Speaker Johnson VS. House Far-Right GOP | Crooked Media
Sign up for Vote Save America 2024: Organize or Else, find your team, and get ready to win. Sign up for Vote Save America 2024: Organize or Else, find your team, and get ready to win.
April 16, 2024
What A Day
Speaker Johnson VS. House Far-Right GOP

In This Episode

  • House Republicans are in chaos again after a second conservative lawmaker voiced support for a push to oust Speaker Mike Johnson. The speaker announced plans to bring a foreign aid bill for Ukraine up for a vote, causing an uproar. Joan Greve, senior political reporter for The Guardian, breaks down the mood on Capitol Hill.
  • In the Senate, lawmakers will consider a bill to reauthorize a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, that has bipartisan support and bipartisan critics. The part of the law up for renewal allows the federal government to obtain vast amounts of intelligence and communications within the broad category of “foreign intelligence information,” all without a warrant. Without quick Senate approval, it will expire on Friday.
  • And in headlines: The Supreme Court seemed open to siding with some January 6th rioters in a case that could undo hundreds of Justice Department prosecutions, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the US will enforce new sanctions on Iran after its weekend attack on Israel, and seven jurors have been seated in former President Donald Trump’s historic criminal hush-money trial.


Show Notes:




Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, April 17th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice. And this is What a Day where we also think you should be banned from Disney parks if you lie about having a disability. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, that is the bare minimum. If you’re telling that kind of lie to get to the front of the line, much worse things are coming to you than being banned from that park. Let me just tell you that. 


Josie Duffy Rice: You need to talk to someone. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s just do a self-examination, you know. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Reevaluate everything. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Everything. [music break] On today’s show, the FISA bill that includes warrantless surveillance awaits a vote from the Senate. Plus, your daily dose of Trump’s hush money trial. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, another day, another chaotic moment for House Republicans. This time, it’s over House Speaker Mike Johnson’s decision to bring wartime aid for Ukraine up for a vote in the House. There is a bit of a back story here. So back in February, lawmakers in the Senate passed a $95 billion foreign aid bill to send money to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. But it has gone nowhere in the House. And that is because the Republican Party’s hard right flank is vehemently opposed to sending more money to Ukraine. They were already mad at Johnson for working with Democrats to pass a government spending bill to keep the government open, and they are just getting madder. One of these far right Republicans, none other than Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene. I feel bad even saying that, Josie, to even think that you’re from the same state is upsetting. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I know it’s very dark. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Anyways, she got the ball rolling a few weeks ago on what is called a motion to vacate, basically to force a vote on ousting Johnson from his role. This, as you probably remember, is the same action that Republicans used to oust the last speaker, Kevin McCarthy, just last year. It took them weeks to land on Johnson as the new speaker and was incredibly embarrassing for everybody involved. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I feel like you and I could be elected speaker if we wait long enough, you know. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The chances aren’t zero at this point. 


Josie Duffy Rice: They’re not zero. They’re not zero. So how did we end up here with Johnson facing the prospect of a very undignified and embarrassing ouster a la Kevin McCarthy? 


Priyanka Aribindi: It wasn’t exactly unexpected. But after Iran launched a drone and missile attack over the weekend against Israel, Speaker Johnson said that he would bring up that foreign aid bill, albeit divided into separate pieces. And this hard right group is not happy with that. Another right wing Republican, Kentucky’s Thomas Massie, said Tuesday that he is ready to back MTG’s effort to oust Johnson and look, because of existing House rules, and because House Republicans have such a slim majority, just two votes at this point, dwindling down to one by the end of the week. It would not take many to kick him out at all unless some Democrats end up coming to Johnson’s rescue. So to set the scene for what things are like on the hill right now, get a little inside look at what’s happening. I spoke to Joan Greve, she is a senior political reporter for the Guardian, and went to my high school, shout out [?] Central, love that. I started by asking her why so many Republicans aren’t happy with Johnson and his plan to pass foreign aid? 


