Washington View, December 2023

Written by Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President for Governmental and Political Affairs | Published: December 11, 2023

Culture Wars, Crises, and Chaos: The U.S. House Melts Down

House Republicans have been using the Appropriations process—the annual moving of bills to fund all government programs and agencies—to promote their extreme ideological agenda. For example, on September 28, the House passed the 2024 State Department and Foreign Operations spending bill by a vote of 216–212. Not a single Democrat voted for the bill—a rare occurrence.

The reason is not hard to grasp. The bill slashes funding for international family planning programs by $150 million, or 25%. It includes provisions to bar any support to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and its work to expand access to contraceptives, family planning services, maternal health, and emergency care in 150 countries. It will—if signed into law—reimpose the Global Gag Rule. It also includes a host of other provisions attacking LGBTQ rights and racial and gender equity. The other spending bills that came to the House floor are much the same.

None have any chance of becoming law because they can’t pass the Senate and wouldn’t get President Biden’s signature. That’s why it seemed that the federal government was sure to shut down on September 30. It didn’t, only because on the day before time ran out, Congress passed a short-term bill to keep programs funded until November 17. The bill was brought up by then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-20) with no aid for Ukraine—another demand by the far right wing of the Republican caucus in the House—and no time to read it or offer amendments.

Despite the opposition of the House Freedom Caucus—ironically named, given their opposition to reproductive freedom—the short-term bill passed. More Democrats voted for it than Republicans. Days later, several members of the Freedom Caucus introduced a resolution to “vacate the chair” to remove the Speaker of the House from his position. The small group called for his removal because they claimed he worked with Democrats to pass the funding bill against their wishes. Democrats, on the other hand, were convinced that McCarthy was using the short-term bill to deflect blame for shutdown onto them. By eliminating funding for Ukraine, they believe, the bill was designed to cause them to vote against it en masse. When McCarthy went on TV the day after the vote and said Democrats were hoping for a shutdown, they saw their suspicions confirmed. The host of the show, though, called McCarthy out for this claim, pointing out that the Democrats were responsible for passing the bill to keep the government open.

In the end, McCarthy was dumped. That set off a three-week period when the House had no Speaker and no ability to legislate. First, the second ranking Republican, Steve Scalise (R-LA-1), was nominated as the next Speaker. Scalise once compared himself favorably to David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK. But he failed to gain the majority needed to be elected and withdrew. Then it was Jim Jordan (R-OH-4), the current chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who has been credibly accused of ignoring the sexual assault of student athletes while he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State University. He failed in three floor votes, losing by more each time.

After Jordan was removed as the party’s nominee, they voted to support Tom Emmer (R-MN-6), who ranks third in House leadership. He withdrew only hours after his “victory,” when it became clear that he too would fail to garner the needed 217 votes to be elected. After that, Republicans decided on someone nobody had ever heard of: Mike Johnson (R-LA-4). After 22 days, Johnson was elected with the unanimous support of Republicans in the House.

The new Speaker is only in his fourth term in the House, and already his record is one of solid support for the most extreme positions. He once derided the Roe v. Wade decision, saying that federal entitlement programs were at risk because Americans hadn’t churned out enough “able-bodied workers.” He suggested, after the fall of Roe, that doctors who provide abortions should face at least 10 years of hard labor. He was an architect of the strategy to block the certification of the Electoral College vote on January 6, and has promoted a white nationalist and evangelical agenda throughout his time in Washington.

“Roe v. Wade gave constitutional cover to the elective killing of unborn children in America … You think about the implications of that on the economy. We’re all struggling here to cover the bases of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and all the rest. If we had all those able-bodied workers in the economy, we wouldn’t be going upside-down and toppling over like this. … Roe was a terrible corruption of America’s constitutional jurisprudence.”

–House Speaker Mike Johnson

Fully half the time available to pass long-term funding bills was spent by Republicans unable to even choose a Speaker of the House. That chaos threatens to create additional crises for the people who rely on family planning aid across the United States and around the world.