Opinion: The new Speaker faces an impossible task

No one on Capitol Hill may need a Thanksgiving break more than U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., the little-known GOP lawmaker who was thrust into the role of Speaker of the House in late October.

“I’ve been drinking from Niagara Falls for the last three weeks,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday.

The last two weeks have not been good. Johnson aggravated many in his own party by pressing a plan to extend government funding into 2024, working with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown.

Meanwhile, House Republicans — for a second straight week — couldn’t pass a pair of government funding bills that the GOP designed, amid an ongoing revolt by conservatives.

The lack of GOP unity forced Speaker Johnson to send the House home early for Thanksgiving, with Republicans essentially unable to govern.

“The same core group that fired the Speaker, that undermined Kevin McCarthy, they are now undermining Speaker Johnson,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio.

Johnson tried his best to keep conservatives on board, at one point wading into the middle of Freedom Caucus members on the House floor — engaging in an arm-waving, back-and-forth which escaped the view of TV cameras in the House chamber.

Conservatives let Johnson know their displeasure with his ‘2-step’ plan to keep the government funded through early 2024 because it was not paired with any spending cuts or border security measures.

“I will not support more of the same,” declared U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Tex., who went toe-to-toe with Johnson at one point.

“My constituents didn’t send me to Washington to continue funding Nancy Pelosi’s radical policies and reckless spending habits,” said Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, who also voted against the plan.

“What’s going to change in January? Are we going to fight?” asked U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C.

‘Fight’ was an ironic term to use, as Capitol Hill was suddenly witness this week to a hallway fracas involving former Speaker McCarthy, a U.S. Senator ready for a brawl with a hearing witness, and a screaming match in a House committee.

Some of the women who serve on Capitol Hill were not impressed with their male counterparts.

“I thought I was in Congress, not Kindergarten,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Sydney Kamlager D-Calif.

The unruly nature of this Congress is a reminder that House Republicans don’t really have a true governing majority.

Three times this year the House has faced votes on major budget and funding plans, and all three times Democrats have had to provide the crucial votes that Republicans could not.

Let’s all wish Speaker Johnson a Happy Thanksgiving. He has a job where it may be impossible to succeed.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com