Joan Greve: Despite the fact that there’s widespread displeasure about Mike Johnson within the House Republican Conference. Currently, the pool of people who are willing to oust him is small, and that’s largely just because the chaos that they experienced last October when they were without a speaker is still looming so large in their minds that most of them aren’t willing to risk going through that again, the reason why so many House Republicans are less than happy about this plan for the foreign aid bills is because many of them are very critical of sending more money to Ukraine, and that would be at least one piece of this broader plan that Johnson has. Essentially, Johnson wants to split up the foreign aid package that already passed the Senate into four separate bills, but it would still involve, if it passed the House, sending tens of billions of dollars to Ukraine. And that is something that a lot of House Republicans, potentially even a majority of House Republicans, don’t really want to do at this point. And the frustration over that has led two members of the House Republican Conference, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Thomas Massie, to call for Johnson’s removal. And because the House Republican majority is now so narrow after another member resigns on Friday, it will actually be just down to one member. It is seeming like Johnson’s job is potentially threatened right now, and he might have to rely on Democrats to actually get him out. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I want to ask you, you brought up Kevin McCarthy very briefly. How does you know the party’s criticism of Johnson here compare to that of McCarthy, who preceded him? 


Joan Greve: It’s really interesting because I feel like it boils down to some of the exact same issues that cost Kevin McCarthy his job last year. The reason why Matt Gaetz uh the hard right congressman of Florida, was so frustrated with McCarthy was because he had pushed through at the last minute, a large government funding package to avoid a shutdown. And Matt Gaetz was incredibly frustrated by that because he thought that the package was both rushed and ill conceived, basically. And on top of that, he was also really frustrated by the fact that McCarthy seemed to be in conversations with the Biden administration about approving more money for Ukraine. It’s basically the exact same issues that are once again dividing the Republican conference. We saw last month that the House passed two large government funding bills to provide funding for the federal government through the rest of the fiscal year. There were a lot of people in the House Republican Conference who were frustrated by that, particularly with that second funding package. And also now that Johnson is moving forward with this plan to hold a vote on Ukraine aid, that is something that many House Republicans also don’t want to see happen. So it is telling that once again, these two issues, government funding and Ukraine funding are really animating the House Republican Conference and might in fact oust another speaker. 


Priyanka Aribindi: As a Capitol Hill reporter, it almost seems like chaos from the outside looking in. But would you say that this is Congress as usual, just par for the course, or is this particularly chaotic? 


Joan Greve: I would say it’s particularly chaotic. And that’s really saying something. You know, I think Congress has set a pretty high bar for chaos in the past several years. And even so, this is notably chaotic. When Kevin McCarthy was ousted from his job back in October, that was the first time in history that a House speaker had ever been formally removed from that position. And now we’re looking at the possibility that might happen twice in one session of Congress, which is just pretty mind boggling. There was also some stories last year, one of which was written by me, about the fact that this session of Congress has been historically unproductive. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Joan Greve: It has failed to pass so many basic bills, and that was one of the reasons why I think that Johnson really felt compelled to pass those government funding bills last month, even though they were unpopular with many members of his conference, because it really does feel like some House Republican leaders just feel like we need to do something because we have not been able to achieve much of anything with this narrow majority, and with our conference being as divided as it is. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And obviously, you know, looming large on everything this year is Donald Trump. How much power does he have in all of this? Obviously, he and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene usually in lockstep with each other, but in this case they seem to be on opposite sides. Last week saw Trump giving some kind of lukewarm support for Johnson during his visit to Mar-A-Lago. We actually have a clip. 


[clip of Donald Trump] We’re getting along very well with the speaker. It’s not not an easy situation for any speaker. I think he’s doing a very good job. He’s doing about as good as you’re going to do. 


Priyanka Aribindi: So what do we think is going on there? 


