Republican blame game heats up as their majority thins

Who’s to blame for the GOP’s dwindling House majority? It depends on whom you ask. 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) made waves last month when she pointed fingers at a pair of fellow Republicans who decided recently to quit Congress before their terms were up, reducing the party’s already slim advantage to a hairline one-vote margin.

Yet Greene declined to mention a third lawmaker who dashed for the exits prematurely: former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a close ally of Greene who resigned his seat in December after conservatives booted him from the Speakership two months earlier. 

McCarthy’s high-profile resignation has incensed some of the hard-liners in the GOP conference, who are accusing him of abandoning the party ahead of a high-stakes election cycle when control of the lower chamber is up for grabs.

“After our former Speaker left us,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) told reporters recently, “it kind of left us a little bit in the lurch.”

The internal blame game has highlighted both the deep divisions dogging the House GOP — where conservative agitators are bashing moderates as apostates, and moderates are bashing the hardliners as obstructionists — and the miniscule majority that’s made it all but impossible for Republican leaders to unite the warring camps for the sake of passing the party’s policy priorities.

The tit-for-tat is, in a way, a continuation of the bitter battle that broke out over McCarthy’s ouster in October, which pitted allies of the California Republican — Greene, for one — against the eight GOP rabble-rousers who voted to remove the Speaker, including Burchett.

Those tensions have continued to simmer in the months following McCarthy’s dismissal, and are only expected to become more pronounced as the exodus of GOP lawmakers continues. 

The latest lawmakers to decamp are Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who resigned March 22, and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who is planning to step down April 19. Both have been independent voices willing to defy party leaders on high-profile votes, including the recent impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, which Buck and Gallagher opposed.

That track record has made them pariahs in the eyes of some of their colleagues, and Greene singled them out as a key reason Republicans are having such a tough time governing. 

“Every time a Mike Gallagher or a Ken Buck leaves early, that brings our numbers down and brings us dangerously closer to being in the minority,” Greene said Tuesday in an interview with Real America’s Voice, a conservative cable channel. 

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has largely downplayed the departures, noting that both parties are losing a number of veteran lawmakers next year to retirement or bids for higher office — a natural trend that accompanies virtually every election cycle. 

“When I last checked, we’re about on par with other Congresses,” he told reporters after Buck’s announcement. “It just — it always feels like that when you’re in the midst of one.”

Yet the number of resignations, as opposed to retirements, has been more pronounced this cycle. And some of the departing lawmakers are citing an extraordinary reason behind their decision: The environment on Capitol Hill has become so toxic, they say, that they simply can’t bear to stick around. 

“This place just keeps going downhill, and I don’t need to spend my time here,” Buck told reporters after announcing his resignation.

For Johnson, the growing list of resignations could hardly come at a worse time because the House is poised to address a series of explosive issues when Congress returns to Washington in mid-April, including proposals to extend the government’s domestic spying powers and provide military aid to Ukraine. 

Both topics have sharply split the GOP conference, creating enormous headaches for party leaders. And hanging over both debates will be Greene’s threat to remove Johnson from power — a resolution she introduced last month while reserving the right to force a vote on it at some undefined moment in the future. 

Greene’s threat sparked a backlash from more moderate Republicans, particularly those who face tough reelection contests in November and want to focus their campaigns on President Biden’s handling of inflation and the border crisis, not the internal frictions of the House GOP. 

“The American people agree with us on the issues,” said Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), who represents a district Biden won by 10 points in 2020. “What they don’t agree with is the idiocy and the chaos that is totally unnecessary and does nothing to actually solve the problem.”

Greene’s gambit is also prompting concerns from GOP lawmakers that another motion-to-vacate effort could hand Democrats the Speaker’s gavel as the conference’s majority dwindles and onlookers dub Republicans as unproductive legislators.

“Speaker Johnson is put in a very difficult situation. No one wants to stop the government from running. It’s poor governance. We can’t keep the Republican circular firing squad. When this happens, only the Democrats end up winning,” Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) told The Hill.

Greene, however, has dismissed the critics, arguing she simply wants GOP leaders to battle harder for the party’s policy priorities. Searching for a new Speaker has not imperiled the Republicans’ majority, she says, the resignations have. 

“Those people stepping down early and leaving are the ones that are leaving us at risk of the Democrats controlling the majority, not me,” the Georgia Republican told Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures” last month.

“I filed this motion to vacate, but I haven’t called it to the floor. This is like issuing a pink slip and giving our conference a notice, saying that we have got to find a new Speaker,” she continued. “This may take weeks. It may take months. It may not even happen until next Congress. 

“But Speaker Johnson cannot remain as Speaker of the House.”

Gallagher’s decision to leave early came as a particular shock to his GOP colleagues. The four-term lawmaker is a former Marine with a PhD in international relations from Georgetown University, and he was tapped this Congress to head the prominent China select committee. Many Republicans considered him one of the party’s most promising rising stars. 

When Gallagher leaves April 19, the party split will be 217 Republicans to 213 Democrats, meaning GOP leaders will be able to afford only one defection on any party-line vote.

Fueling the uproar surrounding Gallagher’s departure, his chosen exit date means his seat will likely remain vacant through the remainder of this Congress. That’s because Wisconsin election law requires special elections to fill vacancies only if they occur before the second Tuesday in April of an election year. Gallagher is leaving 10 days after that deadline. 

Some GOP lawmakers are now sounding off on the Wisconsin Republican for leaving the GOP conference in an even tighter spot — including Greene, who is calling for his immediate expulsion to trigger a special election securing a Republican replacement. 

“Mike Gallagher betrayed all of us,” Greene said in the “Sunday Morning Futures” interview.

The infighting is hardly limited to Capitol Hill. On Friday, the Republican Party of Waupaca County, which Gallagher represents, attacked the Iraq War veteran for his early departure.

“Mike Gallagher hides behind the Marine shield and is leaving his post before his term ends,” the group said in a statement. “[No] Marine would ever do that even when times are tough.”

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Back to top button