‘It’s embarrassing’: Republicans worry they have no achievements to run on in 2024

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, has openly questioned whether the GOP deserves to keep the House majority, lamenting the lack of accomplishments this Congress. He’s not alone.

House Republican leaders Tom Emmer, Speaker Mike Johnson and Elise Stefanik in November.Alex Wong / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — When Congress began the new year, Rep. Andy Biggs gave a television interview and made a startling confession: House Republicans have done nothing they can run on.

“We have nothing. In my opinion, we have nothing to go out there and campaign on,” the Arizona Republican said on the conservative network Newsmax. “It’s embarrassing.”

Anchor Chris Salcedo responded with a bemused chuckle. “I know,” he said. “The Republican Party in the Congress majority has zero accomplishments.”

The exchange captured a dynamic that looms over Republican lawmakers heading into the 2024 election: They’ve passed little substantive legislation since winning the majority in 2022 and struggled to do the basics of governing with a Democratic-led Senate. Their first year was instead marked by fractiousness and chaos, complicating the party’s pitch to voters this fall. The challenge is accentuated by likely GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump making “retribution” against his enemies, rather than shared policy goals, the centerpiece of his comeback bid as he continues to spread fabricated claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

With 10 months until Election Day, Republicans still have a few opportunities to salvage what has been a historically unproductive congressional session and pass new laws in the divided government.

A spending deal between House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., gives the GOP a chance to achieve spending cuts. A potential Senate immigration deal gives them an opportunity to toughen asylum and border laws. And a bipartisan tax bill that overwhelmingly passed through committee on Friday presents a rare opening to deliver tax breaks for GOP backers in the business community.

Yet none of those measures are guaranteed to become law. Right-wing members, including Biggs, are rebelling against some of them for being insufficiently conservative. The emerging immigration bill’s prospects may hinge on Trump, who is seeking to wield chaos at the border as a weapon against President Joe Biden in the general election.

The tax bill faces some skepticism from Senate Republicans and fierce opposition from the business-aligned Wall Street Journal editorial board, which complained that it would “give Democrats a huge policy victory” on the child credit. “Republicans haven’t done much in the 118th Congress, and in their scramble to compensate they may now do real policy harm,” the paper wrote.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the former acting speaker, said Johnson “should seek wider counsel than the loudest people who line up in the queue” — referring to far-right members who oppose compromises with the Senate — warning that the GOP could suffer politically without some legislative victories.

“If we keep extending the pain and creating more suffering, we will pay the price at the ballot box. But if we can get on with governance, and get the best policy wins we can, then you can open-field this thing,” McHenry said. “But at this point, we are sucking wind because we can’t get past the main object in the road. Once we get past that main object, then it’s the president’s performance on the economy, it’s the president’s performance on national security.”

“We need to get the hell out of the way, cut the best deals we can get,” he said. “And then get on with the political year.”

‘They can’t pass an agenda’

Democrats intend to highlight the majority’s thin record this fall.

“I think people are paying attention to that,” Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said in an interview. “This is clearly a Republican conference where the only thing that brings them together are impeachments and censures. That’s what they’re about because they can’t pass an agenda. They can’t do anything substantively to help the American people. And so we plan on making that an issue throughout the year.”

Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fla., a senior appropriator, said there’s still time for Republicans to bag some victories. “If we can do the tax bill, and if we can do the appropriation bills ... if we can do something to actually strengthen the border ... then I think that would be a highly, highly, highly successful Congress,” he said.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., who represents one of 17 GOP districts that Biden won in 2020, praised the tax bill and said he wants to fund Ukraine and Israel, help Taiwan and secure the border.

“I hope there’s enough adults in the room that are willing to focus on progress rather than purity,” Fitzpatrick said.

GOP senators concur. “It would be really nice if they could hang their hat on some accomplishment,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who previously served three terms in the House.

Cramer said the record of accomplishments since Republicans took the House majority has so far been “damn thin.” He warned that if conservatives scuttle an immigration deal, it could hurt swing-district GOP members who would benefit from achievements as they fight for political survival in competitive districts.

“It would be ironic if the thing that prevented them from being able to hang their hat on a good immigration or border security policy would be the election because it could be the only thing that might save some of them,” Cramer said. “The whole ‘burden of governing’ thing that I was hopeful would weigh heavily enough on them to get serious hasn’t worked so far.”

‘We keep doing the same stupid stuff’

House Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole, R-Okla., said divided government always complicates lawmaking but argued that since the GOP took the House, “the big accomplishments here are what we stopped, not what we got done.”

“Certainly so far we’ve avoided shutting down the government; that’s no small achievement,” he said. “I actually think that House races are going to be shaped more by the presidential race than they are by anything that happens here. The country is very evenly divided. I don’t think very many people are going to vote for one guy for president and a person of a different party for their local congressman or congresswoman.”

That’s not good enough for some Republicans.

The frustration over the lack of achievements boiled over for Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, around Thanksgiving when he went to the floor to deliver a fiery speech that gained national attention.

“I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one! — that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!” Roy yelled. “Anybody sitting in the complex, you want to come down to the floor and come explain to me one material, meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done besides, ‘Well, I guess it’s not as bad as the Democrats.’”

Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., the GOP campaign chief, said members conveyed their dissatisfaction to Roy about his comments that the party doesn’t deserve the majority.

“I don’t think it’s helpful,” Hudson said. “I bet some Democrats will take his words and make some ads out of them.”

But he added that he doesn’t think Roy’s outburst will impact any races by fall. He said Republicans “have legislative accomplishments coming out of the House,” citing conservative measures to bolster fossil fuel energy production and a “parents’ bill of rights,” even though they’ve gone nowhere in the Democratic-led Senate.

“I think we’ve got a record to run on,” Hudson said.

Roy told NBC News he stands by his critique “because nothing’s been delivered yet — no final product.” And the message from his colleagues didn’t seem to impress him. On Thursday, as Congress passed a third stopgap funding bill in five months, Roy went back to the floor to question the value of the Republican majority.

“By the way, it does not matter who’s sitting in the speaker’s seat or who’s got the majority,” he said before the C-SPAN cameras on the House floor. “We keep doing the same stupid stuff.”