June 17, 2024

move to the messy middle

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective                                                                     
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
The move to the messy middle
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — Incredibly, conservative House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., Has become the voice of the Republican center, aided in the process by the presumptive GOP presidential candidate former President Donald Trump. With a civil war brewing between House Republicans, Johnson met with Trump in Mar-a-Lago to secure his backing and shore up his position against the far-right flank House Freedom Caucus.
          Trump, assured of his party’s presidential nomination, had already been moving to the center, modifying his views on abortion, Ukraine, and government debt.
          Having thus astutely determined in Machiavellian fashion where Trump would stand, Johnson returned to Washington to make his move.
          Legislative leaders of both parties have struggled to pass long awaited U.S. military assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, together with humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza. The package has languished for months, blocked by hardliners in the Republican caucus who threatened to take down Johnson if he acquiesced to the Biden administration’s pleas for urgent action, an urgency now reinforced in the wake of Iran’s massive missile attack against Israel.
          To the surprise of many Johnson came with Trump’s blessing to stare down Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fl., ringleaders in the House Freedom Caucus, who tried to stop aid to Ukraine. Johnson finally concluded that no matter how many concessions he made, Greene and Gaetz would not back the aid package, and now he no longer needs their votes.
          This is history in the making: a Republican Speaker declaring he will do his job, which is passing legislation essential to the security of America’s allies – and let the chips fall where they may when it comes to his tenure as Speaker.
          Johnson needed Democratic votes to get the legislation across the finish line, but it was not the first time Johnson relied on Democrats to take difficult votes.
          Way more Democrats than Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling to prevent a national default. More Democrats than Republicans backed Johnson to keep the government open and funded.
          What was different this time? If the hardliners invoke their authority in a deal made with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for one representative to call for a vote to recall the Speaker, Johnson will need Democratic votes to retain power.
          It is a risky bet on both sides because the margin between the two parties is so close. After early retirements, Republicans are left with 217 seats; Democrats have 213, which means Republicans can only afford one defection to pass anything with GOP-only votes.
          If Greene carries through with her threat to call for the Speaker’s removal, Democrats appear ready to use their votes to keep Johnson in his job. Greene infuriated her colleagues on both sides of the aisle with her tirade in a Wednesday committee hearing about how Nazis have taken hold in Ukraine, repeating false claims made by Russian President Putin to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
          Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fl., whose grandparents escaped the Holocaust, assailed Greene for using Nazi propaganda to justify her refusal to support Ukraine. “It is enough of this disgusting behavior, using Nazis as propaganda,” he said, suggesting Greene visit the Holocaust Museum not far from the U.S. Capitol to understand what the Nazis did.
          “If there ever was a time for the 118th Congress to come together, now is the moment. Churchill or Chamberlain?” Moskowitz told Fox News, invoking a comparable moment to choose that was repeated by many lawmakers who have had their fill of Greene.
          If the newly minted paragon of moderation, Speaker Johnson, stands strong, he will be living proof of Churchill’s observation about messy democracy: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
          Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2024 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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