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Speaker Johnson amid criticism: ‘Mess’ in House not ‘a reflection on the leader’

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday downplayed problems in the House GOP conference a day after his leadership team lost two votes in a row on the House floor.

Asked Wednesday about criticism that he is inexperienced and remarks from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who said the ouster of Johnson’s predecessor, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had been an “unmitigated disaster,” Johnson suggested the conference was moving in the right direction.

“Well, look, it was a mess what happened here, but we’re cleaning it up,” Johnson said.

“Massie is one of my dear friends,” Johnson added. “I don’t think that this is a reflection on the leader. It’s a reflection on the body itself, and the place where we’ve come in this country. Look, the nation is divided.”

The House GOP woke up Tuesday morning thinking it was going to vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Instead, it fell one vote short on the floor after the surprise appearance of a Democratic lawmaker and three Republican “no” votes.

Speakers in the House rarely if ever bring measures to the floor without the votes to pass them, and when they fail, it is widely seen as embarrassing.

To make matters worse, immediately after failing to impeach Mayorkas, the House also failed to approve a bill providing aid to Israel. That bill was brought up under suspension of the rules, which means it required a two-thirds vote for passage.

Johnson has sought to blame that vote on Democrats, but it was another example of a GOP measure brought to the floor that failed as some Republicans refused to back it.

The twin losses raised new questions about the GOP’s basic ability to govern and came as Republicans in the Senate torpedoed border legislation crafted by a bipartisan group of senators — led by a conservative Republican from Oklahoma.

Johnson also said it was “simply not true” that Congress is unable to do basic functions.

“We’re governing here. Sometimes it’s messy,” Johnson said. 

“You’re seeing the messy sausage making, the process of democracy play out. And it’s not always clean, it’s not always pretty, but the job will be done at the end of the day,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who skyrocketed from relative obscurity to the Speakership after a three-week scramble in the House GOP to replace McCarthy, noted the House’s slim majority when addressing the conference’s failure to impeach Mayorkas on Tuesday.

“Impeachment last night was a setback, but democracy is messy,” Johnson said. “We live in a time of a divided government. We have a razor-thin margin here, and every vote counts. Sometimes when you’re counting votes, and people show up when they’re not expected to be in the building, it changes the equation.”

A surprise appearance by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), wheeled into the House vote Tuesday night after emergency surgery, meant that three Republican defections on impeaching Mayorkas changed the math from barely passing to failing in a tie.

Johnson said that the House will pass the articles of impeachment on a later date.

Johnson blamed Democrats for the failure of a stand-alone Israel aid bill, which President Biden and Democratic leaders called a “cynical political maneuver” as they press for a larger supplemental aid package.

“There is no reason whatsoever for them to object to the contents of that bill. They’re doing it for political purposes,” Johnson said.

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