© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

Republicans Marvel at Their Newfound Media Irrelevancy

Republicans are reveling in all the attention the questions about Biden have brought upon Democrats.

Mike Johnson
Speaker Mike Johnson speaks at the Capitol. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

As Democrats spent the day torturing themselves over Joe Biden’s status as the Democratic nominee on Tuesday, House Republicans spent the day dealing with a much cooler issue: Refrigerators.

Republicans passed two pieces of legislation on Tuesday, largely along partisan lines: the Refrigerator Freedom Act and the Stop Unaffordable Dishwasher Standards (SUDS) Act. And throughout the day, even if they were just passing two appliance-related messaging bills that have no chance of becoming law, Republicans were — for once — just happy to not be fielding the reporter questions that Democrats were facing.

It was, in a sense, a day of bizarro-world split screens.

At the exact same time House Democrats were down the street at the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday morning having a caucus meeting that one member described as a “funeral,” House Republican leadership for the first time in a long time — maybe the first time in the 118th Congress — seemed downright giddy.

There were only a handful of reporters waiting outside their weekly conference meeting. Their leadership press conference only had a dozen members of the press in attendance, when on a busy week it’s standing room only.

“Don’t you know the action’s across the street?” one GOP member said to NOTUS while leaving the conference meeting.

Predictably, Speaker Mike Johnson was in on the joke.

“Thank you all for being here on what is, I believe, the smallest crowd ever assembled for a Republican press conference. I don’t know where everybody is this morning,” Johnson said at the outset of his press conference.

“It is not my preference to make headlines now,” he said.

Refrigerators and dishwashers aside, Republicans couldn’t help but make news. (Even at the House GOP’s leadership press conference, every reporter was given a handout titled “Joe Biden is not mentally fit to be President.”)

In the middle of the Republican victory lap — despite Johnson’s stated desire to lay low — the rambunctious House GOP still produced headlines on invoking the 25th Amendment, pushing to bring Biden’s personal physician to testify before the House Oversight Committee and an effort to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in inherent contempt over Garland’s refusal to turn over investigator Robert Hur’s interview tapes with Biden.

All of those far-right goals are long shots. Congress has no power to invoke the 25th Amendment. Even with a subpoena, a doctor is unlikely to shed any new light on his patient. And on inherent contempt, even Johnson has his reservations about the approach.

“If it’s put to the floor, I’ll vote for it,” Johnson said at his press conference. “I frankly have a little pause about presenting an Article One authority question to the Article Three branch, to the judicial branch, whether they believe we have the right to enforce the subpoena in this unconventional way.”

On the Oversight Committee, Chairman James Comer is requesting Biden’s personal physician, Kevin O’Connor, sit down for a transcribed interview. He’s asked O’Connor to respond by July 14. The White House has already pushed back on the request.

“You’ve got a situation where the Democrats are in chaos. You all use that word about my committee all the time, but the Democrats are in chaos right now,” Comer said.

And on the 25th Amendment, Roy himself acknowledged his bill won’t lead to any change.

“I don’t do things often from just a messaging standpoint but understand filing that the day after was purposeful to set the tone,” Roy told NOTUS. “There are 7,000 bills filed; not all of them get a vote.”

Normally, Democratic leadership would spend the week bashing GOP messaging bills, if not decrying the extreme proposals that Republicans have put forward as political stunts.

But instead of slamming Republican ideas, Democrats are consumed with a debate over Biden and his future. The conversations have distracted from the ability of Democrats to effectively focus attention on GOP extremism, even if Democrats keep turning to Donald Trump as an answer to questions about Biden.

Republicans, however, said Biden’s problems had also distracted from their ability to call out their counterparts, fearing that saying anything right now would deflect from the Democratic disarray.

“In politics, it’s always better to let the folks in the hole continue to dig,” Rep. Marc Molinaro told NOTUS on Tuesday. “The standard politics is to let them fight among themselves, but there is still a constitutional responsibility to be responsible. But I think we ought to be very careful with that responsibility.”

While Republicans are enjoying their relative obscurity this week, there’s still a long way to November.

“I would just caution us to stop measuring the curtains at the White House and continue running,” Rep. Tim Burchett said. “This arrogance is what will get us beat.”

But GOP leaders think their optimism is well-founded.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told NOTUS on Tuesday that, with that refrigerator and dishwasher bill, Republicans were “continuing to focus on the pocketbook issues that matter to people.”

“And the Democrats are in disarray trying to figure out how to jettison their own democratically nominated candidate for president,” Scalise said.

Still, not every Republican felt like his party was living up to expectations this week.

Rep. David Joyce, who was the only Republican to vote against a resolution to hold Garland in contempt in June, was clear-eyed about the mission for the GOP as Democrats battle over Biden.

“We are taking up a refrigerator bill and a dishwasher bill. We’re doing very important stuff this week,” Joyce said with an eye roll and a laugh.

Later in the day, he voted for both bills.

Katherine Swartz is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.