Fox News star and sometime GOP operative Sean Hannity hosted a unity pep rally for House Republicans on Wednesday night, interviewing new Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and members of his leadership team before a cheering crowd of caucus members live from Capitol Hill.
House Republicans spent much of October embroiled in chaos. After a handful of disgruntled members voted to dethrone then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for forging a deal to fund the government, the caucus cycled through a series of potential replacements who failed to garner sufficient support to take over the post. The exhausted members finally settled on Johnson last week, but his early days have been rough going: GOP resolutions to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and expel Rep. George Santos (R-NY) both failed on Wednesday, the party’s proposed bill for military aid to Israel is dead on arrival in the Senate, and the clock is ticking down toward a government shutdown.
Enter Hannity, who has a lengthy record of prioritizing the political success of the GOP over all other considerations. The Fox host, who originally endorsed network favorite Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) for the speakership but backed off as Jordan’s bid faltered, has rallied to Johnson’s side and is urging the fractured caucus to unite.
Hannity’s Wednesday performance was a pitch for his own future relevance. He sought to ingratiate himself with the newly minted speaker, who he admitted not knowing well, while encouraging the assembled members to remain focused on issues that bring them together — which were coincidentally the same subjects that he regularly highlights on his show.
It goes without saying that nothing about Fox’s hourlong propaganda fest would have been considered ethically acceptable on any news network.
“Make no mistake: With just 369 days until the 2024 election, House Republicans — and I’m saying to all of you in this room and all of you that are watching at home — you will succeed together or you will fail together,” he pitched at the top of his opening monologue. “There won't be some winners and some losers. The only people that will really lose if you lose are the American people.”
Hannity decried “divisive infighting,” telling members to “put aside personal drudges, individual agendas” to “deliver big on issues” like “border security,” “energy independence,” “fiscal sanity,” “law and order,” “the rule of law,” and “moral clarity in this time of terrorism.”
He then, somewhat contradictorily, told the crowd of GOP representatives that they can’t enact legislation with a Democratic Senate and White House, but should instead “stop Joe Biden’s radical agenda,” “investigate his corruption,” and “force Democrats to show their true colors in a series of very important votes, put them on the record.”
At the conclusion of his monologue, he instructed the members to “give a warm welcome to your new speaker, Mike Johnson.” After the crowd cheered, he commented, “Well, I certainly know my place in the people’s house, because you got a much better reception than I did.”
“That’s not true,” Johnson replied. “If they had seen it before you began, you’re a rock star here.”
Hannity let Johnson quickly skip past the failed votes against Tlaib and Santos and pivot to a happier message about party unity, before spending the balance of their interview responding to clips from members of the Biden administration discussing border security.
Indeed, the throughline Wednesday night was Hannity’s consistent focus on issues like border security which he believes unify the party without alienating the public. There were no questions about abortion, or health care, or the 2020 election and 2021 insurrection, where the party’s position is unpopular and Republicans fracture. Nor did the Fox host force his guests to lay out how deeply they want to cut spending and who those cuts will impact. And Donald Trump's name wasn't mentioned a single time the entire show.
Instead, Hannity asked Johson and House leadership team members Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Tom Emmer (R-MN) about the border, the prospect of domestic terrorism, the purported weaponization of government, and “the cognitive state of Joe Biden.”
Committee chairs Jordan, James Comer (R-KY), and Jason Smith (R-MO) took turns describing the course of their Biden investigations in language familiar to Hannity fans but impenetrable to normal people, which Johnson suggested would lead to the president’s impeachment.
And Reps. Chip Roy (R-TX) and Kat Cammack (R-FL) described the GOP’s effort to push back on Biden’s proposal for an emergency package that includes military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, aid to Palestinian and Israeli civilians, and border security, including a plug for House Republicans’ deficit-boosting IRS cuts to aid wealthy tax cheats.
Hannity asked the audience of members questions at times, calling for shows of hands. He noted that no one raised their hand when he asked if “Joe Biden is cognitively strong enough to be our president,” and that all of them did when he asked if the Biden investigations are “headed” toward impeachment. There were also hands raised and cries of “yes” when he asked the crowd, “Do you believe we’ve given too much money to Ukraine?”
The final segment turned any subtext of the show to text. Hannity brought on Reps. Mike Lawler (R-NY) and Byron Donalds (R-FL) and asked if the party would succeed if members focused on the issues discussed on the show that night. Both agreed that they would.
Then Hannity touted Johnson’s “great fundraising week” and closed by asking him, “Can you look in the camera and assure every conservative and Republican in the country that that main agenda can get done and will get done?”
“That is going to be our agenda and we're going to deliver for the people and govern well,” Johnson replied. “And I think that we’ll be able to grow our majority when we do that.”
That’s certainly Hannity’s plan. As for what will happen on all the other issues — getting those answers might require something closer to journalism.