball tactic has become more routine since Republicans took over the majority last year.
And just hours earlier, a House GOP meeting on Capitol Hill turned into a circus when Hunter Biden made a surprise and dramatic appearance in front of the House Oversight Committee, which was in the process of marking up a resolution to hold him in contempt of Congress for defying a congressional subpoena. As the president’s son sat in the audience, the proceedings devolved into a shouting match, with GOP Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina calling for the president’s son to be arrested and telling him, “You have no balls,” while GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia displayed censored nude photos appearing to show Hunter Biden with women.
The whole spectacle overshadowed Republicans’ first impeachment hearing on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that was taking place at the same time. Republicans have put renewed focus on impeaching the top Biden administration official over the border crisis as they’ve struggled to find evidence in their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
Now, House Republicans found themselves in an all too familiar predicament for their majority: struggling to find consensus on even the basic functions of governing.
“America does not benefit from this intraparty squabble that is going on,” said GOP Rep. Steve Womack, a veteran appropriator. “We do have elections coming up and a lot of what is going on right now is probably going to influence outcomes.”
Womack blasted the use of blowing up House procedural votes as a way to register dissatisfaction, saying that when he came to Congress, it was a huge “no, no.”
“It hasn’t been until recently that it is OK to take down rules. They do it with impunity,” Womack said. “That is the Frankenstein that we have created over the last year. We have created this monster and now we are having to live with it. “
“I am just disappointed we cannot do more than this,” he added.
It all amounts to a mess that Johnson is now tasked with cleaning up as he tries to avoid a partial government shutdown on January 19 and unify his conference heading into the presidential election year, where the House majority is also up for grabs. And Johnson has even less margin for error and less governing experience than his predecessor did.
Johnson is facing blistering criticism from his right flank over his leadership, and while hardliners have not said they are prepared to oust him from the job at this point, they are making clear they are ready to stand up and create headaches for the new speaker in other ways.
“Currently, the speaker has no plans to do anything except surrender,” said a frustrated Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio as he left a GOP conference meeting early Wednesday morning.
Asked if Johnson should lose his job over this spending deal he struck with the Senate, Davidson, who had been lobbying for Rep. Jim Jordan, his fellow Ohioan, to get the speakership, said: “He should have never been hired.”
Johnson for his part has defended his deal-making in a split government with a narrow majority and met privately with GOP lawmakers on Wednesday who are frustrated with his handling of government funding negotiations.
“This is life in a small majority. Everybody’s working together. We are going to get it done,” Johnson told CNN on Wednesday.
Asked if he’s concerned about his grip on the speaker’s gavel, Johnson said: “I am not worried about that at all. I just met with all those guys, they’re close friends of mine and we agree on the principles. I am a lifelong hardcore conservative. I want to get as many policy wins as we can. … But the reality is we have a small majority. So in a situation like that, you’re not going to get everything you want.”
But behind closed doors, Johnson’s message was blunter. He implored Republicans not to tear him – or each other – down on social media and encouraged them to air out their grievances privately, according to sources in the conference meeting.
It’s easy to see why Johnson would want to keep party infighting out of public view. Democrats have seized on the internal GOP feuds, with one House Democrat mocking the new member pins that were handed out just moments before GOP leadership’s embarrassing defeat on the House floor, calling it Republicans’ only “tangible” accomplishment.
Democrats have also tried to draw attention to Republicans’ own complaints about their lack of achievements. Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, tried to enter into the record recent comments from GOP Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona that Republicans have “nothing” to campaign on, which caused an uproar from the right side of the aisle.
Greene, a McCarthy ally, is among the Republicans who have unabashedly slammed her own party. In a recent interview with CNN, she ticked through a long list of grievances with Johnson and his handling of the Republican conference, saying that conservative voters are furious about the failure of the Republican majority to deliver and contending that the new speaker has been rolled by Democrats in a number of key negotiations.
“But people are saying that at home: They do not want to see our Republican Speaker of the House getting rolled in these meetings behind closed doors,” Greene said.
She continued: “That’s not what we want to see out of our speaker. Otherwise, what’s the difference between Nancy Pelosi having the gavel and us having the majority.”
GOP blame game ramps up
As chaos on the Hill unfolded Wednesday, GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky posted on X a photo of McCarthy holding the speaker’s gavel with the caption: “Miss me yet?”
GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who led the effort to oust McCarthy, responded to Massie’s post by saying while hardliners are mad at Johnson, “we don’t miss McCarthy.”
The back and forth underscores the growing rift in the House GOP and the finger pointing that has ensued in the months following the historic ousting of McCarthy.
Those who opposed booting the former speaker blame McCarthy’s detractors for derailing the House for weeks in October, only to bring it right back to exactly where they started, facing the same funding deal McCarthy originally negotiated with Democrats.
“So those members that now are thinking that things are going to change if they get somebody new. You got to face reality, man,” GOP Rep. Carlos Gimenez of Florida, a staunch McCarthy ally, told CNN. “And they’re not facing reality. This was where we’re going to end up from the get-go.”
“We’re in the majority and somehow we just can’t be together. We can’t get our act together,” Gimenez added.
Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, another supporter of the former speaker, said that McCarthy’s deal was fair, and moving off of it only delayed the inevitable.
“I feel like we just went through a four or five month detour to end up where we should have been all along. We had an agreement, we should have stuck by our agreement,” Bacon told CNN.
But the finger pointing goes both ways.
Tennessee GOP Rep. Tim Burchett, one of the eight Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy as speaker, accused Republican allies of McCarthy of seeking to undermine Johnson as speaker, a sign of the lingering distrust in the conference.
“I don’t think he’s in over his head. I just think there are a lot of people that would like to see him fail,” Burchett said. “I think there’s still people who are loyal to Kevin McCarthy that would like to say ‘I told you so’ and don’t care if they bring the country down or not.”
But as Johnson finds himself in a similar predicament as his predecessor and questions about his leadership grow, no one seems to be calling for him to get removed from the job.
“I would not say with his group that our intention is to threaten Speaker Johnson with his job,” Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana, one of the 13 House Republicans to buck GOP leadership and suspend business on the House floor on Wednesday, told reporters.
CNN’s Haley Talbot and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.
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