A house divided against itself

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Mike Johnson won the house speakership after a three week vacancy in the position.

Max Marcello | Staff Writer

Well they’re at it again. I had hoped that the Kevin McCarthy fiasco would have been the end of the dysfunction in the House of Representatives. Last October saw far-right opportunists and mainstream provocateurs publicly cannibalize their own party leadership, leading to the ousting of Speaker McCarthy.

This created a lengthy succession crisis in which the established Republican leadership could not secure enough support to attain the gavel. After a grueling three-week process, a dark horse emerged from the bayou to become second in line for the presidency.

Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana, with his newfound celebrity status, began making media appearances on Fox News in an attempt to demonstrate to the Republican voters and Americans at large that the party was going to act united in the House.

I took Johnson at his word for several key reasons. Firstly, the party’s razor-thin majority in the House is in jeopardy. Dysfunction and partisan in-fighting are only going to hurt the GOP in the election that lies ahead and any representative would be naive not to do everything in their power to control the chamber.

Second, Johnson’s quiet, unassuming nature combined with his beliefs and work before politics greatly buoyed his speakership prospects. Johnson is an avowed Evangelical Christian who shares many of the beliefs of those who have quickly become a lifeline to the GOP, allowing them to dominate the “Bible Belt.”

In line with these beliefs, Johnson is a young-earth creationist, who opposes the separation of church and state and worked for the Alliance Defending Freedom after law school. The ADF is the country’s most organized and successful Christian legal organization, and it has made headlines for court cases supporting prayer in school, allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers and putting forward issues surrounding abortion.

When the case Lawrence v. Texas made its way to the Supreme Court in 2003, Johnson authored a freind of the court brief curiae arguing that anti-sodomy laws were constitutional. Given this, Johnson’s position among the right wing of his party should have been secure. However, the coalition that deposed McCarthy is now gearing up against Johnson for largely the same reasons: the budget.

The debate on foreign aid has bitterly divided the Republican party. Many hardliners oppose any form of financial assistance, especially to Ukraine. However, Democrats have insisted that no budget can be put forward without the inclusion of foreign aid to Israel and Ukraine. Ultimately, Johnson and his Democratic counterpart Hakeem Jeffries agreed on a budget that allowed foreign aid to go through, which is where concerns about Johnson’s speakership eligibility emerged.

As the challenges to Johnson gain steam, it should be no surprise that this Congress may very well be the most unproductive in United States history. Rather than assemble to do the public’s bidding, Congress has reached new levels of partisan toxicity both between and within the parties. While there is nothing wrong with representatives holding leadership accountable and shifting course when necessary, the accelerated pace of recalcitrant behavior from political egoists hurts everyone. Johnson, an already hard right figure facing challenges, is a dire warning of what is to come.

Democrats are no angels in this situation, either. Their over-insistence that foreign aid must be included in any spending omnibus is deeply shortsighted. Regardless of the strength of the American economy or the capital surplus the nation has, the first priority of the United States is to be the caretaker of the United States.

Financial and military assistance to other nations, while important, should not be the hill Democrats are willing to die on. In addition to pushing for more foreign aid, the party has relished in the GOP’s implosion.

Unfortunately, they have failed to recognize a concerning pattern in these successive leadership disputes. Should Johnson be removed, we can surely expect an even-further-right speaker.

Although I vehemently disagree with Johnson, I would rather see him than Marjorie Taylor Greene lead the House of Representatives. For the time being, Democrats should break from the groupthink and seek rapprochement with the Speaker.

Given that this is my final column, an unorthodox conclusion is in order. I’d like to thank all the staff and editors of The Duke who I have had the utmost pleasure working with and learning from. You have given me guidance, friendship and a reinvigorated sense of curiosity and passion for writing. I also want to thank my family and the friends who have given me support along the way. Finally, I want to thank you, the readers, as many of you have approached me on occasion to give comments on my work. I was unaware that I was such a polarizing figure and had such a passionate and dedicated readerbase.