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Joe Biden winning this Congress

The winner of this Congress? Joe Biden

House Republicans came into the 118th Congress with big plans. They were going to cut taxes and spending, impeach President Joe Biden and members of his Cabinet and use their leverage to force Democrats to accept stringent new border security and immigration policies. In short, they were going to shake up Washington, with Biden as their main focus.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, Biden has gotten pretty much everything he’s asked for from this Congress without having to concede much in return. True, it’s taken a while as the dysfunctional House slowly churned its way through the past 15-plus months.

Yet in the end, Biden has emerged as the big winner. On government funding, on FISA, and now on Ukraine and Israel, Biden got what he wanted.

The president hasn’t gone unscathed. Hunter and James Biden have been deposed as part of the House GOP impeachment inquiry into the Biden family’s finances. The Afghanistan investigation showed a dangerous disconnect between the State and Defense departments. Republicans have crushed the administration over the problems at the U.S.-Mexico border, forcing a shift in White House policy.

But House Republicans paid a much higher price due to their internal discord and dissension. GOP lawmakers have ousted one speaker while another may be forced to turn to Democrats to remain in power. And it gets worse from there:

In May 2023, Biden cut a debt-limit and spending deal with then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Biden gave a bit, agreeing to essentially a spending cap that progressives dislike, in return for a two-year increase in the debt limit. But the agreement cost McCarthy his job.

Speaker Mike Johnson kept those spending levels in place. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the White House held firm against poison-pill amendments in the 2024 spending bills that could’ve caused a shutdown.

Biden will get the $60 billion-plus in Ukraine aid he’s sought, although it’s coming months late and with battlefield consequences. The White House didn’t have to accept new restrictions on Ukraine funding, aside from some of it being deemed a “loan.”

Republicans impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas only to see it quickly dismissed by the Democratic-run Senate.

The Biden impeachment inquiry is fizzling out.

Johnson and former President Donald Trump killed a bipartisan Senate border security and immigration deal, despite the ongoing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. This has given some political space for Biden and Democrats on this issue.

And when they return to Capitol Hill next week, House Republicans will be down to a one-vote margin of control for a while as the GOP conference seethes.

House Republicans are openly attacking each other on the floor and in public. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who has vowed to push Johnson out, has spent the weekend lashing out at his colleagues, including fellow Kentucky Republican, Rep. Andy Barr, who represents an adjoining district. Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) said he served with some “real scumbags” during a Sunday interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and he mentioned Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Bob Good (R-Va.) by name.

Of course, having a Democrat-controlled Senate has helped the White House hold the line against a GOP House. Schumer was able to keep Democrats together on the big issues, including spending bills and the Mayorkas trial. It was the same for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and his colleagues.

Yet the problem for House Republicans really began at the start of this Congress. McCarthy’s grueling 15-vote battle in January 2023 to get the speaker’s gavel resulted in him giving unprecedented concessions to the Freedom Caucus, including putting Massie and Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) on the Rules Committee.

But instead of “democratizing” the House as the HFC wanted, these concessions undermined McCarthy and then Johnson while playing into Democrats’ hands. The Rules Committee — the speaker’s vehicle for controlling the floor — is broken. Hardline conservatives have repeatedly blocked GOP legislation because they didn’t think it went far enough.

Eventually, Biden, Schumer and Democrats — joined by moderate Republicans — stepped in to form a governing coalition as the House GOP leadership faltered.

The all-or-nothing nature of the GOP internal politics has ensured that Republicans haven’t puled off any real legislative achievements, as Roy has told everyone repeatedly. Conservatives don’t take half-victories. They reject strategies that could lead to small wins. But ideological purity isn’t a winning play for a congressional majority.

At the outset of this Congress, Democrats’ goal was to prevent the GOP from enacting their agenda all while trying to fulfill Biden’s commitments on the world stage, most notably to provide for Ukraine’s long-term security. For months, it appeared as if the latter was close to over.

Democrats also expected that Senate Republicans would instinctively back up House GOP leaders and potentially make it impossible to send must-pass legislation to Biden’s desk.

That turned out not to be the case on some of the major fights, including on FY2024 appropriation bills and the foreign aid package that’ll be sent to the president later this week. Senate Republican leaders ultimately recognized that the House GOP’s negotiating positions on both were untenable.

— Andrew Desiderio, Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

Presented by AARP

AARP knows older voters. 

We’ve made it our business to know what matters to people 50 and over—like we know that protecting Social Security and supporting family caregivers are among their top priorities. Learn more from our polling in Pennsylvania.

Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.