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Mike Johnson
House Speaker Mike Johnson is bringing up a series of bills meant to appeal to voters. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The House Is Mostly Done Legislating. It’s Time for Messaging.

With almost no must-pass legislation left, House Republicans are free to bash Democrats and fight among themselves.

The House has completed the most arduous items on its to-do list for the year. Now, members can focus on politics — whether that’s Republican infighting or, as Speaker Mike Johnson would prefer, messaging bills to help members win reelection.

“Ain’t a whole lot more to do,” said Texas Rep. Chip Roy, who has repeatedly criticized Johnson’s leadership decisions. “We’ve kind of messed up most of the stuff so far. You know, spent money we don’t have and funded foreign wars without securing the border. So now we’ve just got to go pass messaging bills and try to get elected, I reckon.”

Sure, lawmakers still have to consider aviation and agriculture legislation in the coming weeks, and they’re starting to debate spending bills for the next fiscal year. And, most likely, they’ll soon deal with a motion to vacate from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, even if it’s poised to fail since Democrats have said they’d help save Johnson’s speakership. But Republicans in the House think the rest of the year could be mostly smooth sailing.

“We’re trying to look forward,” Roy told reporters Tuesday morning when asked about Greene’s attempt to kick Johnson out of the speakership. “Our constituents are mad about the vote, but they want us to unite with purpose and go beat Democrats in the fall.”

Whether the House GOP conference actually will be able to unite is unclear. The party has a razor-thin majority. Any illnesses, injuries, delayed flights or one or two disruptive members can derail Johnson’s plans. Rank-and-file Republicans have done just that multiple times since Johnson claimed the gavel in October, with varying aims — sometimes to change legislation, sometimes just to make a point.

They’re still willing to wreak havoc on the House floor even as the election approaches.

“We’ve got to take a stand,” Rep. Ralph Norman, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, said when asked if he expects some Republicans to continue tanking procedural votes going forward. “Depends on what it is.”

Still, Rep. Dusty Johnson, a leadership ally, expressed optimism about the rest of the year. Messaging bills unite Republicans more than anything else, he said.

“When it comes to charting a vision for what America would look like if we had Republican control of the White House, Senate and House, I do think we’re unified enough,” he told NOTUS.

“It’s all kumbaya,” he said as he entered a party meeting Tuesday morning. “There’s a lot of love. Good vibes. The vibes are good.”

The start of this week appeared to be a typical return to House business after several intense months. Members considered a slate of uncontroversial bills related to veterans, among other topics, then moved to bills that had little chance of becoming law but provided an opportunity for lawmakers to message about their priorities.

The House voted on two bills Tuesday night that appeal to hunters, for example: One of them would remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. Another would block regulators from banning the use of lead ammunition on certain federal lands. Those bills aren’t likely to become law in this divided government. Republicans expect to debate more bills like those in the coming weeks.

The House will vote this week on a measure, the Antisemitism Awareness Act, to expand the legal definition of antisemitism to enforce antidiscrimination laws. That bill has some bipartisan support, although Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries has urged Johnson to advance a different bill, the Countering Antisemitism Act, which would create a national coordinator to combat antisemitism instead.

Johnson has made criticizing Democrats a central part of his push for that antisemitism measure.

“The country needs clear moral authority,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We need the president of the United States to speak to the issue and say this is wrong. What’s happening on college campuses right now is wrong. It is un-American. It’s not who we are. The president seems unable or unwilling to do that.”

Haley Byrd Wilt is a reporter at NOTUS.