May 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats grudgingly save another Mike Johnson bill

House Speaker Mike Johnson, wearing a gray suit and speaking at a podium in front of American flag.

House Speaker Mike Johnson. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Jacob Helberg.

House Democrats found themselves in an increasingly familiar position on Wednesday — bailing out Speaker Mike Johnson despite their frustration with his tactics.

Why it matters: It's a dynamic that will likely take center stage next week when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) introduces a motion to oust Johnson, which Democrats have promised to defeat.

Driving the news: The House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, a bill to empower the Department of Education to crack down on antisemitism on college campuses, by a vote of 320 to 91.

  • Nearly two dozen right-wing Republicans voted against the measure, which would have killed it had 133 Democrats not voted for it.
  • In addition to 33 Republicans, the bill had 14 Democratic co-sponsors – mostly moderates and staunch Israel supporters.
  • Right-wingers and progressives objected to the bill's adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of antisemitism, which includes some anti-Israel rhetoric.

Zoom in: Democrats raged about Johnson holding a vote on the bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), rather than a more comprehensive and bipartisan antisemitism bill introduced by Rep. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.).

  • The bill was seen by many Democrats as more of an effort to divide their party than actually combat antisemitism.
  • "We're mostly frustrated about the fact that it's a bunch of bulls--t that's never going to go anywhere in the Senate, and here we are wasting time and energy," said a House Democrat who voted for the bill.
  • Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), who also voted for the bill, told Axios: "It's so dumb ... I think we want to send a message about antisemitism, but we should do it in a way that's more united."

Between the lines: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a Jewish progressive with concerns about the IHRA antisemitism definition, said he voted for the bill "on the theory that it's basically meaningless and harmless."

  • "The one we really need is Kathy Manning's bill ... [this] was just one more superficial 'gotcha' bill," Raskin said.
  • Other Democratic lawmakers acknowledged the obvious: It's very challenging for Jewish or politically vulnerable Democrats to vote against combatting antisemitism.

Zoom out: The vote is part of a pattern for this Congress in which Democrats rescue bipartisan legislation despite a feeling it's being shoved down their throats in a process that doesn't account for how necessary they are.

  • "I'm hard-pressed to think of any substantial legislation that became law without us," said one senior House Democrat.
  • Former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) asked about the dynamic surrounding the antisemitism vote, grumbled: "Well, it's typical."

The bottom line: "To have this issue continue to be one that's viewed to be a political cudgel, is disturbing. Deeply disturbing," said Jewish Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio).

Go deeper: Democrats fume at Mike Johnson over antisemitism vote

Editor's note: This article has been correct to reflect that Steny Hoyer is a former House majority leader, not minority leader.

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