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Johnson thinks he’s the one
House Republicans will attempt to elect 51-year-old Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson for speaker. Plus: Dem leaders react to the damning Sheila Jackson Lee leaked audio and an update on the Senate minibus.
House Republicans claim they’ve finally found their guy.
Rep. MIKE JOHNSON (R-La.) was nominated late Tuesday night for speaker, the fourth Republican tapped for the role in three weeks and the second nominee of the day.
Johnson claimed his nomination demonstrated a united conference that’s ready to govern. The 51-year-old House GOP conference vice chair is expected to ride his momentum straight to the House floor for a vote a little after noon. House Democrats are expected to be in full attendance and unanimously vote for House Minority Leader HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-N.Y.). With no Democratic absences, Johnson will need 217 votes to be elected speaker.
Despite the optimism from House Republicans expressed after nominating Johnson, the fact remains that we’re on day 22 without a speaker. Government funding runs out in less than a month. There are two competing wars in Europe and the Middle East, with allies Ukraine and Israel reliant on US support to defend themselves. Domestic issues abound as well—from an affordable housing crisis to a broken immigration system to the emergence of artificial intelligence—that require the attention of focused lawmakers.
If elected, the top two House Republicans will hail from Louisiana. House Majority Leader STEVE SCALISE, who just two weeks ago was nominated to be the next speaker before withdrawing his bid, had some warm words for his fellow Louisianan in a lengthy endorsement issued just before midnight.
Even if the House was open, addressing these priorities would be a heavy lift. With the House Republican majority focused on settling personal scores instead of governing on behalf of their constituents, progress has been stalled when a sense of urgency is required.
House Democrats, for their part, remain in wait-and-see mode, curious if their Republican counterparts can elect a speaker with GOP votes alone. If now, Democratic leaders say they’re ready and willing to embrace a bipartisan path forward so members can get back to work.
“We’re gonna stick together and make it clear that House Republicans need to reopen the House, end the chaos, end the dysfunction and extremism now so we can go about the business of the American people,” Jeffries told me after a closed-door caucus meeting on Tuesday morning.
Johnson, who did not vote to certify the 2020 presidential election in 2021 or to avoid a government shutdown last month, was actually the second GOP candidate nominated to be speaker on Tuesday.
Four hours after surviving a five-round secret-ballot election Tuesday morning to become the Republican nominee for speaker, House Majority Whip TOM EMMER (R-Minn.), the man responsible for counting GOP votes for his party’s agenda, dropped his candidacy for the top gavel.
Emmer was the latest member of House Republican leadership to watch his nomination go up in flames. As I mentioned, Scalise was thought to be the immediate successor to Rep. KEVIN McCARTHY (R-Calif.), who was ousted by a group of eight House conservatives led by Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) on Oct. 10 ten months after McCarthy changed the House rules to allow a single rank-and-file to remove the speaker.
House Judiciary Committee Chair JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio) was up next. But he ended his candidacy last week after he failed to cobble together the Republican votes against fierce Democratic opposition.
“There are reasonable folks who are thoughtful legislators on the other side of the aisle—there really are. Jim Jordan is not one of them,” House Democratic Caucus Chair PETE AGUILAR (D-Calif.) told reporters on Tuesday morning. “And we viewed him as a threat to the Speaker's chair. And that's why it was our top priority to make sure he did not sit in the Speaker's chair.”
Aguilar added that despite their opposition to Jordan and unwillingness to save McCarthy from his own members, Democrats are still serious about making the House work.
“We are serious about funding [the] government. We are serious about making sure that we look out for our allies in Israel and Ukraine,” he said. “Those are things that we all want to get accomplished.”
Phillips rankles Dems ahead of presidential challenge
When it still looked like Tom Emmer had a chance to become speaker, Rep. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-Minn.) said he would be willing to vote present on the floor to lower the threshold Emmer would need to win the election in exchange for a series of policy concessions.
Phillips was responding to reporting from Punchbowl News that House Democratic Leadership expressed private openness to helping Emmer win the speakership since Emmer voted to certify the 2020 election.
I asked Hakeem Jeffries about Phillips’ freelancing and he told me he hadn’t seen the post and appeared unconcerned that it would inspire other members to follow in Phillips’ footsteps.
(Although it’s moot now since Emmer is out, Leader Jeffries disputed Punchbowl’s reporting: “Zero discussion,” he said to me when I asked him if leadership spoke about helping Emmer on the floor if he couldn’t win with Republican votes.)
But the move frustrated House Democrats who have prided themselves on speaking in one voice during the House Republicans’ speaker drama and not negotiating in public.
“He really needs to just realize that we have a Democratic Caucus here. He has to decide if he's going to be part of that Democratic Caucus or if he’s just going to be for Dean Phillips,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-Wash.) told me. “It’s really not helpful. I mean, the reality is, all of us are accountable for what happens here. And we need to make sure that Republicans sort this out on their own.”
Rep. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-Texas), who served with Phillips on the House Democrats’ policy and messaging committee before he stepped down in early October, was much more diplomatic in her critique.
“Dean is a good friend and I adore him as a person,” she said. “I do not agree with his strategy and I think it undermines our leader.”
Phillips’ post comes days before he is rumored to launch an ill-fated primary challenge against President JOE BIDEN. Phillips’ campaign bus was spotted on the road, the clearest indication that the two-term congressman will jump into the race.
