Republicans admit it. Kevin McCarthy has never looked so good.

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For nine months in his speakership, Kevin McCarthy seemed like a man with a title but no power — desperately improvising to keep his job amid factions ready to turn on him in an instant.

Now, in his fourth month in alleged power, Speaker Mike Johnson has accomplished what once seemed unthinkable: making McCarthy seem like a skilled strategist and master of the House.

Interviews with multiple Republicans over the last few days across multiple House factions — people who consider themselves on Johnson’s team, as well as those who were never enthusiastic about his rise — describe a speaker who seems to be winging it on major questions of strategy, messaging and basic vote-counting.

Dismay over Johnson’s seemingly limp grasp on the speaker’s gavel has even produced a new trend of sorts: McCarthy nostalgia.

"Kevin would have a strategy, he’d shop it around, then he’d make a play call,” a senior Republican lawmaker said. “The more I’m around Johnson, the more it’s clear to me he doesn’t have a plan.”

Some are even going on the record. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a libertarian gadfly who was never considered a McCarthy ally, openly pined for the former speaker last week after Republicans suffered another embarrassing floor defeat.

“Getting rid of Speaker McCarthy has officially turned into an unmitigated disaster,” he tweeted.

It’s not getting any easier for Johnson. To start, there’s the $95 billion supplemental spending bill funding aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that arrived Tuesday from the Senate.

For months, Johnson has struggled to articulate a strategy for dealing with the issue.

On Israel, he offered a proposal last year to fund its security needs early in its war with Hamas, but included spending offsets to placate the House GOP’s right flank — which made the bill dead on arrival in the Senate. Last week, Johnson backtracked and removed the offsets, but conservatives balked, and the bill went down on the floor.

On Ukraine, he expressed early support for its fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin, then demanded border provisions be attached to any aid bill, then joined with Donald Trump to tank a bipartisan border compromise forged in the Senate. This week, he criticized the Senate bill for not including any border provisions.

His response to the Senate bill threatens to cement a reputation for dithering in the face of tough decisions. Other members of the GOP leadership team are left entirely in the dark about what he’s thinking until he makes a decision, leaving it difficult to message key policy issues to the public and prepare the rank-and-file for tough votes.

“I’m as confused as ever about what he wants,” one senior GOP aide said about the foreign aid questions. “He hasn’t given us any direction. … I think right now he’s in survival mode.”

Added another, “Not sure what the speaker wants to do on that — as with most things, he’s all over the place.”

The questions have been amplified by Johnson’s tight-knit decision-making process. Where McCarthy had a well-known “kitchen cabinet” consisting of Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.), Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and Majority Whip Tom Emmer, there’s no inner circle who can explain and advocate for Johnson’s thinking inside the conference.

That has led to miscommunication and missteps, some believe. “He’s so agreeable on everything that people walk away believing what they want to believe.” the senior GOP aide said.

Asked about those concerns, a Johnson aide said, “They’re left in the dark because they leak.”

The person added that Johnson is in no rush to take up the Senate bill, given that less than half of Senate Republicans voted for it. “Not much of a mandate,” the person said, also noting that less than half of the House GOP backed aid for Ukraine in its most recent vote in September. The White House, the person added, also deserves blame for thus far refusing to meet with Johnson about the border.

Meanwhile, new tests of Johnson’s leadership are coming quickly. He is hoping to bring a long-brewing fight over the reauthorization of a surveillance program to the House floor this week — one that pits hawkish Intelligence Committee Republicans against civil libertarians on the Judiciary panel.

Johnson plans to try to split the difference: putting forward text outlining where both sides agree and then allow the dueling sides to duke it out on the floor with amendments. But already members are rebelling at the plan and threatening to vote down the rule that would bring the legislation to the floor.

And then there’s the approaching government funding deadlines, where Johnson is facing side-by-side threats of a government shutdown early next month and a conservative rebellion after he struck a spending deal last month with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Johnson has promised his members conservative policy wins, but they are certain to be modest.

But the foreign aid pickle remains Johnson’s biggest. He said Wednesday he has no plans to take up the Senate bill, planning instead to focus on the upcoming appropriations deadlines while letting members put forward their own foreign aid proposals.

The options being informally discussed aren’t entirely under Johnson’s control. A leader with a firmer grasp on power, for instance, could take the Senate bill and tack on H.R. 2, the House’s tough border bill, or perhaps move to break up the bill into constituent pieces for separate votes.

But doing either would require cooperation from the House Rules Committee, where conservative hard-liners appointed by McCarthy exercise a de facto veto.

Certainly, much of Johnson’s paralysis is driven by the fundamental precariousness of his position overseeing a divided conference with the slimmest of majorities. He’s also operating under the specter of a right-wing revolt similar to the one that ended McCarthy’s speakership prematurely.

But, as McCarthy told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill, delaying tough calls doesn’t make them go away.

“Don’t be afraid to make a decision and lead,” McCarthy said. “Make a decision and go. I would do the exact same thing that I did before. You can’t be afraid of someone trying to throw you out.”

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