Feb 6, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Congress' epic implosion

Mike Johnson and McConnell

House Speaker Mike Johnson (left) with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Chaos has reigned over the 118th Congress from the moment it gaveled in, but the developments on Capitol Hill this week — in both the House and the Senate — have revealed new depths to the dysfunction.

Driving the news: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) officially pulled the plug Tuesday on the bipartisan border security deal, acknowledging that pro-Trump Republicans would never allow it to become law in an election year.

Zoom in: The failure of the Mayorkas impeachment, a controversial effort that came after months of pressure from the GOP base, delivered an especially humiliating blow to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

  • Three Republicans — Reps. Ken Buck (Colo.), Mike Gallagher (Wis.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.) — joined all Democrats in voting against the first impeachment of a Cabinet secretary since 1876.
  • A fourth Republican flipped to "no" to allow the vote to be brought back up when House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) returns from cancer treatment, but the optics of the floor debacle will sting for some time.

The big picture: House drama aside, former President Trump's dominance over the Republican Party has effectively frozen President Biden's national security agenda and ground Congress to a halt.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who has been torn to shreds by Republicans for his role in crafting the border deal, was asked Tuesday how it felt to be run over by a bus: "And backed up," Lankford deadpanned.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said it's time for McConnell to resign as GOP leader, delighting MAGA-aligned Republicans who have long despised the Kentucky Republican.

The other side: "It's dispiriting because there used to be a difference between the Senate Republican caucus and the House Republican caucus," a furious Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator, told reporters.

  • "There is no difference. They are just as dysfunctional. They are just as tied to President Trump," he said, accusing Republicans of hanging Lankford out to dry and wasting four months of negotiations.

What to watch: With Ukrainian soldiers running low on ammunition, Congress' "failure theater" — as some members have dubbed it — could have global consequences.

  • Some Senate Republicans have floated passing aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan without the border reforms — in other words, the very request Biden made to Congress four months ago.
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