Joan Greve: First of all, I would say about as good as you’re going to do isn’t the highest of endorsements that somebody can offer. But uh it was telling that Johnson flew to Mar-A-Lago for that event with Trump, because he himself is tacitly acknowledging that Trump really holds the keys to the entire party. If Trump went on Truth Social today and said, I have turned against Mike Johnson, and I think that he is no longer fit to be speaker, I do think we would see then a much higher number of House Republicans willing to come out and say, okay, maybe we should consider the motion to vacate. But I don’t know that Trump’s very tacit support alone is going to be enough to save Johnson, necessarily. And that’s partly because the majority is so narrow, it takes so few people in order for this to become a huge issue. And it’s also because Johnson has just done a lot of things in the past few months to really irritate members of his conference, particularly the hard right members. And I don’t know that [?] Trump’s, you know, lukewarm endorsement is going to be enough to assuage some of their concerns. One thing that Johnson has been doing recently, and what he did with the government funding bills, is that he passed them using this mechanism called suspension of the rules. What that allows you to do is circumvent some of the usual requirements for getting to a final vote in the House, which means that he has been relying on support from Democrats to get these bills through. And that has been really irksome to some of the hard right members who feel like they aren’t doing anything with their majority. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. And I mean, you are talking about Democrats helping out here. You mentioned that it might take some to actually save Mike Johnson’s speakership. Is it possible, though, that in the midst of all this chaos, that Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries could have a shot at the speakership, given just how slim the majority is right now? 


Joan Greve: I would say that the likelihood is still slim. But that being said, back in October, the likelihood of Mike Johnson becoming speaker also appeared to be near zero when– 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Joan Greve: –Kevin McCarthy lost his job. And now here we are. So, you know, never rule anything out. For the time being there are a handful of more centrist members of the House Democratic Caucus who are saying that they will come to Johnson’s assistance if the motion to vacate comes up for a vote. If we find ourselves in a scenario where Johnson is ousted and Republicans can’t come up with somebody else to fill that role, they had an incredibly difficult time doing that last time around. Then maybe there is a scenario in which some House Republicans choose to vote, either for Jeffries or simply vote present and bring that number down to the point where Jeffries could become speaker. The majority is so narrow for Republicans that we can’t totally rule it out. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. I want to zoom out for just a moment because we’re talking about politics, but there’s a lot of real world impact that congressional dysfunction and inability to get things done has beyond the speakership. So what would you say are the main ways we’re suffering because of this? 


Joan Greve: There was a really fascinating story that came out in the past couple of months about the fact that there are reports of Ukrainian soldiers on the frontlines who are looking at their phones for updates on whether the House was going to pass the foreign aid package passed by the Senate. And I feel like that really just underscores the fact that there are so many people around the world who are looking at what the House is doing, and more often than not, not doing, and it really has some profound consequences around the world. You know, for Ukraine specifically, the Senate passed a foreign aid package that would have sent them about $60 billion in February. If the House had quickly taken that up, some of that money could have already been directed over there. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. And just switching gears a little bit. House Republicans also submitted impeachment articles to the Senate for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. What should we make of all of that kind of going on on the side? 


Joan Greve: Yes, that is one thing they’ve been able to get done, just barely. Um. But yeah–


Priyanka Aribindi: Barely. 


Joan Greve: –the House back in February approved two articles of impeachment against the Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. Democrats have just been outraged over this impeachment process because they say it’s entirely political. They’ve demeaned it as just a political stunt. House Republicans say that the impeachment was necessary because Mayorkas has been, quote unquote, “mishandling” the US Mexican border. And Democrats say that that is pretty much B.S. and that Republicans are making what is a political and policy debate about what is the best way to approach the US-Mexico border, and they are transforming that into this crusade against one member of Joe Biden’s cabinet. And the fact that the House was able to, you know, prove these articles of impeachment. It really isn’t going to come to much because they have now officially moved to the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. And the Senate Majority leader, Chuck Schumer, has already indicated that he is going to move for a very quick dismissal of these charges. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That was my chat with Joan Greve, senior political reporter for The Guardian. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Thank you Priyanka. One of the things the House did pass last week is a reauthorization of section 702, which is part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. On Friday, the House passed a two year reauthorization of this part of the law, which includes controversial surveillance that has bipartisan support and bipartisan critics. Now, the bill has to pass the Senate before it expires this Friday. The law gives the US government permission to obtain vast amounts of intelligence and communication within the broad category of foreign intelligence information, and it gets to do this all without getting a warrant. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Okay. So that should send everyone’s senses– 


Josie Duffy Rice: Spidey senses. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Just. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Your spidey. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Exactly. They’re going up a little bit. 


