Donald Trump has neutered Republicans' power to sabotage Joe Biden

It also doesn't hurt that Democrats in Congress have held unprecedentedly united

By Heather Digby Parton


Published April 24, 2024 9:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mike Johnson and Ron DeSantis (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mike Johnson and Ron DeSantis (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

While most of the country was riveted by recaps of Donald Trump's sordid hush-money trial on Tuesday, something amazing was happening in Washington: the Senate debated and then passed the national security package that's been consuming the Capitol for the last six months. With a lopsided vote of 79-18, the bills with aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan among some other things will soon be signed by the president and behind us. Notably, there is no increased funding for the border because Donald Trump ordered the Republicans to reject it so that he could keep demagoguing the issue during the campaign. Nevertheless, Tuesday's vote is a big win for President Joe Biden and the Democrats.

The GOP infighting has escalated in the wake of the House's months-long tantrum led by the far-right extremists who seemed to truly believe that they could hold their breath until they turned blue and they would eventually get everything they wanted. Leading MAGA rebel Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., left town without calling for Speaker Mike Johnson to vacate the chair, demanding instead that he resign, which isn't going to happen. Podcaster Steve Bannon and a couple of fellow right-wing sad sacks — Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Paul Gosar, R-Az. — joined the call but it's clear that however frustrated some of them might be there is no appetite in the House GOP for any more internecine fights, at least for the moment. And the rest of the party is obviously sick of the kooks. 

GOP Sen. Tom Tillis of North Carolina pulled no punches talking about Greene's malign influence, calling her "uninformed" and "a terrible leader" and complaining that she's "dragging our brand down." 

Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas probably speaks for many in his party who are too cowardly to say it as plainly as he did when he called the wild extremists in the GOP "scumbags."

They all might want to take a look at the big orange guy who's actually pulling the strings but he's even turning his back on Greene and continuing to support Johnson, recently telling a radio host:

Look, we have a majority of one, OK? It's not like he can go and do whatever he wants to do. I think he's a very good person. You know, he stood very strongly with me on NATO.

It was a bit low energy but it's pretty clear that Trump not going to back any play to oust Speaker Johnson so Greene is sidelined, at least for now. 

There's no doubt that it took a very steady hand in the White House to stay the course and keep working the legislative levers to get the job done.

It's been a bad run for Trump and for Greene these past few weeks. But you know who's having a great run? President Joe Biden. His poll numbers are edging up but the general election still looks incomprehensibly tight considering how much policy success the president has had with a Congress that is so dysfunctional. Somehow he and the Democrats have made it work for them. 

I think we're all familiar with Biden's big legislative wins in the first two years: the American Rescue Plan, which set the table for a very positive economic recovery, a big infrastructure bill that is just now coming online all over the country, the first major gun safety bill in decades, capping prescription drug costs for seniors and much more. And it was all done with razor-thin majorities in both chambers. Most pieces of legislation passed with bipartisan votes despite what is arguably the most toxic political environment since the 1850s. It was a remarkable feat but I think most observers assumed that it was going to be the end of it when Republicans managed to eke out a tiny victory and flip control of the House in 2022. How could anything get done with Donald Trump pulling the strings and crazed right-wing extremists dominating the caucus? 

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House Republicans had their fun with the Hunter Biden farce and the various "investigations" into the so-called Biden Crime family which have gone nowhere. And immigration has been a genuinely vexing problem that the GOP has exploited as they always do. But as it turns out, while the House Republicans ran around in circles causing chaos on a weekly basis, the important sausage kept getting made. And despite all the drama, the Biden White House ended up getting most of what it wanted without having to give up much of anything in return, at least in part because the Republicans wouldn't take yes for an answer when concessions were offered.

The biggest achievement was avoiding a costly debt limit/government shutdown and I wouldn't have bet that would happen. But former speaker Kevin McCarthy and the White House negotiated a spending deal that served as the excuse to take down McCarthy. (As it turns out it was really about McCarthy refusing to stop an ethics investigation into Florida gadfly Matt Gaetz, but that's another story.) McCarthy's successor Mike Johnson kept the spending agreement in place and fought off another attempt to shut down the government. Just this past month, House Republicans passed the FISA extension backed by the White House and now the big national security package: the ugliest sausage-making extravaganza ever. 

It's been such pandemonium that it was hard to see exactly what was happening but now that the smoke is clearing it's obvious that the writing was on the wall when McCarthy gave so many concessions to the crazies during that bizarre speakers' race at the beginning of the term. Handing the keys to that faction was a major mistake because those people are maximalists for whom politics is all or nothing and they can't accept that having a tiny majority in one house of Congress makes that impossible. 

In the end, it took the House Democrats being unprecedentedly united, despite some very real tensions within their own coalition, and a willingness for some moderate Republicans to finally stand their ground despite dilly-dallying around for months. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., kept his majority together without the centrist divas causing any trouble for once. Not only that, Senate Republicans who haven't completely gone insane refused to follow the House model and came through on the important issues as well. But there's no doubt that it took a very steady hand in the White House to stay the course and keep working the legislative levers to get the job done. It wasn't pretty but under the circumstances, the achievements are very big wins at little cost. Meanwhile, the Republicans are reeling with internal strife while their leader sits fuming in a courtroom daily. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Bipartisanship Commentary Congress Donald Trump Elections 2024 Joe Biden Republicans Ukraine