Back-to-back legislative defeats highlight US Republican chaos

Republicans were all smiles after picking Mike Johnson as the new House speaker -- but the party has been disarray during much of his short tenure (SAUL LOEB)
Republicans were all smiles after picking Mike Johnson as the new House speaker -- but the party has been disarray during much of his short tenure (SAUL LOEB)

Democrats pushed Wednesday to secure US aid for Ukraine, following a day of humiliating legislative setbacks for Republicans that underlined their dysfunction on key areas of domestic and international policy.

A deeply polarized Congress is increasingly struggling to get any substantive reform on the statute books, with major proposals falling foul of internal wrangling as well intransigence between Democrats and Republicans seeking advantages in a fraught election cycle.

House Republicans were embarrassed by back-to-back defeats Tuesday on impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and an aid package for Israel that raised questions over the party's ability even to count votes and corral its fractious rank-and-file.

"It was a mess, what happened here. But we're cleaning it up," Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters as the morning-after inquest into the flame-out began.

The missteps came after conservatives in the Senate, under pressure from Trump, vowed to block a package of immigration reforms they themselves had spent months championing as part of a broader $118 billion foreign aid package.

True to their word, they killed that deal in a preliminary vote Wednesday.

Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer teed up a second vote, expected within the hour, on an aid package for Ukraine and Israel without any of the border security measures -- forcing Republicans to show their hand.

Even if this fallback plan succeeds, it faces a rocky ride in the House, seen as one of the most dysfunctional in recent memory after the majority Republicans went without a speaker for weeks during a chaotic mutiny.

Rank-and-file conservatives have repeatedly tanked legislation pushed by the leadership, meaning Republicans were able to pass only 27 bills that became law last year, despite holding 724 votes.

Tuesday stood out as what congressional media outlet Punchbowl News described as "one of the most embarrassing days in recent House GOP history."

- A nation divided -

Much of the chaos has been blamed on Trump, who looks almost certain to be the party's nominee in November despite losing the presidency to Joe Biden in 2020 and being embroiled in criminal charges.

Senate Republicans demanded border security as a condition for supporting pro-Western Ukraine as it battles a full-scale invasion by Russia launched in 2022.

But Trump is running for a return to the White House on a platform centered around accusing Biden of failing to resolve the border issue.

A bipartisan compromise -- months in the making and combining Ukraine and Israel aid with some of the toughest immigration curbs in decades -- collapsed within days of its weekend release, as Trump warned lawmakers to reject it.

Biden said from the White House that the deal was falling apart because Trump was seeking to "weaponize" the border crisis. He urged lawmakers in the "Grand Old Party" (GOP, as the Republicans are known) to "show some spine."

Johnson denied that Tuesday's defeats were a reflection on his leadership, preferring to blame increasing polarization across Congress and in the country as a whole.

"Look, the nation is divided. We lament that, right? The differences, the chasm between the two parties right now, is wider than it's ever been," he said.

But the embarrassment left Republicans questioning the direction of the party under Johnson, who has a razor-thin majority and can usually afford to lose only three or four votes, depending on who is present.

"Former (Democratic) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi... never lost a vote in her eight years wielding the gavel," said Gabe Fleisher, author of the Wake Up To Politics newsletter.

"Johnson, who came into the high office with the least legislative experience of any speaker in 140 years, just lost two in a single night. Consider it yet another norm obliterated by his dysfunctional House GOP majority."