Josie Duffy Rice: They’re going up. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Before we get into this fully, tell us a little bit about this law. What do we need to know? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So FISA was passed in 1978, but section 702 specifically was born out of the post September 11th era. This was when former President George W. Bush secretly ordered a wiretapping operation codenamed Stellar Wind. Which I feel like is a very beautiful codename for a very terrible thing. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And basically his administration was recording people without getting a judge’s permission first, with no warrant. And instead of reining in the former president’s brazen violation of privacy, Congress decided to legalize it, by passing section 702. The law has now been reauthorized multiple times over the years. In 2017, it was reauthorized for six years, and in December of 2023, Congress granted a four month extension. And that brings us to now. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Okay, so what does this look like in practice? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So technically, section 702 gives Congress the ability to obtain intelligence of foreign targets, including when those people are interacting with Americans. In practice, that means, according to the New York Times, quote, “the National Security Agency can order email services like Google to turn over copies of all messages in the accounts of any foreign user, and network operators like AT&T, to intercept and furnish copies of any phone calls, texts and internet communications to or from a foreign target.” So basically, they can get a lot of information. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And as you can imagine, the idea of a target is a very broad category that they like are always trying to broaden a little bit more. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So as an American citizen, if you’re communicating with someone abroad who is of like any interest to American intelligence, that basically means your information is also fair game, no warrant necessary. This is all even though violating your privacy without a warrant is very explicitly prohibited in the Constitution. The founders thought about this, so it’s a little bit concerning. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. I mean, more than a little bit. So you said that this has bipartisan supporters and critics. Tell us more about where people are falling on this. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it’s actually been Republicans who have been loudly critical of the law, especially recently. In fact, last week, 19 House Republicans broke with their party to prevent the bill from coming to the floor for a vote after Donald Trump posted, quote, “kill FISA” on Truth Social. But by last Friday, all 19 of them decided to support the bill’s passage after House speaker Mike Johnson reduced the reauthorization from five years to two. Among other kind of minor concessions. A warrant requirement was not one of them, which is what many people wanted the law to add, including the founders of this country. They wanted warrants. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Very interesting here. I know many on the left have been critical of this law for years. Tell us more about that. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, definitely. A lot of activists, a lot of media outlets and some elected officials, including congresspeople, a number of senators like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Bernie Sanders have spoken out against this law or tried to prevent it from coming to a vote. And Wyden stated, quote, “history shows that intelligence agencies will use every inch of authority Congress provides to spy on Americans.” And he called the bill, quote, “a breathtaking expansion of section 702, which should terrify anyone who cares about American’s rights.” But still, yes, there are dissenting voices. But most congresspeople in both parties supported this law overwhelmingly. Susan Collins and Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney have been quoted in the past few days saying it must pass. This is how we catch terrorists. This is critical for American espionage, etc., etc., etc. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Okay, so I want to rewind a little back to that breathtaking expansion that you mentioned. I know there was a controversial change made to the bill by the House. Tell us more about that. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yes, very controversial and pretty alarming. Among other amendments that were kind of snuck in by House leadership, including one that vastly expands the ability to surveil migrants. The House also included language that expanded what kind of companies and services would be compelled to turn over information to the government. So, according to the American Prospect, the government could now compel companies as far reaching as office buildings, landlords and even the backbone of the internet, such as data centers. Data centers, kind of a general term, but it encompasses a lot of storage, of private information of regular civilians. This is basically where all of our information is stored in data centers. And so if this actually goes through the Senate, it’s going to have really major implications. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Got it. 


Josie Duffy Rice: The Senate is expected to vote on this bill in the next day or two. And we will keep you posted. But that is the latest for now. We will be back after some ads. [music break]




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: First, an update to the story we brought you yesterday. The Supreme Court is signaling that it may hand some January 6th rioters a major win. It’s a case that could upend hundreds of the Justice Department’s prosecutions tied to the riot, including the federal election interference case against former President Donald Trump. On Tuesday, the court considered whether the Justice Department incorrectly stretched a federal law when it charged some of the people who stormed the Capitol with the crime of obstructing an official proceeding. Some of the court’s conservative justices seemed to think the Justice Department went too far. Here is Justice Neil Gorsuch during oral arguments, asking the government’s lawyer about what might qualify as obstruction. 


[clip of Justice Neil Gorsuch] Would a heckler in today’s audience qualify or at the state of the Union address would pulling a fire alarm before a vote qualify for 20 years in federal prison? 


