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Nobody Really Wants More of the 118th Congress

As lawmakers flee, it seems unlikely much will get done for the remainder of this year.

Mike Johnson
More than three dozen House members have announced they won’t seek reelection this year and a number are leaving much earlier than expected. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Lawmakers are counting down the days until the end of the cursed 118th Congress. Some of them have decided it’s over now.

Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican who has clashed with his party, called it quits last week. Rep. Mike Gallagher — the 40-year-old retiring Republican who chairs the House panel on competition with the Chinese government — also said Friday he is leaving mid-April before the committee’s work has finished. And Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger, who isn’t seeking reelection, said last week she will step down from leading the panel even though Congress is moving into another appropriations season, and House Republicans will quickly need to find a new top negotiator.

“Happy to move on. Dysfunctional place,” Buck said bluntly on ABC’s “This Week.”

Speaker Mike Johnson will have to contend with a one-seat majority and an ouster threat from far-right Republicans hanging over his head when Congress returns from a two-week recess later in April.

Members typically have short attention spans during election years, but many have openly pined for this session to just end already. Establishment-minded Republicans are frustrated and resentful toward their colleagues after Democrats joined a handful of Republicans to kick former Speaker Kevin McCarthy out of power in October. There’s also a level of wishful thinking at play that whatever comes next year has to be better than the past year. Since February, several members have observed in passing that the session is “almost over,” as if December is just around the corner.

The House is scheduled to be in recess for the entire months of August and October to give lawmakers time to campaign in their districts. They still have a heavy to-do list, but leaders hope to soon dispense with some of the biggest questions, like more aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. However, the close margins — and backlash Johnson faces from his members every time he works with Democrats on bills — could grind the House floor to a standstill in the coming months.

Gallagher, one of the more than three dozen members who have announced they won’t seek reelection to the House this year, told reporters on Friday his “young family” was a driving force behind his choice to step down.

“We want to have more kids,” he said. “This lifestyle is uniquely unsuited to that.”

But his decision to leave not at the end of the year but on April 19 — shortly after the House returns and beyond the time period that would prompt a special election to replace him — means Republicans won’t have a chance to retake that seat until the general election in November.

Gallagher acknowledged it’s “getting harder to get stuff done” in Congress. “If you gave me one magic wand, and I could wave it once, on one wish, it would be combining the authorizing and appropriating committees to have a more coherent budget process.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, argued Gallagher should be expelled instead so Republicans can fill the seat: “Speaker Johnson should be forcing Mike Gallagher to leave early so that his district can hold a special election, and any strong Republican speaker of the House would expel a member for leaving our razor-thin majority in such a delicate, delicate state,” Greene, who is seeking to oust Johnson, said over the weekend on Fox News.

Greene, who filed the motion to vacate against Johnson on Friday, told Fox it was not her fault that Johnson and House Republicans were in such a precarious position.

“I am not bringing chaos. I’m forcing change,” she said.

Even after time off for the summer, Congress might start phoning it in. Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican who very much wants his colleagues to pass 12 regular appropriations bills (and cut spending) before a September deadline, said this week he expects lawmakers will ultimately pass a stopgap funding bill — a continuing resolution — to kick the problem until the next Congress.

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“What’s going to happen is we’re probably going to get a CR in September. Does anybody think otherwise? I dare anybody to tell me you’re going to go to Vegas and bet that we’re going to get anything other than a CR in September,” Roy told NOTUS. “Why? It’s an election year.”

Before Congress can get to its to-do list, the vacancies on major committees will have to be addressed first, as Semafor noted. Johnson already has tapped Rep. John Moolenaar to take Gallagher’s spot leading the China Select Committee, per Axios.

Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole has announced he will seek the top role on the appropriations panel now that Granger is stepping down. The turmoil does make the next appropriations season more uncertain, although Cole has served on the committee for 15 years and knows his way around spending bills. As of Monday night, he was the only member running for the job, but others could join the race. (If Cole wins the position, a different member would have to take charge of the rules panel, according to House GOP requirements, unless the conference chooses to waive that limit for Cole.)

Members also expect to debate the reauthorization of government surveillance powers and the Federal Aviation Administration in the coming weeks. Some Republicans insisted there was still a chance to be productive — as long as they worked with Democrats.

“I’m a glass-quarter-full person here at the moment,” Nebraska Republican Rep. Don Bacon told NOTUS. He said Congress will approve more assistance to Ukraine and other democratic allies, Republicans will exercise oversight of the Biden administration’s border policies and members will tackle the sprawling farm bill that sets agricultural and food assistance policy.

“We’ll have iterations of drama and then common sense,” he predicted. “In the end, bipartisanship will prevail because nothing else works.

Haley Byrd Wilt is a reporter at NOTUS. John T. Seward, a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow, contributed to this story.