The new House speaker, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) has a phrase he’s kept returning to in order to describe how he wants the House GOP to be seen: “like a well-oiled machine.”
He mentioned it in his first appearance before reporters after being named speaker-designate last week, and he did so again on Sunday in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox News.
“We have a great esprit de corps right now amongst House Republicans. Our team is ready. We’re working like a well-oiled machine,” he said. His first victory was a bill that passed narrowly Thursday to provide weapons to Israel and cut funding for tax enforcement, a bill Senate Democrats say is a non-starter there.
But as much as Johnson wants to highlight all the ways Republicans are coming together in the House following a bitter three-week fight over who should lead them that reopened old wounds, there’s ample evidence the 221-member conference has a way to go on healing.
And there’s some signs Senate Republicans may be catching a bit of the fractious fever as well.
On Wednesday night, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) brought to the House floor a resolution to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) over what Greene said were antisemitic and insurrectionist activities involving an Oct. 18 protest against the Israel-Hamas war Tlaib participated in.
Greene compared the protest to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, even though the Oct. 18 protesters were nonviolent. Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American to be elected to Congress, said Greene’s resolution was Islamophobic.
The resolution failed on a 222-186 vote, with 23 Republicans joining with Democrats in opposition. That was enough for Greene to take to the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to post the names not only of those fellow Republicans who voted with Democrats but even ones who simply skipped the vote.
And her ire did not lessen Thursday, when she referred to Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), with whom she has been feuding for months, as “vaping groping Lauren Boebert,” a reference to an incident caught on video of Boebert behaving inappropriately during a night of live theater on a date.
Boebert, who is also known as a firebrand within the conference, took the high road in response, telling a reporter for the Washington Examiner, “I do not have time for that. … Does that secure our border? Does that lower inflation? Does that lower gas prices? Does that lower grocery prices?”
Another target of Greene’s anger was Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), whom she said voted her out of the House Freedom Caucus club and whom she referred to as “Colonel Sanders,” an apparent reference to Roy’s lush white beard.
Roy, for his part, was having none of it, telling a reporter on the way to a party meeting Thursday morning, “Tell her to go chase so-called Jewish space lasers if she wants to spend time on that sort of thing.” (That’s a reference to a Facebook post Greene made prior to being elected that suggested a big California wildfire had been started by lasers from space and which included a mention of a company associated with the Rothschild family, which has long been a focus of antisemitic conspiracy theories.)
There was also lingering bitterness amid the party over the failed effort Wednesday night to expel Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), a move led by fellow New York Republicans. When the vote to expel Santos failed to even gain a majority, much less the two-thirds vote needed, Santos called it a victory for due process.
After the vote, Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) joke-posted Thursday that the House saw its shadow and that meant “there will be two more weeks of Santos.”
In response, Santos escalated. He posted that Womack’s son had been a drug dealer, linking to a news story of the son pleading guilty to charges of drug distribution. “Listen, I have been respectful of my colleagues through this process but I’m sick and tired of people with glass houses casting stones at me,” Santos posted.
In the news story, Rep. Womack was quoted as saying, “There’s not a more helpless feeling than to see your adult children struggle with addiction and its horrific consequences. This is our cross to bear.”
Rep. Womack’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Over in the Senate, Republicans have their own scores to settle.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) spent most of Wednesday evening rejecting requests from members of his own party to end his monthslong blockade of nominations of military officers, which he undertook to force the Pentagon to change its stance on allowing troops to travel for abortion access.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Tuberville it was unfair to block promotions in the military for people who had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
“You just denied this lady a promotion. You did that…she had nothing to do with this policy,” Graham told Tuberville after he rejected one promotion.
Johnson’s first big legislative test came amid this aura of gripes and interpersonal strife, as he sought to pass a $26.7 billion bill to provide weapons to Israel for its war with Hamas, and to simultaneously cut funding for IRS tax enforcement. While successful, it was a tough vote for a few Republicans, as two, including Greene, opposed it, and its prospects in the Senate are dim.
Israel aid being stalled would create a new headache for Johnson and his fledgling speakership.
Meanwhile, the most attention-getting members of the House Republican conference will likely continue to try to dunk on other members in public as Johnson tries to rebuild his party’s team spirit.
And occasionally, those members may reinforce each other. Greene emerged from the U.S. Capitol Wednesday night and called out to the scrum of reporters surrounding Santos as he took a rhetorical victory lap over not being expelled from Congress.
“George is innocent till proven guilty!” she yelled.
“That’s right!” replied Santos.