Priyanka Aribindi: More than 100 rioters have already been convicted and sentenced under the law in question, while hundreds more have been charged. If the court decides in favor of the rioters, it could knock out two of the four charges Trump is facing in his federal insurrection case. The court is expected to make its final ruling in June. 


Josie Duffy Rice: A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that West Virginia to not enforce its law banning transgender women and girls from competing in sports in public schools, including colleges. The ruling does not block the Save Women’s Sports Act altogether, but it specifically bars the state from enforcing the law against now 13 year old Becky Pepper-Jackson, a trans girl who is on the track and field team at her middle school. Pepper-Jackson’s family sued the state in 2021 to protect their daughter’s spot on the team after the act was signed into law. And after plenty of back and forth in the lower courts, a panel of federal judges decided yesterday that the law violated Pepper-Jackson’s Title nine rights. So even though the law hasn’t been struck down entirely, this is still a win for LGBTQ+ advocates challenging anti-trans laws in GOP led states across the country. West Virginia officials will likely appeal yesterday’s decision to the Supreme Court, the same Supreme Court that on Monday allowed Idaho’s gender affirming care ban to remain in effect. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Okay, I hate that part, but for now, happy for Becky Pepper-Jackson. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Run your heart out. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Great news. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Even though–


Josie Duffy Rice: Truly. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –we don’t really understand the desire to do the running, we love it for you. 


Josie Duffy Rice: We love it for you. Run for us. 


Priyanka Aribindi: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Tuesday that the US will enforce new sanctions on Iran. The US is penalizing Iran for Saturday’s drone and missile attacks on Israel. Yellen told reporters that the department, along with China, G7 partners and others, is looking to destabilize Iran’s ability to export oil. 


[clip of Janet Yellen] We don’t preview our sanctions tools, but in discussions, I’ve had all options to disrupt terrorist financing of Iran continue to be on the table. 


Priyanka Aribindi: The U.S. already has plenty of ongoing sanctions with Iran, a 2023 report from the Congressional Research Service said the US sanctions on Iran are some of the most extensive ones that the US imposes on any country, and that is because of cited concerns from the US, including Iran’s nuclear program, its proxy groups and other human rights violations. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And now for the Trump trial update. Sorry, folks, this will be going on for a few weeks and with as many pending trials maybe longer than that. The second day of jury selection ended with surprisingly seven jurors in order to get a full jury, they need a panel of 12 and also six alternates, so they are off to a surprisingly quick start. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I did not expect them to get seven jurors that quickly. Also, two wonderful things happened again. Trump appeared to be asleep for the second day in a row. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, this man’s going to be so well rested. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I know. 


Priyanka Aribindi: After this trial. [laugh]


Josie Duffy Rice: Truly. And Trump was scolded yet again by Judge Merchan after audibly reacting to one of the jurors. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Hmm. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Not ideal. The court takes a break today, but on Thursday, I think we can expect more of the same. 


Priyanka Aribindi: If Joe Biden publicly fell asleep in a situation like this, we would not hear the end of it. And I’m sorry, not nearly, not nearly enough people are giving Donald Trump shit for being an old man who fell asleep in public, his own trial it’s insane. It is insane.


Josie Duffy Rice: There would be a full congressional investigation. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Of Hunter Biden. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. [laughter] It’d be investigating Hunter Biden for Joe Biden falling asleep at the table. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. Precisely. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, do not lie at Disneyland and tell your friends to listen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading and not just transcripts from the House floor like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter, so check it out and subscribe at crooked.com/subscribe, I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And we would would never fall asleep in court. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely never. I was praying. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I was praying. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s what I’d be doing. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Reminds me of when they were like, what’s your favorite Bible verse? And Trump was like all of them. 


Priyanka Aribindi: [laugh] All of it. All of it.


Josie Duffy Rice: I think I love all of it. It’s all very good. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I would love it if you did an audiobook of his gold Bible. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Amazing. Incredible. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That would be something. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Oh my God. 


Priyanka Aribindi: [laugh] Maybe an idea for him. It’s a free one. [music break] 


Josie Duffy Rice: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Leo Duran, Greg Walters and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.