Many adjectives have been deployed to describe House Republicans. Hapless. Thuggish. Clownish. Ineffective. But the most politically descriptive: Minority.
After all, a minority party cannot pass major legislation its leadership deems necessary. That has happened now three times: once on the debt ceiling and twice to keep the government open. Democrats, who have fewer seats, are effectively delivering what meager results the House has accomplished under Republican speakers.
At various times in the House leadership struggle, Acela-corridor pundits pleaded with Democrats to help Republicans out of their leaderless mess. Without getting anything in return, they were expected to contribute votes to a speaker who would then be deemed illegitimate by the MAGA extremists because of the Democrats’ support. Fortunately, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., resisted the foolish pleas.
And now, Jeffries has the best of both worlds. He’s not responsible for electing a speaker whose Christian fundamentalist views and financial questions make him a weight around the necks of Republicans in swing districts. He can castigate Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., for his noxious views and effectively produce legislation that does not compromise Democrats’ minimum standards. At a Wednesday news conference, Jeffries emphasized, “House Republicans are unable to govern on their own. Period, full stop, no further observation necessary.”
You don’t have to take Jeffries’s word for it. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) bellowed from the floor that his Republican colleagues couldn’t “explain to me one material, meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done.”
Republicans just do not have a majority that can govern.
So who is governing? Democrats. That is essentially what happened with the funding bill. Aside from the split timelines (an obvious gimmick intended to distract clueless Republicans), Democrats got everything they wanted in the spending bill. Republicans didn’t. No massive social spending cuts and no abortion riders or other poison pills.
Jeffries told reporters on Wednesday, “House Democrats came into this week with three principal objectives with respect to the continuing resolution.” He explained: “First, no spending cuts. Mission accomplished. Second, no extreme right-wing policy changes. Mission accomplished. Third, no government shutdown. Mission accomplished.”
Democrats exposed that Republicans, or at least Johnson and his closest allies, do not have the stomach for a shutdown. Therefore, with all the cards, Democrats deftly played the hand they were dealt. So what comes next? At the bare minimum, the House will repeat the spending exercise twice more, once for each half of the spending arrangement. There is zero reason to think Republicans can actually pass full-blown appropriations bills for military construction, veterans affairs, transportation, housing and the Energy Department before Jan. 19, and the rest before Feb. 2. So, Democrats again will vote to prevent a shutdown and extend the government’s operations by weeks or months.
However, Democrats might well be able to do more than that, even without the mathematical majority. The governing majority they put together for the spending bills (virtually all Democrats plus 127 Republicans) can be deployed for other purposes.
In December, for example, the Senate could send over a bill reflecting some or all of President Biden’s supplemental spending priorities, including more spending for immigration control and aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. Johnson and his MAGA caucus are likely to resist that, given that many have decided to run interference for Russian President Vladimir Putin and that others prefer to exploit the border situation without offering any of their own solutions.
However, it only takes 218 members to execute a motion to discharge. That’s far fewer than the 336 combined Republican and Democratic votes that passed the spending bill. Surely some of the endangered Republicans from districts Biden won don’t want to be stuck voting against these items.
Even Johnson, previously a foe of more Ukraine spending, has been signaling he could support it. Whether he combines it with Israel funding or sends it to the floor separately (or has it thrust upon him through a discharge petition), it certainly seems there would be enough votes to pass the desperately needed aid, even if a majority of the votes are supplied by Democrats. He could also shore up aid to Taiwan, which confronts China, Republicans’ favored international foe.
Beyond keeping the government lights on and supporting our allies when the world is ablaze, there might be little else the House could manage. Democrats nevertheless can claim to have protected the entire legislative output of Biden’s first two years and, one hopes, to have upheld our international responsibilities against the MAGA isolationists. (They’ve also tied Republicans’ “investigations” in knots, depriving Republicans of a single talking point from dozens of hearings and scores of baseless charges.)
Now, imagine what Democrats could do if they had the mathematical majority. You can bet that will be part of their pitch in 2024.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post. She is the author of “Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump” and is host of the podcast Jen Rubin’s “Green Room.”