Mike Johnson stars down the first real test of his speakership – US 247 News


A clean CR. Well, technically, one clean CR with two timelines — a parliamentary gimmick that Johnson is hoping is enough to get him past the Friday shutdown deadline.

Now, the question for Johnson is whether that’s enough to convince the most rebellious House Republicans to offer him any more leeway than they granted McCarthy.

Johnson has no legislative experience at this level, he has never chaired a committee and comes from the party’s anti-leadership wing that made governing so difficult for his predecessors. (In late September I voted against the McCarthy CR, along with 89 other Republicans.)

But all of that was a feature, not a bug, during the Speaker Battle Royale of October, when his rare combination of right-wing credentials (Johnson tried to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election) and pissing off the fewest number of colleagues (not serving in top posts means never having to tell colleagues no) were the essential criteria.

Johnson’s CR proposal surprised Democrats. I have conceded two crucial policy points to the opposition: First, there are no spending cuts or poison pill riders in the Johnson CR, and; second, Johnson put Defense in the portion of the CR with the longer deadline of Feb. 2.

Democrats would have dismissed CR out of hand with the kind of steep cuts and right-wing policy changes that many members of the Freedom Caucus have been demanding. They were also worried that if Defense spending was part of the earlier deadline, then they were being set up to vote for GOP spending priorities before the top spending priorities of Democrats. But it’s the earlier deadline of Jan. 19 that includes many Dem priorities in the bills for Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD.

This explains the surprisingly open-minded response from a Senate Dem leadership aide yesterday: “It’s a good thing the Speaker didn’t include unnecessary cuts and kept defense funding with the second group of programs.”

And today, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was similarly chill about the idea during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press”:

“I don’t like this laddered CR approach. It looks gimmicky to me, but I’m open to what the House is talking about. The priority has to be keeping the government open, and I think this is a moment where people in the Senate — and that’s where most of the reasonable people are these days — have to make sure reasonable that we are not making the perfect the enemy of the good. “I don’t like what the House is talking about, but I’m willing to listen.”

The fact that Johnson offered these concessions suggests he’s serious about passing this two-tiered CR and that he knows he needs Democrats to do it.

Johnson was blunt about his strategy during a call with Republicans yesterday afternoon, when he outlined the plan, by the Washington Examiner: “He also addresses[ed] likely opposition, saying he knows that not ‘loading this one up with spending cuts and political riders is a great disappointment to some people’ and that he would like to see those himself, [but] he didn’t think if they made those cuts and attached the policy riders, the bill could ‘get 217 votes on our side,’ and if he were to add those provisions, ‘you’re not going to get a single Democratic vote.’ ”

What would House conservatives get out of this? Process.

They would get the double deadline idea that came out of the House Freedom Caucus, but not the HFC’s cuts and riders. They would get a reprieve from what has become an annual ritual of the holiday season that they have been railing against: getting jammed with an omnibus from the Senate at Christmas. And they would also get a separate debate on the supplemental for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, which is not part of the CR.

What could go wrong? A lot.

The White House is not on board, slamming it hard using their new “Extreme Republican Shutdown” branding.

On this, the White House is not quite on the same page as Senate Dem leadership.

Instead of pocketing the victory of Johnson by keeping spending levels at Pelosi-era levels and not including Defense spending on the first deadline, a White House statement raged, “House Republicans are wasting precious time with an unserious proposal that has been panned by members of both parties” and said that a shutdown would “put critical national security and domestic priorities at risk, including by forcing service members to work without pay.”

Votes from House Democrats could also fail to materialize — although that is putting the donkey before the cart, because first Johnson has two other votes to worry about.

The House Rules Committee will take up his proposal tomorrow at 4 pm Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a GOP member of Rules, was fast out of the gate yesterday condemning the Johnson CR. “My opposition to the clean CR just announced by the Speaker to the @HouseGOP cannot be overstated,” he said. “Funding Pelosi level spending & policies for 75 days – for future ‘promises.’”

Even if the rule makes it out of committee, it could get voted down on the House floor. In addition to Roy, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) are publicly opposing the CR.

Johnson can afford to lose only four votes. Can Johnson convince GOP opponents of the bill to still vote in favor of the rule? In the old days, that was standard practice, but now, with GOP party unity in tatters, voting against a rule is commonplace.

If the rule fails, Johnson could move the bill forward with a two-thirds vote, but that would require a lot of Democrats. Maybe he can get the rule through with GOP votes. But will Dems be there to support a plan the White House has trashed?

And that brings us back to the pickle that Johnson is in — the same one that McCarthy couldn’t escape.

At the end of the day, in divided government, he needs Democratic votes, but every Democrat he relies on is like a brick he’s stacking: Eventually, he will create a wall that separates him from his GOP colleagues until one of them believes that he’s betrayed them and offers a motion to vacate.

McCarthy used those bricks to get past a debt limit crisis and a government shutdown. (In hindsight, not a bad run considering the crazy dynamics.) Maybe Speaker Johnson can at least get past the current spending stalemate.

Finally, so what’s the backup plan? Johnson told his colleagues that if this plan went down, he would push through a yearlong CR with deep cuts to non-defense spending, reportedly at 8%.

Johnson also mentioned this threat in a memo to Republicans that was obtained by Playbook: “If Congressional Democrats and President [JOE] BIDEN are unwilling to responsibly finish the important work of completing the FY24 funding bills on this timeline, House Republicans will refocus Washington on FY25, by implementing a full-year CR with appropriate adjustments to meet our national security priorities and demanding the Senate and White House get back to regular order on schedule and without gimmicks.”

The strategy here is to convince Democrats to help him pass the two-tiered CR — or else. But couldn’t this threat also incentivize hardline Republicans to do everything they can to torpedo this plan in order to move on to the CR with the deep cuts that they want?

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