Johnson’s Daunting 2024 Task: ‘We Have to Keep the Team Together’
If anyone’s grateful for a break from Washington, it’s Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). After a whirlwind two months that threw him in the deep end of political problem-solving for his fractured caucus, 2024 is shaping up to be even more challenging. Faced with some unexpected departures (Reps. George Santos and Kevin McCarthy to name two), the GOP’s House majority — which was already dancing on a knife’s edge — has all but vanished. “It’s certainly concerning for our new leadership and them trying to get things done,” Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) insisted.
But then, getting things done wasn’t exactly the theme of 2023, it turns out. The primetime drama of the speakership, coupled with fierce partisan divides and sideshows like Hunter and Joe Biden’s business dealings, have put the 118th Congress on track to be “one of the most unproductive in modern history,” Axios points out.
“Just 20 bills have been passed by both chambers and signed into law this year, with another four currently awaiting President Biden’s signature,” Quorum’s data shows. And that number will be tough to beat next year, with the White House and congressional majorities in the balance. “We have to keep the team together,” Johnson urged before Christmas recess, “and I think everybody understands the importance of the job that we have to do. We have to demonstrate that we can govern well. When we do that, I think we’ll expand the majority and we’ll be in a much better situation in the next round.”
Expanding the majority is a real possibility with Congress’s near-historic level of retirements and vacancies. But unfortunately, so is losing it. “Congress is literally on pace to have more members leave this election cycle — before the elections come up — than any cycle at least over the last 10 years,” former Congressman Jody Hice pointed out on “Washington Watch.”
That spells trouble for a GOP that went into this year with an extremely slim majority, FRC Action’s Brent Keilen explained — “[just] 222 seats in a chamber where you need 218 to pass anything. So you can only afford to lose four votes in your caucus to get anything through, which is a big deal.” Especially in a party with strong conservatives and moderates jockeying for position. “So to get consensus — almost 100% on some of these key issues — can be a difficult task,” Keilen warned.
“And then to complicate things, those current congressional districts [up for grabs in 2024] are not certain,” he continued. “We just saw [the final redistricting] in North Carolina … which is expected to help the Republicans. They’re projected to pick up maybe three, four new seats there because of those new those new lines.” But looking at the broader election map, there are other states — like New York — that are redrawing those congressional lines in a way that will favor Democrats. “So all of these things make a huge difference.”
The race to replace ousted Republican George Santos is slated for mid-February, but as Keilen said, “this is a toss-up House district that actually leans a little bit Democrat. So there’s a chance that the Republicans don’t keep that seat. Then we have Kevin McCarthy’s announcement that he’s stepping down at the end of the year. … Then, thirdly, you have another Republican in Ohio, Bill Johnson, who’s announced that he’s going to retire sometime by mid-March. … So you’re looking at a situation there where at least for some period of time, you could have three House seats that just last month were in GOP control that could be vacant. … So you’re talking about even a couple of health accidents away from the majority going the other way.”
If people thought Speaker Johnson had a hard job before, it just got monumentally more difficult. “We’re just a heartbeat or so away from this whole thing being a devastating situation,” Hice warned.
Of course, the possible silver lining is the overall 2024 picture. Of the 40 members (seven senators, 33 congressmen) who’ve announced they aren’t running for reelection, most are Democrats — meaning the Left will have more districts and states to defend.
“This is a great reminder of just how important every race is,” Keilen said. “Every seat matters. Every vote really matters.” And for now, with conservatives a breath away from losing control of the House, that should “really inform how we pray for our government officials,” he urged. “Of course, pray for them legislatively that they vote the right way and make the right decisions. That’s important. But this is a reminder to also pray for … their health, pray for their safety, pray for good judgment, these sorts of things, because all of it really makes a difference.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.