Jan 17, 2024 - Politics & Policy

The House's suspended majority

House Speaker Mike Johnson (speaking) outside the White House with Reps. Mike Turner (left), Mike Rogers (center) and Michael McCaul. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

House Republican leaders are coming to terms with a cold, uncomfortable reality this January: They'll need Democratic votes to pass any real legislation in 2024.

Why it matters: Call it governing under suspension. Legislation can pass the House, but only with Democratic support.

Driving the news: GOP leaders have telegraphed to rank-and-file lawmakers that any consequential piece of legislation this year — like funding the government or a potential tax bill — will be brought to the floor under the suspension of the rules, according to aides and lawmakers.

How it works: The procedural move essentially bypasses the House Rules Committee, preventing conservatives from strangling legislation before it reaches the floor.

  • It then requires a two-thirds majority to pass, or roughly 290 votes, according to Punchbowl News.
  • In practice, it makes the House look suspiciously like the Senate, where legislation typically needs 60 votes to stand any chance of becoming law.

The big picture: Congress is considering three consequential pieces of legislation this winter: A Ukraine funding and border bill, a tax proposal that trades business breaks for a child tax credit, and legislation to keep the government open (which will likely be two separate bills).

  • The first two are somewhat optional. The third one is more pressing, if lawmakers want to avoid a painful government shutdown.
  • Congressional leaders met with President Biden at the White House Wednesday to air their differences on the emerging Ukraine-border package, which could receive a Senate vote as soon as next week.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson said after the meeting that the border must be "the top priority" in any potential deal — reiterating a hard line that suggests the House won't take up the compromise being hashed out in the Senate.

Flashback: Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) decision to rely on suspension to pass a 45-day stopgap measure led to his untimely downfall.

Between the lines: The hardline positions many House Freedom Caucus members take essentially force GOP leaders to take the suspension route — and thus rely on Democratic votes.

  • That irony is not lost on some lawmakers.
  • "The 'uni-party' that [conservatives] fear becomes a real thing, because then you just have two-thirds," one GOP lawmaker told Axios. "Everything's watered down."
  • "It's actually undermining their own position."

Go deeper: In November, Johnson passed his laddered CR under suspension of the rules.

  • House Freedom Caucus members essentially gave Johnson a freebie for his transgression. Sure, they announced their opposition to the plan, but they didn't come for his gavel. The legislation passed.
  • Then in December, Johnson used the suspension calendar again to pass a short-term bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. Protests were muted.
  • But last week, in a menacing message to Johnson, 13 conservatives voted against a rule that would have allowed a vote on a symbolic bill to condemn Biden's policies on electric vehicles.
  • The warning shot angered Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the chair of the Rules Committee.
  • "We've been more than generous with amendments to all members from all across the conference, but particularly for those that want to cut spending," he told Axios. "I think the Rules Committee members should support the rules."
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