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The GOP Ate Its Own Face Again
It’s a full-on feast for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party
There’s a popular tweet by Adrian Bott: “‘I never thought leopards would eat MY face,’ sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.”
And this week, the GOP Leopards continued to eat their own faces. This time it was Speaker Mike Johnson, who somehow thought if he acted exactly like former Speaker McCarthy, the far right wouldn’t punish him. After all, he’s a leopard! He eats faces, too! But Speaker Johnson’s face was clearly on the menu in the House.
Meanwhile, over in the Senate, members of the party of dysfunction and obstruction are seeking to grapple, once again, with one of its worst offenders: Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). The plan? Do exactly the same thing they did before by forcing him to personally object, one by one, to the dozens of military promotions and appointments they plan to raise. It’s unclear why they think it will work this time if they simply say the same things as before. I can only assume that they’re just trying to wear him down.
Today, we’ll take a closer look at how the GOP continues to turn on its own and go around in circles. We’ll also explore how there’s a clear answer to how to fix what’s terribly broken in both chambers. But because of the cowardice and lack of principles in the Republican party, that solution remains elusive.
Budget Blues in the House
After three weeks in the job, Speaker Johnson had correctly concluded there was no way to keep the government from shutting down except through a continuing resolution to extend funding at current levels into next year, otherwise known as a “clean” CR.
Johnson desperately wanted to put lipstick on what he knew would be a pig in the eyes of the right flank of his own conference. He proposed a “ladder” approach that imposed two different deadlines for when the government ran out of money. (As Bloomberg congressional reporter Steven Dennis noted, “[I]t’s incorrect to call it a ladder CR. You ever see a ladder with only two rungs? It’s more like a stepstool CR.”)
Or maybe it’s just a highchair for the kiddies?
The ladder gimmick didn’t impress the hardliners in the GOP. Because it was still a “clean” CR that didn’t slash programs like food stamps, child benefits and IRS enforcement funding, it lost the support of the House Freedom Caucus.
Okay, so Schoolhouse Rock moment: To pass any bill, it normally has to first go through the powerful Rules Committee. But former Speaker McCarthy, with a gun to his head, had stacked that Committee with far-right House Freedom Caucus types. They threatened to block the CR and let it die in the Rules Committee.
So Speaker Johnson did exactly what McCarthy did: He went around the Rules Committee, with the help of Democrats, to bring the CR to the House Floor. You can do this if you get a special vote of at least two-thirds of the House, meaning Johnson would have to rely mostly on Democratic votes.
The CR passed, with all but two Democrats voting in favor, while over 90 Republicans opposed it. That meant it was more of a Democratic bill than a Republican bill.
The leopards in the Freedom Caucus were furious, and they came for Johnson’s face. On Thursday, they blocked his next appropriations bill by killing the rule in committee. Then they took a victory lap for (checks notes) killing their own party’s bills.
See? Faces meet leopards.
This wasn’t the first time hardliners had done this: Speaker McCarthy suffered multiple rule vote fails in the weeks before his own ouster. This is never supposed to happen. It hadn’t happened in 20 years before McCarthy. He quickly became a SINO—a Speaker in Name Only—because if you don’t control the rules, you don’t control the floor.
Exasperated, and desperate to give the screaming toddlers in their conference a time out, the GOP leadership decided that last vote was it. No more work could happen given these bill obustructions. So they sent everyone home, a full week before Thanksgiving.
Our tax dollars at work, folks.
Speaker Johnson is trapped, by the way. His face is pretty much jelly on leopard toast. When the House returns, they have to pass a number of appropriations bills so they have at least something to come to the table with against the Senate Democrats and the White House in January.
But there is no world in which we can both pass a necessarily bipartisan budget and keep the GOP hardliners from pouncing on whoever helped pass it.
Tuber with a Capital T
Over in the Senate, it’s more gridlock. The fundamentals of the crisis begun and maintained by a single senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, remain unchanged. Tuberville is maintaining his one man “hold” on all military promotions, now going on nine months, dealing a serious blow to our military leadership and servicemember morale at a time of great international peril.
He’s doing it ostensibly to protest the military’s policy of reimbursing travel expenses and granting paid leave for personnel who need to travel out of state to obtain abortion services—a direct consequence of Dobbs. But the real reasons may be far darker, up to and including keeping all these vacancies open for Donald Trump to reverse or fill with his own cronies should he be reelected. (This is only conjecture, but we should not dismiss this possibility. It is something straight out of the McConnell and Bannon playbooks.)
Around two weeks ago, I wrote about how a group of fairly angry and determined GOP senators decided to take on Tuberville directly. They included Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK). They forced Tuberville to object, one by one, to all of the military promotions they raised on the Senate floor. Tuberville was unmoved.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats and independents prepared a plan to waive the rules around individual holds in the hope that they could gain the votes of at least nine Republicans and move all the held-up promotions forward at once. Why nine votes? With 51 Democratic and independent votes in favor, this would get around the filibuster requirement of at least 60 votes to end Senate debate.
That plan’s path forward is now highly uncertain. The proposal passed out of the Rules Committee, but on a strict party line vote, which doesn’t bode well for the full Senate vote. There is no indication that it has the support of the nine GOP senators it needs, but its backers still hope enough of them will see the light.
The GOP knows this vote to waive the rules will put the Republican Party squarely on record as failing to stop Tuberville when it had the opportunity. It will become a campaign issue for 2024 as well, especially if the holds continue to stack up and Tuberville refuses to relent while his own colleagues fail to lift the blockade—even though they had the power and the clear chance to do so.
Faced with this dilemma, the GOP must have some master plan to get itself out of it, right? Some offramp for Tuberville that spares the military further anguish and paralysis?
Well… no. The plan sounds pretty much the same as before: Get a bunch of Republican senators to rail against Tuberville on the Senate floor. Then he’ll object, and there will be more angry speeches. Nothing will have changed. That may have played well for the cameras the first time, but the American public and military families could see a second show as nothing but a farce, more empty words without real action.
Meanwhile, Tuberville is a happy leopard, snacking on the faces of military commanders and GOP senators alike, secure in the knowledge that his own party’s leaders won’t make him stop.
Facing the cats down
There are enough “moderate” votes in the GOP conference in the House to move a budget through the House with an assist from the Democrats. There is no fundamental reason that a far-right faction of extremists should hold more sway than the slightly larger group of “traditional” Republicans, who would rather keep the government open than shut it all down.
And there are enough self-described centrists within the GOP in the Senate to put a stop to Tuberville. It would only take nine of them, and they could even claim the prized mantle of doing it to protect our military and to honor the hard work of servicemembers. But the MAGA right, including Tuberville’s own staff member, is threatening to primary any senator who votes for the rule waiver. That might be enough to scare off any supporters within the GOP Senate.
This underscores a sad truth. The main difference between the radicals and the traditional Republicans is a willingness to stand up for their principles and what they really believe. The far-right extremists in the GOP are doing just that, even if their beliefs and values are dangerous and misguided. But the “moderates” and “centrists” in the party are too afraid of the blowback, intimidation and even death threats they would receive individually. So they do nothing, even when their own faces are at risk of being eaten.
A leopard doesn’t change its spots, after all.