This time, new Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana appeared on track Tuesday for a temporarily better outcome as the House prepared to vote on a stopgap package to keep the government running into the new year. If approved, the Senate would act next, ahead of Friday’s shutdown deadline.
But the new Republican leader faces the same political problem that led to McCarthy’s ouster —angry, frustrated, hard-right GOP lawmakers rejecting his approach, demanding budget cuts and determined to vote against the plan. Without enough support from his Republican majority, Johnson would be forced to rely on Democrats to ensure passage to keep the federal government running.
“We’re not surrendering,” Johnson assured after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans at the Capitol. “But you have to choose fights you can win.”
Johnson, who announced his endorsement Tuesday of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president, was working furiously and hit the airwaves to sell his approach. He met privately the night before with the conservative Freedom Caucus.
Under his proposal, Johnson is putting forward a unique — critics say bizarre — two-part process that temporarily funds some federal agencies to Jan. 19 and others to Feb. 2. It’s a continuing resolution, or CR, that comes without any of the deep cuts conservatives have demanded all year. It also fails to include President Joe Biden’s request for nearly $106 billion for Ukraine, Israel, border security and other supplemental funds.
Johnson says the innovative approach would position House Republicans to “go into the fight” for deeper spending cuts in the new year — but many Republicans are skeptical there will be any better outcome in January.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus announced its opposition, ensuring dozens of votes against it.
“I think it’s a very big mistake,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a member of the hard-right group of lawmakers.
“It’s wrong,” said Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn.
Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said his party was “carefully evaluating” the proposal from the Republican leadership before giving approval.
But Democrats remain concerned about the two-part approach. Veteran lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called it cumbersome, unusual and unworkable.
Jeffries in a letter to Democratic colleagues noted that the GOP package met the Democratic demands to keep funding at current levels without steep reductions or divisive Republican policy priorities.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they cannot govern without House Democrats,” Jeffries said on NPR. “That will be the case this week in the context of avoiding a government shutdown.”
With the House narrowly divided, Johnson cannot afford many defections from his Republicans, which is forcing him into the arms of Democrats.
Winning bipartisan approval of a continuing resolution is the same move that led McCarthy’s hard-right flank to oust him in October, days after the Sept. 30 vote to avert a federal shutdown. For now, Johnson appears to be benefiting from a political honeymoon in one of his first big tests on the job.
“Look, we’re going to trust the speaker’s move here,” said Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga.
But Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a McCarthy ally who opposed his ouster, said Johnson should be held to the same standard. “What’s the point in throwing out one speaker if nothing changes? The only way to make sure that real changes happen is make the red line stay the same for every speaker.”
The Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority, has signaled its willingness to accept Johnson’s package ahead of Friday’s deadline to fund the government.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the House GOP package “will keep the lights on,” and he will support it.
But McConnell, R-Ky., noted that Congress still has work to do toward Biden’s request to provide U.S. military aid for Ukraine and Israel and for other needs. Senators are trying to devise a separate package to fund U.S. supplies for the overseas wars and to bolster border security, but it remains a work in progress.
If approved, passage of the continuing resolution would be a less-than-triumphant capstone to the House GOP’s first year in the majority. The Republicans have worked tirelessly to cut federal government spending only to find their own GOP colleagues are unwilling to go along with the most conservative priorities. Two of the Republican bills collapsed last week as moderates revolted.
Instead, the Republicans are left funding the government essentially on autopilot at the levels that were set in bipartisan fashion at the end of 2022, when Democrats had control of Congress but the two parties came together to agree on budget terms.
All that could change in the new year when 1% cuts across the board to all departments would be triggered if Congress failed to agree to new budget terms and pass the traditional appropriation bills to fund the government by springtime.
The 1% automatic cuts, which would take hold in April, are despised by all sides — Republicans say they are not enough, Democrats say they are too steep and many lawmakers prefer to boost defense funds. But they are part of the debt deal McCarthy and Biden struck earlier this year. The idea was to push Congress to do better.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Stephen Groves and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.