Pete Aguilar told reporters that Phillips’ post doesn’t speak for the House Democratic Caucus and reaffirmed their support for reelecting President Biden and Vice President KAMALA HARRIS.
He also took the presidential campaign rumors in stride as well.
“One of the great things about serving in this institution is we see colleagues who run for other things,” he said. “People having ambitions and running for other things in this place is just kind of par for the course.”
Dem leaders stick beside Jackson Lee following audio leak
Rep. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-Texas) is weathering a nationwide storm after an audio recording of the longtime Houston lawmaker allegedly berating a staff member leaked last weekend.
Jeffries told me that he hadn’t had a chance to process the news because of an intense travel schedule and said he had only been informally briefed on the matter.
He added that he had not talked to Jackson Lee about the audio where a woman calls a staffer and their colleague “fucking assholes,” “two goddamn big-ass children,” and “fucking idiots” who “serve no goddamn purpose.” The woman also made reference to the person’s weight. Jackson Lee’s campaign said it was unable to verify whether the voice on the recording is her.
“I talk to members of the House each and every week,” Jeffries said. “We’ll see if we cross paths this week.”
Jackson Lee issued a statement expressing regret while accusing Republicans of exploiting the audio to damage her campaign for Houston mayor. (The polls opened on Monday for early voting.)
She also pointed to the opportunities former staff have gained from working for her.
“I expect excellence at all times and I know that it is because of their commitment that I am able to fulfill my duties as an elected official,” Jackson Lee said. “I will never forget the debt of gratitude I and so many others owe them.”
Aguilar told me he did listen to the audio but hasn’t spoken with Jackson Lee.
“Every member has an obligation to treat staff respectfully and to treat each other with dignity and respect,” Aguilar said. “And when people fall short, they should say they fell short. I’ll let her speak for herself on what’s next.”
Jackson Lee has earned a reputation as a tough boss. Her staff has historically experienced high turnover among Texas House members and the entire Congress. Jackson Lee’s turnover rate was in the top five of all House members in 2021 and 2022, according to Legistorm, a resource that tracks congressional staff.
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Senate minibus finally back on track
With the Nov. 17 deadline to keep the government open fast approaching, the likelihood of Congress being forced to pass another temporary funding bill increases with each passing day.
But that hasn’t stopped the House and Senate from attempting to pass versions of their own full-year funding bills to create leverage if both sides find themselves at the negotiating table with the White House in the months ahead.
The House has passed four of the dozen appropriations bills that fund the government along party lines. But they include several anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+, and anti-DEI provisions that stand no chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law by President Biden.
The Senate spent weeks attempting to set up votes for a three-bill package of funding bills—known throughout the hill as a “minibus”—that advanced out of the Appropriations Committee with unanimous approval. But the process has been stalled as leaders worked to clear objections from Republican senators.
Sen. SUSAN COLLINS (R-Maine), the top Republican on the committee, told me last week that the Senate was very close to breaking the logjam. And her counterpart, Sen. PATTY MURRAY (D-Wash.), who leads the committee, announced on Tuesday afternoon a bipartisan agreement to move forward with amendment votes and final passage of the minibus.
The agreement includes 40 amendments on the funding bills for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Agriculture Department and the FDA, and the transportation and housing agencies. 16 of the amendments will be standalone votes. The other 24 will be voted on at the same time.
“We should pass this bill, show we can still focus on solutions, find common ground, and help people like we were all sent here to do,” Murray said in a floor speech. “If we don’t get this passed, we are giving up a crucial opportunity to make sure that the Senate has its voice heard on our nation’s spending priorities, and to make sure we don’t find ourselves at the end of the year once again staring down another [comprehensive funding bill].”
Georgia Democrats slam state Supreme Court abortion decision
The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the state’s six-week abortion ban while a legal challenge against it returns to the trial court.
Members from Georgia’s Democratic congressional delegation immediately attacked the decision as a violation of Georgians’ rights to privacy and equal protection under the state constitution.
“There’s really no words. We have a right to choose what’s best for our bodies. I’ve always stood by that,” Rep. LUCY McBATH told me. “I don’t think any legislators, anyone else other than a woman and her medical professional should be making determinations as to what women can do with their bodies. Men have various health care needs, and I don't think we should be intervening in those decisions.”
Sen. JON OSSOFF called on the state’s legislature and Republican Gov. BRIAN KEMP to repeal the abortion ban, an exercise in wishful thinking of course.
“More than half of Georgia counties have no OB/GYN, and we have one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the country,” Ossoff added.
“Georgia’s extreme abortion ban risks worsening our state’s women’s health crisis.”
RAPHAEL WARNOCK, Georgia’s other US senator, pointed out that the maternal mortality crisis is especially severe in the state’s rural areas.
“Women will die because of this Georgia law,” Warnock said. “Congress can’t wait to protect reproductive health care. We need to act.”
As a coalition of physicians, reproductive health centers, and reproductive justice advocates prepares to resume their challenge to the ban, the White House says the anti-abortion movement won’t stop at the state level.
“Republican elected officials are doubling down and calling for a national abortion ban that would criminalize reproductive health care in every state,” Press Secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE said in a statement. “President Biden and Vice President Harris won’t stop fighting until the protections of Roe v. Wade are restored in federal law.”