A “historic and hysterical” house flees after a tumultuous year

The Republican-led House of Representatives ended a year of paralysis and dysfunction on Thursday with the latest in a series of failures to act on an urgent crisis, leaving a vast emergency spending measure canceled to send another infusion of cash to Ukraine for its war against Russia.

It was an early achievement but also a fitting ending to one of the most tumultuous and unproductive legislative years in recent memory, characterized by Republican infighting and a slim majority that left Republican leaders in the House scrambling to govern even the bare minimum.

The failure to reach an agreement with the Senate to strengthen a key U.S. ally facing Russian President Vladimir V. Putin – even though clear majorities in the House and Senate strongly support such action – only underlined the disorder.

Never mind that the House left town without touching a pile of unfinished business on spending legislation to keep the government funded and planned to return after New Year’s Eve, with just eight business days to avoid a partial shutdown if they couldn’t complete it. .

The first House session of the 118th Congress will be remembered primarily for the unprecedented 15 roll-call votes needed in January to elect a speaker who was then unceremoniously dumped 10 months later by a Republican mutiny. This left the House leaderless and unable to work for weeks.

“This fall has been a very actively stupid political environment by a misguided and misguided few,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, the North Carolina Republican he replaced as speaker to oversee the election of Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana.

Like more than three dozen of his House colleagues to date, McHenry, a 10-term veteran, has expressed his opinion on the state of the House by announcing this month that he will not seek re-election next year. On Thursday alone, two more retirees announced their intent to leave, as Republicans and Democrats gave the House no votes for 2023 and headed home for the holidays.

“It was a historic and hysterical event,” said Rep. Steve Womack, Republican of Arkansas and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, which helped block the election of Rep. Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, as speaker . “In one word, I would say: ‘disappointing.'”

The House narrowly avoided the complete disasters of its own making. Congress barely avoided a disastrous federal default that far-right Republicans were provoking by refusing to raise the debt limit without deep spending cuts. It also moved, wasting no time, to avoid a government shutdown, once again bypassing the objections of the far right as its members continued to refuse to move without cutting spending and imposing conservative social policies. Their positions proved impossible to sustain with Democrats in control of the White House and Senate.

Ultimately, President Kevin McCarthy embraced legislation to avert both economic crises and was forced to rely on Democrats to get debt limit relief and interim spending on President Biden’s desk. His bow to reality prompted a handful of Republican opponents, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, to force a vote to vacate the speakership, unseating McCarthy and setting the House on a spiral of searching for his successor.

On Thursday, as he took the floor for the final time, McCarthy, who began his career as a rising Republican star in a different era of partisanship in the House, said he would make the same moves again, even knowing what would come of it. result.

“If your philosophy gives people more freedom, don’t be afraid to lose your job over it,” he said on the floor as his California colleagues celebrated his time in the House. “I knew the day we decided to choose to pay our troops as the war broke out instead of closing it was the right decision.”

The House ended the year with bipartisan approval of a broad Pentagon policy measure. But once again the proposal could pass the Republican-led House only with significant Democratic support. Far-right Republicans pushed back, unhappy that provisions aimed at ending what they saw as “woke” military policies on abortion, transgender care and racial diversity were eliminated, and some members of both parties objected are opposed to an expansion of warrantless surveillance authority.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, took the opportunity to remind Republicans that the little they have done should be credited to Democrats.

“Everything that has happened in this Congress — which isn’t much, because of the extremist MAGA Republicans — has happened because House Democrats led the way,” he said.

The far-right element of the House Republicans began the year on a positive note, having obtained significant concessions from McCarthy in exchange for their support for his candidacy for president. They saw themselves in the driving seat of spending and other policy issues. They have flexed their muscles in non-traditional ways, even objecting to the procedural motions needed to introduce bills, which have historically been strict votes along party lines. This prevented their leaders from carrying out the measures they opposed. Their party’s narrow margin of control gave them power.

McCarthy often leaned in their direction, but the path typically led to a dead end as more extreme policies faced opposition from both traditional Republican conservatives and congressional Democrats.

On spending, for example, McCarthy leaned to the far right and agreed to set levels below the debt limit deal he reached with Biden, infuriating Democrats and frustrating Republicans. The conservative position has made it difficult to advance legislation, and the appropriations process has stalled despite Republican commitments to consider and pass 12 individual spending bills.

Given the stalemate, McCarthy went ahead and kept the government open in late September with Democratic votes. Johnson, quickly finding himself in the same situation, relied on Democrats in November to keep government agencies funded until January, when the shutdown issue rears its ugly head again.

Growing Republican opposition to Ukraine funding has blocked the Biden administration’s request for about $50 billion in additional security aid as House Republicans joined their Senate counterparts in calling for tough border policies in return of their support. This led to an impasse that could not be resolved before the Chamber’s departure for vacation.

Rather than give up on what they see as a key foreign policy priority, Senate leaders agreed to keep the House in session next week in hopes of reaching an agreement on border policy changes, even if success seemed a long shot. . Even if the Senate managed to reach an agreement on the immigration changes, it was very uncertain whether they would be enough to prevail in the House.

There was no guarantee that 2024 would be better — and could potentially be worse, given what will be a pitched battle for control of the House. McCarthy and Johnson have both sought to mollify House conservatives by focusing on Biden’s impeachment and challenging the administration on other fronts, but ongoing internal strife appears likely to continue, especially given Johnson’s inexperience.

“There’s no real sign out there that things are going to get better,” Womack said. “In fact, they may deteriorate.”

He added: “The speed of the roller coaster has kind of slowed down, and kind of stabilized. But just around the bend up here, there will be some more twists, some turns and some more tracks that maybe will make us reach for the vomit bag.

Kayla Guo contributed to the reporting.