So, good news: We averted a government shutdown! Bad news: We have to do this all again in two months. During presidential primary season.
This tragicomic mixture of news exists because Speaker Mike Johnson successfully passed another Continuing Resolution (stopgap bill) to keep most of the government open through February and a smaller number of spending priorities functioning through the middle of January. Johnson did this by successfully gathering the splintered GOP caucus and — ah, wait, I’m hearing he just got Democrats to vote for it as his own caucus continued acting like children.
The same maneuver that lost Kevin McCarthy his job and fancy plaque is what got Mike Johnson over the finish line just over two Scaramuccis into his Speakership. And yet, it seems that his hold on the gavel is as strong as ever. What gives?
First, one must consider the tremendous and terrifying sense of embarrassment that would overcome any of these nincompoops should they decide to overthrow another Speaker three weeks after their marathon, protracted calamity in selecting one. Next, very few of these people are serious in any meaningful way, and so have neither the spine nor the gumption to stand on principle, let alone one as bad as: government never work good. And finally, they’re betting that after a few weeks of war headlines, Democratic infighting, bad news for Biden, and holiday cheer, they can start the fight in the new year with the voters none the wiser.
It is horrible to even mention it, but we have fewer than 60 days until the Iowa caucus, and then it will be about six weeks (max) until most of these Congresscritters are facing primaries. You know what helps protect against a primary loss in a district that has been perfectly designed to allow only Republicans to win? Starting meaningless and terrible fights over funding the federal government! We’re cruising towards Shutdown 2: Electric Boogaloo, just because these pusillanimous dickweeds need some red meat to throw at the base. Delightful.
The real test of Johnson’s leadership comes between now and then, as he will have to figure out some way of both mollifying the absolute chucklefucks that want to play hide and seek with grenade pins in the federal budget and corralling the tired and disgraced invertebrates that make up the bulk of his caucus while negotiating with Democrats to do almost all the heavy lifting—again. You can tell I feel bad because I’m breaking out the microscopic violin for him.
Johnson isn’t a more effective Speaker or a better negotiator than McCarthy at the moment; he’s just the lucky schmuck with the right combo of reactionary politics who was last on the humiliation conga line. Depending on how well the nascent presidential race goes (omigod make it stop), his members could be acting out like a preschool class given a chocolate fondue fountain in an effort to either support the increasingly unhinged rhetoric of the likely nominee or to deflect from his numerous court cases. And Democrats in an election year have every incentive to allow GOP dysfunction to ram us into a shutdown—all the better to campaign on replacing the party in charge.
That we’ve come to this point is an embarrassment for the entire government, but it’s also, oddly, an opportunity. Not for them to do better—that ship has sailed—but for us, as voters, to put them under a microscope. We’re about to have a chance to see the process work up close during an election season where every news cycle is going to be a cage match. We can decide whether this behavior deserves more space, more support, more time, more power—or less. We can frustrate the plans to perpetually kick the can down the road by demanding results: serious plans by serious people to tackle serious problems like the ones we have as a country. And if we aren’t satisfied by the infighting, backbiting, cruelty and incompetence that the GOP Congress is sure to display, then we will have the chance to turn out and punish them for it.
That feels like some unambiguously good news, at last.