Saturday, May 25, 2024

GOP Right Flank Challenges Speaker Johnson (and Trump)

House Speaker Mike Johnson has a revolt on his right flank, and by extension, so does Donald Trump. The former president has certainly tightened his grasp on the Republican Party as he seeks to return to the White House. All the same, his authority is not complete.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has made that much clear as she kicks off another rebellion. Johnson, who is second in line to the presidency, and belligerent backbencher MTG have competing claims to Trump’s allegiance. Johnson stood side-by-side with him last month as the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting called the effort to oust the speaker an “unfortunate” distraction from the country’s “bigger problems.” And yet the most fervent MAGA disciple on Capitol Hill ignores Trump’s stated wishes.

Greene was never among those who distanced themselves from Trump after Jan. 6, and her connection with him was so strong that former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy repeatedly sought her counsel as a liaison to Mar-a-Lago. MTG still speaks with Trump regularly. She campaigned with him earlier this year. Their connection has been so close that her colleagues, she told RCP after Trump’s nomination became a mathematical inevitability, regularly ask her, “How do I get ahold of Trump?” as they “bend the knee trying to make amends.”

The Georgia firebrand is not, however, a Trump rubber stamp. Neither is Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie or Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar. The trio plans to force a vote to remove Johnson next week. Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies has indicated that Democrats will ride to the Republican speaker’s rescue, ensuring the revolt of MTG fails. Even if that happens, Greene’s mutiny appears to be part of a long-term play. With an eye to the next Congress, Greene told RCP last month that Johnson is “not going to be Speaker under President Trump,” especially after he helped muscle through an appropriations bill funding the Department of Justice now prosecuting the former president – or as she put it, “after he funded for President Trump to go to jail.”

“Whether it’s running for minority leader or speaker next Congress, nobody’s counting on this guy being around,” another Republican lawmaker told RCP before adding that Johnson’s only path to salvation would be “Trump maneuvering to keep him around.”

“I don’t know why he would,” the lawmaker continued. “I don’t know how Trump would justify that.”

For the speaker’s part, Johnson has said that he and Trump “are 100% in line” on their policy agenda. And right now, the former president opposes the effort to shake up leadership and sees it as counterproductive to Republican electoral aims. A Trump emissary, RNC Chair Michael Whatley, delivered that message directly to the congresswoman in her office Wednesday.

“He said, one, this is not helpful, and two, we want to expand and grow the majority in the House,” a person familiar with Whatley’s message told Politico, which first broke news of the meeting. “He was clear that any disruption to the conference on these efforts – including filing this [motion to vacate] –  does not help the case for party unity.”

The power struggle comes as Democrats argue that Republicans in Congress are at the beck-and-call of Trump, especially after he signaled his displeasure with a bipartisan Senate border security bill, thus sealing the legislation’s fate. And yet in an interview with RCP last month, Johnson denied that Trump had anything close to a legislative veto.

“No, we make decisions here based upon the facts and the law, and by building consensus in the House, which is necessary when you have such a small majority,” Johnson said. He hastened to add the obvious:  “President Trump has a huge influence on the party, of course. He’s the biggest voice.”

Trump doesn’t always get his way on Capitol Hill. Johnson knows this better than most. Before becoming part of the House leadership, he was one of the rank-and-file Republicans who helped scuttle an Obamacare repeal package that Trump supported but conservatives found insufficiently conservative.

Johnson and Greene now find themselves in the Thunderdome that was so common during the Trump White House. As president, he welcomed infighting, often allowing members of his own administration to war against each other until one party emerged victorious and thus set a path forward.

A similar battle now plays out for control of congressional leadership, and Trump is either too disinterested or too weak to end the scuffle. The Trump campaign did not return a request for comment.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.