House Democrats Swear They Are Not Enjoying GOP's Dysfunction — Honest!

Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill were recently discussing the state of the House in a group chat when one posted a meme from “The Simpsons” to illustrate the point.

The choice? Two knife-wielding monkeys fighting as onlookers surround them in a circle and cheer them on. The implication was the monkeys were the House Republicans and the bystanders were the Democrats.

While Republicans retain the House majority, the extent of infighting has become glaringly apparent in recent weeks, most notably with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) threatening to call for a vote to oust Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

Publicly, Democrats are avoiding giving Republicans what coaches would call “bulletin board material,” a slight or insult around which the GOP could rally, but they also want to project an air of seriousness as an implicit contrast to Republicans’ ineptitude.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) smiled for just a second when asked Wednesday if Democrats are enjoying Republicans’ misfortune. Then he launched into a very measured and dull answer.

“We’re going to continue to keep the focus on getting results for the American people and delivering real results on their behalf,” Jeffries said. 

Aside from the ongoing will-she-or-won’t-she ouster saga with Greene, Republican disunity has shown up in many other ways, such as Johnson allowing Democrats to carry all or much of the responsibility for passing things, including an annual spending deal, renewal of a controversial spying law and the $61 billion Ukraine aid deal.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), standing by a poster of House Speaker Mike Johnson and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, holds a news conference Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol to announce she is moving forward with her effort to depose Johnson.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), standing by a poster of House Speaker Mike Johnson and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, holds a news conference Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol to announce she is moving forward with her effort to depose Johnson. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

And there have been smaller but perhaps more humiliating ways.

On Wednesday, for the first time since 2004, with six Republicans voting with Democrats, the House GOP lost a vote on a motion to recommit, the congressional equivalent of an inside-the-park home run in baseball. The last-ditch parliamentary move stopped a pro-mining bill from passing and was a rare floor win for the Democratic minority. (The bill is expected to be brought up again next week.)

It was the latest embarrassment for House Republicans, topping off a week when Democratic leaders publicly offered to allow Johnson to remain in his job by voting to table Greene’s challenge, should it come up.

While Jeffries took the high road, at the staffer level, at least some degree of schadenfreude is apparent.

A House Democratic staffer, on condition of anonymity, texted to HuffPost: “Occasionally, we think it’s funny the GOP conference can’t get their shit together, but mainly we dread the entire House shutting down again,” referring to what happened when former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted by his fellow Republicans.

The staffer said they and their colleagues were aware, though, of the need to not appear publicly triumphant: “We all get the drill: don’t like Johnson, but can live with him.”

Aaron Fritschner, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and a widely followed social media user on Capitol Hill, crowed about the timing of Democratic leaders’ statement that they would save Johnson from being booted.

“It’s already such a massive power play but they really put the cherry on top by announcing it literally in the middle of the House GOP leadership press conference,” he posted. (A cardinal rule of Capitol Hill etiquette is thou shalt not publicly surprise a lawmaker.)

The House, by its very nature, is a majoritarian institution, meaning the majority almost always sets the legislative agenda and rules while the minority party simply sits, lobs criticisms and waits for things to turn so they’ll again be the majority.

In the Senate, the cozier, clubbier nature of the body and some built-in protections for the minority party, such as the filibuster, encourage bipartisanship rather than the House’s scorched earth approach. But in the House, the gulf between being a member of the majority party and the minority party is a wide one indeed.

Which is what makes the situation in the House now so unusual. Even before they were down to having only one vote to spare on party-line votes, Republicans were having trouble doing the things normal House majorities do: winning procedural votes, electing a speaker and negotiating for policy wins in bills.

And that’s led to a reversal of roles in many respects. Republicans have taken to aiming low, taking up low-stakes bills about energy standards for appliances and backing off of things like impeaching President Joe Biden. Democrats, almost able to  taste a new majority next year, have been, in their rhetoric at least, less deferential than usual.

They maintained, though, that the state of the House, which some have compared to a European parliament-style coalition government, was not a cause for mirth.

“Sometimes you’ve got to laugh about it or else you’re going to cry,” said first-term Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.).

“Overall, it’s not funny. It’s horrible. This is the most unproductive Congress since the Great Depression,” he said.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who would take over as chair of the Rules Committee if Democrats win in November, also said the Republicans’ problems were no laughing matter.

Referring to the possibility of another House shutdown if Johnson is ousted without an obvious successor, McGovern said, “What if there’s an international incident or a catastrophe that we have to respond to quickly and we don’t have a functioning House of Representatives? That’s crazy.”

“I still have this feeling about this place where I can strongly disagree with their agenda but not [find] any joy in the chaos,” he said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, a pugnacious 14-term New Jersey Democrat who’s been known to rhetorically mix it up with Republicans on occasion, said their current woes were unhelpful.

“It really hurts the institution. And that’s what we need to repair, not just Democratic and Republican parties, but the institution itself,” he said.