Already a member? Log In

The G.O.P. Hardliners Who Stole Christmas

Speaker Mike Johnson can only afford to lose two votes next year if he wants to pass bills without relying on Democrats.
Speaker Mike Johnson can only afford to lose two votes next year if he wants to pass bills without relying on Democrats. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
December 20, 2023

With George Santos gone and Kevin McCarthy bailing out of Congress on New Year’s Eve, Speaker Mike Johnson can only afford to lose two votes next year if he wants to pass bills without relying on Democrats, thus inviting the scorn and enmity of his trigger-happy colleagues on the far right. Unfortunately, there are more than two members who would raise a racket if he were to compromise. There are probably 10 or so, if I had to wager a guess—a fraction of a fraction of the Freedom Caucus—but each has their own unique agenda, and an outsize ability to derail any vote, especially any of the upcoming spending bills.

At the moment, the holdouts are more like a loose confederation than an organized bloc, unlike the 20 members who opposed McCarthy’s speaker bid back in January. (Of course, many of those members overlap.) Indeed, while they broadly agree on policy—the hardliners want to cut Ukraine funding, increase security at the border, and slash overall spending—they are divided over their preferred tactics, according to a Republican lobbyist familiar with the thinking of both groups.