Speaker Johnson sets dubious record with most failed procedural rule votes in six month period

 April 12, 2024

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), who has only held the gavel for around six months, has had a rather rough going tenure thus far that has been racked by internal Republican bickering and an ever-shrinking slim majority.

Johnson has also already set a new modern-era record for failure during his brief tenure, as he fell short of the votes needed to pass a procedural rule for the fourth time in six months on Wednesday, according to the Washington Examiner.

The outlet noted that while other House speakers over the past few decades accumulated more rule vote failures in total, Johnson's four failed votes have occurred faster and in a shorter time frame than any others, and he is on pace to surpass all of his modern-era predecessors in total -- if he manages to retain the gavel and not be ousted by a motion to vacate the chair.

Record for most lost rule votes in shortest time frame

Speaker Johnson's latest failure came on Wednesday when he sought to pass a procedural rule to open debate on a bill to reauthorize the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, but fell well short of the bare majority needed when 19 House Republicans defected to vote against the rule.

CNN congressional reporter Kristin Wilson, who admits to being "weirdly obsessed" with the House Rules Committee, took stock in an X post of how Johnson's fourth lost rule vote in six months stacked up in comparison with his modern-era predecessors going back to former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) in the 1990s.

In his four years as speaker, Gingrich had a total of six failed rule votes, and he was followed by former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who suffered two losses in eight years. There was then a long stretch during which no rule votes ever failed during the two speakerships of Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the tenures of John Boehner (R-OH) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) that were sandwiched in between.

As for Johnson's most recent predecessor, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), he suffered three lost rule votes during the brief eight months he served in 2023 before being ousted from power by a handful of Republican critics.

Record for most failed rule votes in a single term

Notably, this is not the first ignominious lost rule vote record that Speaker Johnson has been a part of, as Politico reported in February that a lost rule vote on a bill to expand federal tax deductions set a record for the most such failures in a single term of Congress with six lost votes -- three under McCarthy and three under Johnson.

The outlet explained that, at least until recently, rule votes were little more than a formality for the majority to procedurally open debate on a bill, and most members would go ahead and vote for the rule's passage even if they disagreed with and ultimately voted against the actual legislation under consideration.

Now, however, it has become a trend for members of the majority to vote against the rule so that the bill in question never even reaches the floor, either because they don't support the bill or increasingly to send an unmistakable message of their discontent with their leadership.

FISA ultimately reauthorized; Johnson meeting with Trump

For what it is worth, Speaker Johnson's failure on Wednesday to pass the rule to begin debate on FISA reauthorization was shortlived, as U.S. News and World Report noted that a rule vote on Friday passed just barely -- with a handful of Republicans abstaining but none voting against the rule -- after which the bill was passed overwhelmingly.

That change of fortune for Johnson was likely due to several different factors, not the least of which was a scramble by him and other top Republicans to make a few changes to the legislation -- some minor, others somewhat more substantial -- that seemingly placated at least some of the GOP opposition to the controversial spy program.

Another possible factor was the news of Johnson's scheduled meeting on Friday with former President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to discuss "election integrity," according to CBS News. It must be noted that Wednesday's failed procedural vote followed a social media post from Trump in which he urged House Republicans to oppose reauthorizing the FISA program without the addition of necessary reforms.

Johnson's meeting with Trump was likely also intended to help reduce the risk of being ousted like his immediate predecessor McCarthy with a motion to vacate, as has been threatened repeatedly by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a staunch Trump ally who would likely back down from her threat to remove Johnson if the former president asked her to do so.

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