February 19, 2024 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

The only thing Mike Johnson is getting out of his relationship with Trump is humiliation

The longer this goes on, the better the Democrats look.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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To be sure, relationships are complex. Political relationships are more complex. Still, I’m having a hard time seeing what Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is getting out of his with the criminal former president

I can see what Donald Trump is getting out of it – a flunky who is single-handedly blocking bipartisan efforts to send more aid to Ukraine as well as to reform border policy and immigration law, all the while laundering Kremlin propaganda into the American mainstream. Vladimir Putin is happy. If he’s happy, Trump is, too. Is Johnson?

Maybe, but that’s hard to see through the humiliation. 

He’s clearly wounded by the question. He’s practically whining with embarrassment. Trump is a shadow speaker. Johnson is his puppet. And he doesn’t like that everyone can now see the strings.

Johnson was on “Meet the Press” recently to defend the first time he preemptively killed the Senate bill. Host Kristen Welker quoted Trump, who said that any Republican who supported the measure should be “ashamed of themselves.” (It’s dead now.) She added that Johnson speaks to Trump regularly and that they had discussed it “at length.”

Then she asked:

“Is Donald Trump calling the shots here, Mr. Speaker?”

Johnson replied:

“Of course, he’s not calling the shots. I’m calling the shots.”

Reading those words doesn’t adequately convey their emotion. You’ve got to hear them to feel them. Here’s the link. Listen to Johnson’s tone of voice. He’s clearly wounded by the question. He’s practically whining with embarrassment. Trump is a shadow speaker. Johnson is his puppet. And he doesn’t like that everyone can now see the strings. 

Then came this devastating analysis over the weekend by the Post’s Dan Balz. Bear in mind that Balz is probably the press corps’ straightest reporter. Yet, as a good reporter, he follows the facts where they lead, in this case to the conclusion that Mike Johnson is “a leader in name only, failing to act on the policies he says are his priorities.”

Balz wrote: “Johnson’s actions fall far short of words. In fact, they have been in conflict. Johnson keeps finding loopholes or excuses or rationales to avoid acting on the very priorities he claims to support.”

Balz added that the Republican speaker “is a leader in name only, buffeted on all sides to the point of immobility. His lone success, if it can be called that, was House passage of a resolution to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The margin was by a single vote, and it came a week after Johnson and company were embarrassed by the failure to pass a similar resolution because Republican vote counters were outfoxed by House Democrats.”

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The worst, so far, comes from Eric Michael Garcia, a correspondent for The Independent. After news broke of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death, Johnson talked tough. He said: “The United States and our partners must be using every means available to cut off Putin’s ability to fund his unprovoked war in Ukraine and aggression against the Baltic states.” But, Garcia wrote, that was the end of it. 

“Despite his tough words, Johnson … has elected to appeal only to the most extreme elements of the GOP conference. … Navalny was willing to take on Vladimir Putin and risk his life. Johnson is so afraid of losing his speakership that he caves to Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

But Garcia went further.

“The shrinking courage of Republican elites doesn’t just risk the ability of Congress to function or even the health of American democracy,” Garcia wrote. “Johnson’s abdication of his duties risks the entire international order and American leadership’s place in it. Should Ukraine fall and Putin begin to march through NATO countries — which would require American troops to mobilize — the blood will be on Johnson’s hands as much as Ukrainians’ blood are on Putin’s.”

Like I said, I can see what Trump is getting out of the relationship – a level of chaos and anarchy that’s ideal for an authoritarian like him who promises to “make America great again.” But I can’t quite see what Johnson is getting. He’s not even pretending to be his own man. He whines when the obvious is pointed out to him. His weakness is becoming a problem of national, even international, security. The longer this goes on, the better Joe Biden and the Democrats look.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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