Mike Johnson Steps Into His Power Even As He Might Lose It

On Saturday, the House of Representatives approved the most consequential legislation of this Congress, a foreign aid package for American allies. More Democrats than Republicans voted in favor of the measure that allowed the package to pass. And once again the speaker’s job is at risk.

This is just the latest example of how this House of Representatives has become unmoored from the normal practices of a body that has long relied on party unity to function. The speaker, Mike Johnson, holds his role only because a few hard-line Republicans ousted the previous speaker for being too dismissive of their demands. But since the moment they threw their support behind Mr. Johnson, these hard-liners have encountered the reality that they’re irrelevant to the governance of the House of Representatives.

For all its rank partisanship, the House right now is functionally and uneasily governed by a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats. The House is led by a conservative speaker, but for any matter of lawmaking he cannot count on a Republican majority. Instead, a coalition has emerged that is willing to do what is necessary to save the House from itself. But still we must wonder how long a G.O.P. speaker can sustain a position he owes to Democrats. It is no small thing for any speaker to rely on the opposition party to govern.

In the last year, the House has averted a catastrophic debt default, passed foreign military aid when it seemed hopeless, and funded the government when a shutdown seemed all but inevitable. Should we expect more from Congress? Of course. But the critical items are getting done in a more bipartisan manner than would seem possible in this era of negative partisanship.

The most conservative voices are getting shut out, and the House Freedom Caucus, ironically, has made sure of it. The sustainability of it all will be decided by whether Mr. Johnson continues down a path of realistic policymaking or feels the urge to now appease the discontents who have worked to stymie him from the start.

To understand how broken down the normal power structures have become — and how, in the process, the hard-liners have removed themselves from lawmaking — consider the basic procedures with which the business of the House is done.

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