Fast Times at Rayburn High

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Abby Livingston
November 3, 2023

The incandescent Mike Johnson honeymoon period vanished almost the very moment Republican House members returned to D.C. on Wednesday night. After a long weekend, things are back normal at the Capitol following the first votes of the week—by which I mean Republicans have returned to their policy of open warfare on Twitter, rather than screaming and crying behind closed doors. Here’s who’s at whose throats today: 

  • Uncivil war: To celebrate his expulsion reprieve, George Santos tangled with one of his leading Congressional critics, Steve Womack, on Twitter/X. The Arkansas congressman compared Santos’s purgatory to Groundhog Day, while Santos went after Womack’s son’s legal troubles. Santos, of course, is not out of the woods yet—the two-thirds vote needed to throw him out of Congress may be delivered shortly after the House Ethics Committee releases a report on his alleged misconduct in the coming weeks.

    Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene is back in business. After the House blocked her censure resolution against Rashida Tlaib, she attacked Chip Roy, one of the Republican dissenters, comparing his goatee to that of Colonel Sanders. She then went below the belt by questioning his very Texas authenticity. (He was born in Bethesda.) She also directed friendly fire toward “vaping groping” Lauren Boebert, which might be an upgrade after calling the sophomore Colorado congresswoman a “little bitch” earlier this year. 
  • Blue on blue: Nearly two dozen Republicans joined Roy in opposing the Tlaib censure. Democrats were uniformly in lockstep behind Tlaib as well, demonstrating a public unity that has surprised longtime party strategists who’ve heard the “Dems in disarray” line more than once over the course of their careers. But don’t let that vote mask Democratic division on this issue: In private, there is a deeply personal fight raging between members over the war, which transcends the antagonisms felt during their most recent squabbles over the Iran nuclear deal vote, in 2015, or the health care fight, in 2010.

    Outside of the Pelosi vs. the Squad beef during the summer of 2019, there’s been a foxhole camaraderie within the party during the Trump era. So this recent infighting, however private, has blindsided many in the caucus. One former chief told me that the last time he witnessed this level of Dem-on-Dem discord was during the Iraq War.
  • Senate snobbery: During the House G.O.P. chaos, there was plenty of smugness in the Senate over the childish antics across the Rotunda. But now that Senate Republicans seem ready to take it to Tommy Tuberville for his blockade of Pentagon appointments, all hell has broken loose, with a Tuberville official-side staffer reaching out to anti-abortion groups to encourage primary threats against his G.O.P. colleagues. More of this is coming. Welcome to the chaos.
  • Life comes at your fast: Meanwhile, I’m hearing that House Republicans are worried about an attendance problem: It’s getting harder to wrangle members back to votes after a hellacious October. One plugged-in G.O.P. lobbyist even characterized it to me as old-fashioned, Jeff Spicoli-style truancy. If this persists, House Republicans may have to delay votes as a government shutdown barrels toward the chamber.

    Of course, it would have been hard to pass any conservative priorities into law, given the Democratic-held Senate and White House. But the Republican compulsion to act on personal grudges has a price: three lost weeks without a speaker, time and energy spent on Twitter fights, missed votes and censure resolutions are eating up valuable floor time with no assurances that Republicans will hold the chamber next year.