Republicans finally acknowledge Kevin McCarthy’s appeal

For a span of nine months during his speakership, Kevin McCarthy appeared to be a man holding a title without any real authority. He was constantly forced to think on his feet in order to maintain his position, as various factions within his party were always ready to betray him at a moment’s notice.

In just four months of assuming power, Speaker Mike Johnson has achieved the seemingly unthinkable: he has made McCarthy appear as a skilled strategist and a House master.

In recent days, I have interviewed several Republicans from various House factions, including those who support Senator Johnson and those who were never particularly enthusiastic about his rise. These interviews shed light on a speaker who appears to be improvising when it comes to important matters such as strategy, messaging, and vote-counting.

There is a growing trend of McCarthy nostalgia, as people express their disappointment over Johnson’s apparent lack of control over the speaker’s gavel.

According to a senior Republican lawmaker, Kevin is known for his strategic approach. He would carefully consider his options and seek input from others before making a decisive move. However, the lawmaker expressed doubts about Johnson’s ability to plan and execute effectively. It seems that Johnson lacks a clear and coherent strategy in comparison to Kevin.

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Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a libertarian gadfly who was never seen as an ally of McCarthy, openly expressed his desire for the former speaker after Republicans faced another embarrassing floor defeat.

In a tweet, he expressed his frustration over the outcome, stating that the decision to remove Speaker McCarthy has been an absolute debacle.

Johnson is facing increasing challenges. First, he has to deal with the arrival of a $95 billion supplemental spending bill from the Senate. This bill provides funding for aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

Johnson has been grappling with the issue for months, trying to find a clear strategy to address it.

Last year, he presented a proposition to provide funding for Israel’s security needs during its conflict with Hamas. However, in order to appease the House GOP’s right wing, spending offsets were included, rendering the bill unsuccessful in the Senate. Recently, Johnson reversed his stance and eliminated the offsets, but conservative lawmakers expressed resistance, resulting in the bill’s failure on the floor.

In regards to Ukraine, he initially showed his support for their battle against Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, he later insisted that any aid bill should include border provisions. To the surprise of many, he teamed up with Donald Trump to undermine a Senate compromise on the border issue. Recently, he voiced his criticism towards the Senate bill for its lack of border provisions.

The Senate bill has sparked concerns about the leader’s indecisiveness, which could further solidify his reputation for hesitation when confronted with difficult choices. This lack of transparency leaves other GOP leaders unaware of his thought process until a decision is made, making it challenging to effectively communicate important policy matters to the public and adequately prepare party members for challenging votes.

“I’m just as confused as everyone else about what he wants,” expressed a senior GOP aide when asked about the foreign aid questions. “He hasn’t provided any clear guidance or direction. It feels like he’s solely focused on surviving at the moment.”

Another participant expressed their uncertainty about the speaker’s intentions, stating, “I’m not sure what the speaker wants to do on that – as with most things, he’s all over the place.”

Johnson’s decision-making process has raised questions among observers. Unlike McCarthy, who had a trusted group of advisors known as the “kitchen cabinet,” Johnson lacks a close-knit inner circle within the conference. This absence makes it difficult for others to understand and support his decision-making.

According to some, this agreeable nature has caused miscommunication and missteps. A senior GOP aide stated, “He’s so agreeable on everything that people walk away believing what they want to believe.”

When questioned about these concerns, a spokesperson for Johnson responded, “They feel uninformed because information is leaked to the public without their knowledge.”

According to the source, Johnson is not in a hurry to consider the Senate bill. This is because less than half of Senate Republicans supported it, which the source considers as not having a strong mandate. The source also points out that less than half of the House GOP supported aid for Ukraine in a recent vote. Additionally, the White House is being blamed for refusing to meet with Johnson to discuss the border issue.

New challenges to Johnson’s leadership are emerging rapidly. He aims to resolve a longstanding dispute over the reauthorization of a surveillance program on the House floor this week. This conflict involves Intelligence Committee Republicans, who advocate for stricter surveillance measures, and civil libertarians on the Judiciary panel.

Johnson intends to find a middle ground by presenting a draft that highlights areas of agreement between both parties. This approach would then allow the opposing sides to engage in a debate on the floor, using amendments to reach a resolution. However, some members are already expressing their opposition to this plan and are considering voting against the rule that would bring the legislation to the floor.

As the government funding deadlines loom, Johnson finds himself confronted with two pressing challenges. First, there is the risk of a government shutdown in the coming weeks. Additionally, he must contend with a conservative rebellion following his spending deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. While Johnson has vowed to deliver conservative policy victories, they are likely to be of a modest nature.

Johnson’s biggest challenge lies in the issue of foreign aid. He made it clear on Wednesday that he has no intention of considering the Senate bill. Instead, he intends to prioritize the upcoming appropriations deadlines and allow members to present their own proposals for foreign aid.

The options currently being informally discussed are not completely within Johnson’s control. If Johnson had a stronger grip on power, he could potentially take the Senate bill and incorporate H.R. 2, the House’s stringent border bill. Another possibility would be to divide the bill into smaller parts and hold separate votes for each component.

However, obtaining cooperation from the House Rules Committee would be necessary for either option. This committee is controlled by conservative hard-liners appointed by McCarthy, who effectively hold a veto power.

Johnson’s paralysis stems from the precariousness of his role as the leader of a divided conference with a narrow majority. He also faces the looming threat of a potential right-wing revolt, reminiscent of the one that prematurely ended McCarthy’s speakership.

As McCarthy emphasized during his conversation with reporters on Capitol Hill, postponing difficult decisions does not make them disappear.

“Don’t hesitate to take charge and make decisions,” urged McCarthy. “Once you’ve made a decision, act upon it without fear. I would follow the same approach I took earlier. It’s important not to be intimidated by those who may oppose you.”

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