A guide to the 5 GOP factions roiling the House

A guide to the 5 GOP factions roiling the House

Speaker Mike Johnson hasn’t had much success taming the House GOP’s constantly warring factions. The situation has, if anything, gotten worse under his reign.

Just over three months into his speakership, Johnson’s already caught in the same swamp that eventually drowned Kevin McCarthy. A few firebrands are threatening to force a vote to boot him from the job, conservatives are publicly griping about his decisions and battleground district centrists have indicated they’re fed up with walking the plank on tough votes.

Add two more troublesome groups to that mix, thanks in part to the Louisiana Republican’s predecessor. McCarthy allies who are still smarting over their friend’s ejection have criticized Johnson’s leadership style. And the three conservatives McCarthy installed on the powerful Rules Committee — part of a bargain the Californian struck to win the gavel last year — have hobbled Johnson’s ability to get bills on the floor.

“It is a tough job. He’s doing well,” McCarthy told POLITICO as he visited his old stomping grounds for a recent event. “I think you get better every day at it.”

The former speaker, however, declined to evaluate Johnson’s performance more specifically, saying: “I don’t give grades. I wasn’t a teacher.”

Those parts of the House GOP will likely only split further as Johnson tries to navigate a litany of challenges this year while dealing with an even smaller majority than he inherited. Those obstacles include twin government funding deadlines, a twice-punted surveillance fight and growing concerns that Republicans are poised to lose House control in November.

Here’s a breakdown of who’s in those factions and what to watch.

There’s not a ton of appetite within the House GOP to oust another speaker, especially after the three weeks of pain Republicans endured last time. Still, a few are making threats — and the coming weeks will likely determine if any are serious.

Those members largely aren’t the same ones that delivered the final blow to McCarthy. Many are allies of the former speaker, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) who has stated that she will challenge Johnson if he moves forward with certain votes she opposes.

Greene has threatened to move against Johnson if he grants a floor vote on Ukraine aid, something that looks entirely possible in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) told CNN last week that Johnson would face an ouster vote if he put the Senate-passed national security supplemental — that includes aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan but no border provisions — on the floor for a vote.

And Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who was the first to raise the possibility of booting Johnson, has repeatedly criticized the Louisianan for striking deals with Democrats to avert government shutdowns.

Not all conservatives are looking to oust Johnson, but many of them have found other ways to make his life difficult. Namely, jamming up day-to-day governing.

That includes conservatives like Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), who has warned that Johnson leapfrogging them on must-pass bills by leaning on Democratic support will have consequences. Good said leadership should no longer count on the right flank’s support for smaller pieces of party-line legislation that make up most of the House’s output.

Johnson also has to contend with Republicans like Rep. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Dan Bishop (N.C.) and Tim Burchett (Tenn.), who have publicly urged him to get tougher on fighting for conservative priorities.

Plus, conservative Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) played a large role in temporarily snagging Johnson’s drive to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, leading to an embarrassing flop on the floor before a successful second attempt.

It’s not just the right flank causing Johnson some heartburn.

The most prominent rebels in the conference’s ideological middle are a group of New York Republicans from districts won by President Joe Biden. They helped block a spending bill, led the effort to oust former Rep. George Santos, and threatened to take down a rule last month as they tried to force Johnson to cut a deal with them on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction.

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) indicated on Thursday that Republicans will continue to threaten rules or use other tools to make sure their priorities are known and considered in the House, particularly after their SALT deal was blocked last week. The first-term Long Islander said in a brief interview that “every option is on the table.”

Johnson is also facing another contradictory push among his centrists — namely for more Ukraine aid — that will spark conservative ire. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) are working with Democrats on a plan that is expected to link military funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan to border security.

But even as they and other House Republicans make the case both privately and publicly for more Ukraine funding, none of the so-called mod squad has said they will sign a discharge petition — a gambit that would require them to join with Democrats to force a floor vote.

Some of the ex-speaker’s closest allies have found themselves distanced from, or even outright criticizing, his successor.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a onetime confidant of McCarthy’s, got quietly removed by fellow Louisianan Johnson from a little-known but influential position in leadership soon after the gavel changed hands last fall.

Then there’s Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the Financial Services chair who is retiring at the end of this term. He is perhaps the most blatant in his frequent criticisms of Johnson. He has argued the Louisianan is catering too much to his right flank’s demands — a criticism that was often lobbed at McCarthy.

McHenry argued last week that Republicans weakened their policy hand when they ejected the Californian.

“I think you see many House Republicans that took out McCarthy recognize that we’re in a much worse public policy position now. … We’ve got less done in terms of oversight as a result of this. And our political position is weaker,” McHenry told a gaggle of reporters off the House floor.

But he is not the only one. Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio), a close ally of McCarthy, has also been outspoken in his criticisms of Johnson. And Greene has said she is under a different mindset under Johnson, implying she has less respect for the newbie.

McCarthy gave seats on the influential Rules Committee to right-flank gadflies last January — giving some of his most rebellious members huge new sway over what bills can be brought to the floor.

Johnson inherited that headache and didn’t make changes to the panel when he took over in October. While McCarthy allies argue the new members helped them gauge whether a bill would succeed on the floor, Johnson allies say it has handcuffed their ability to govern effectively.

Roy and Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) together typically have the ability to block any bill they don’t like from getting on the floor. And the three Republicans have flexed their legislative powers already — forcing Johnson to scrap a plan to bring competing spy power bills to the floor late last year.

It’s a dynamic that has led Johnson to surpass the panel on critical legislation like funding the government and a tax deal, bringing bills straight to the floor under another process that requires a two-thirds threshold. That means he has to rely heavily on Democratic support, a tendency deeply disliked by conservatives.

Eleanor Mueller contributed to this report.

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