The Obstruction Of House MAGA Republicans Threatens Our Country And The World

Heather Cox Richardson

The House of Representatives will be back in session tomorrow after the February 19 Presidents Day holiday. It is facing a number of crucial issues, but the ongoing problem of the radicalism of the MAGA Republicans has ground—and, apparently, continues to grind—legislation to a halt.  

The farm bill, which establishes the main agricultural and food policies of the government—agricultural subsidies and food benefits, among other things—and which needs to be reauthorized every five years, expired in September 2023. While Congress extended the 2018 bill as a stopgap until September 2024, the new bill should be passed.

The farm bill has more breathing room than the appropriations bills to fund the government in fiscal year 2024 (which started on October 1, 2023). Four of the continuing resolutions Congress passed to keep the government running will expire on March 1; the other eight will expire on March 8. Operating on a continuing resolution that maintains 2023 levels of spending means the government cannot shift to the new priorities Congress agreed to in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, along with leaders from the Pentagon and the Senate, warns that the lack of appropriations measures is compromising national defense. 

On an even tighter timeline is the national security supplemental bill to aid Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific, and to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza. Ukraine is running out of ammunition, and its war effort is faltering. Every day that passes without the matériel only the U.S. can provide hurts the Ukrainians’ cause.

All of these measures are stalled because extremist MAGA Republicans in the House are insisting their demands be included in them. Negotiators have been trying to hash out the farm bill for months, and today Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she would rather continue to extend the 2018 law than bow to the House Republicans’ demands for cuts to food assistance programs and funding for climate change. 

Appropriations bills are generally passed “clean,” that is, without the inclusion of unrelated controversial elements. But House Republicans are insisting the appropriations bills include their own demands for much deeper cuts than House leadership agreed to, as well as riders about abortion; gun policy; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives; LGBTQ+ rights; and so on. Those are nonstarters for Democrats.

As for the national security supplemental measure, lawmakers agree on a bipartisan basis that Ukraine’s successful defense against Russia’s invasion is crucial to U.S. national security. The Senate passed the bill on a strong bipartisan vote of 70 to 29, and if brought to the floor of the House, it would be expected to pass there, too. 

But House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) refuses to bring it to the floor. When President Joe Biden first asked for the aid in October, Republicans insisted they could not see their way to protecting our national security overseas without addressing it on the southern border. A bipartisan group of senators spent four months hashing out a border provision for the bill—House Republicans declined to participate—only to have House Republicans scuttle the measure when former president Trump told them to. The Senate promptly passed a bill that didn’t have the border component. Rather than take it up, the House recessed.

Today, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with congressional leaders and urged them to pass the appropriations bills and the national security supplemental. But Biden, Harris, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) all agree on the need to pass these measures immediately. The holdout is House speaker Johnson.

After the meeting, Schumer said the meeting on Ukraine was “one of the most intense” scenes he had ever seen in the Oval Office. “We said to the speaker, ‘Get it done.’ I told him this is one of the moments—I said I’ve been around here a long time. It’s maybe four or five times that history is looking over your shoulder, and if you don’t do the right thing, whatever the immediate politics are, you will regret it. I told him two years from now and every year after that, because really, it’s in his hands.” 

For his part, Johnson said that “the House is actively pursuing and investigating all the various options” on the supplemental bill, “but again, the first priority of the country is our border and making sure it’s secure.” 

Johnson appears to be working for Trump, who is strongly opposed to aid for Ukraine and likely intends to use immigration as a campaign issue. 

But Trump is a poor choice to give control over United States security. Yesterday, Special Counsel Jack Smith responded to Trump’s motion to dismiss the charges against him associated with his stealing and hiding classified documents on the grounds that he was being treated differently than President Biden, who had also had classified documents in his possession but was not criminally charged.

Smith noted that while there have been many government officials who have accidentally or willfully kept classified documents, and even some who briefly resisted attempts to recover them, Trump’s behavior was unique. “He intentionally took possession of a vast trove of some of the nation’s most sensitive documents…and stored them in unsecured locations at his heavily trafficked social club.” Then, when the government tried to recover the documents, Trump “delayed, obfuscated, and dissembled,” finally handing over only “a fraction” of those in his possession. No one, Smith wrote, “has engaged in a remotely similar suite of willful and deceitful criminal conduct and not been prosecuted.” 

Perhaps to distract from Smith’s filing, House Committee on Oversight and Accountability chair James Comer (R-KY) and House Committee on the Judiciary chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) today subpoenaed information from Special Counsel Robert Hur’s investigation into Biden’s handling of documents. Hur’s report exonerated the president and showed such contrast between Trump’s behavior and Biden’s full cooperation with officials that Smith used material from it in his filing. 

Comer and Jordan are likely also eager to find new material against Biden after the man who provided the key evidence in their impeachment attempt turned out to be working with Russian intelligence agents and was recently indicted for lying and creating a false record.

Since this year is a leap year, Congress has three days to pass the first four of the appropriations measures or to find another workaround before March 1, when parts of the government shut down. As Schumer said, those measures, along with the national security supplemental bill, are now in Speaker Johnson’s hands.

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