Navalny’s death has shown Speaker Mike Johnson up as a coward

Navalny was willing to take on Vladimir Putin and risk his life. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson is so afraid of losing his speakership that he caves to Marjorie Taylor Greene

Eric Garcia
Monday 19 February 2024 12:17 GMT
Putin critic Alexei Navalny dies in Russian jail

Upon the news of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death, House Speaker Mike Johnson denounced Vladimir Putin.

“As Congress debates the best path forward to support Ukraine, the United States and our partners must be using every means available to cut off Putin’s ability to fund his unprovoked war in Ukraine and aggression against the Baltic states,” he said in a statement.

Of course, Johnson’s words would hold much more weight if he had actually put through the aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that the Senate passed on the floor of the House of Representatives. Indeed, as the Senate labored late into the night on Monday and into the wee hours of Tuesday to pass that aid bill, Johnson summarily killed the bill because it did not address immigration at the US-Mexico border.

This came after Johnson and the rest of House Republican leadership blew up a bipartisan agreement that would have included aggressive restrictions to immigration in exchange for aid to Israel and Ukraine. Johnson, like most of the Republican Party, did so in the service of Donald Trump after he came out in opposition to the deal — despite the fact it would give him sweeping authority to deport migrants if he became president again.

Despite his tough words, Johnson — a political neophyte only elected to the House in 2016, who became Speaker after three other candidates for the job faltered before him — has elected to appeal only to the most extreme elements of the GOP conference.

After the Senate passed its aid package, Johnson didn’t spend Tuesday dispatching Republicans to come up with a counter offer to Democrats. Nor did he spend the day trying to come up with a way to keep the government open, since it runs out of money next month.

Rather, he spent it holding a second vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, something that will do next to nothing to address immigration and has no chance of passing in a Senate controlled by the Democrats.

Johnson did this in the service of appeasing Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the right-wing conspiracy theorist and Trump ally from Georgia, who is also an ardent opponent of funding for Ukraine. But he seems to know that holding an impeachment with little merit will be seen with distaste by most of America. Instead of walking back to his office on Tuesday after the vote, he avoided reporters by exiting the floor from the area where Democrats usually exit. That allowed him to avoid journalists keen to ask him questions. He has proven far less chatty with reporters than his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy.

Johnson had plenty of words when I eventually caught him, saying Mayorkas “deserved” to be impeached. But when I asked him about Trump recalling a story where he told a Nato head of state he would “encourage” Russia to do whatever it wanted, he said, “Not going to comment about that,” before leaving.

The fact he refused to cross the person largely responsible for him being Speaker shows how unserious he is. In contrast, everyone in the Senate from Rand Paul to Mitt Romney criticized Trump’s Nato remarks.

Marjorie Taylor Greene has pledged that if aid to Ukraine goes to the floor of the House, she will file a motion to vacate the chair of Johnson. This comes despite the fact that many in Johnson’s conference want to support Ukraine and most Democrats would vote to help pass a bill doing so.

The only way for Johnson to survive if he were to put support for Ukraine on the floor would be for Democrats to bail him out and vote “present” or “no” on any motion to vacate. That’s unlikely for an archconservative like him.

Republican leaders have cowered in fear of the far-right flank of their conference before. In 2013, John Boehner refused to put an immigration reform bill on the floor of the House because he feared the Tea Party wing of the House GOP. Kevin McCarthy cynically lied on national television that “President Trump won this election” and voted to overturn the 2020 election results, even after the January 6 riot.

But now, the shrinking courage of Republican elites don’t just risk the ability of Congress to function or even the health of American democracy. Johnson’s abdication of his duties risks the entire international order and American leadership’s place in it. Should Ukraine fall and Putin begin to march through Nato countries — which would require American troops to mobilize — the blood will be on Johnson’s hands as much as Ukrainians’ blood are on Putin’s.

Navalny was willing to take on Vladimir Putin and risk his life. Johnson is so afraid of losing his speakership that he caves to Marjorie Taylor Greene.

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