Johnson’s Plan to Avert a Government Shutdown Passes—but Angers Some Republicans

Johnson’s Plan to Avert a Government Shutdown Passes—but Angers Some Republicans

House lawmakers on Tuesday passed a Republican proposal to temporarily extend government funding and avoid a partial shutdown ahead of Thanksgiving. But newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson had to rely on support from Democrats to pass the bill after facing resistance from hard-right conservatives within his own party—a similar scenario to the one that led to his predecessor Kevin McCarthy being booted from the speakership.

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The short-term proposal passed by a vote of 336 to 95, with all but two Democrats voting in favor of the plan, which would extend government funding at current levels for some federal agencies until mid-January and others until early February. The bill now heads to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it will likely pass ahead of the Nov. 17 funding deadline.

The vote signaled potentially choppy political waters ahead for Johnson. “We’re trying to give the speaker a little grace, but today’s a mistake, right out of the gate,” said Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, one of the leaders of the far-right House Freedom Caucus.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, Johnson acknowledged that the short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), lacked distinct GOP policy wins but underscored the need to avert a government shutdown. He described his support for the plan as a strategic move that would provide the Republican conference with additional time to advance more conservative full-year spending plans. 

“I believe that we can fight on principle and do these things simultaneously,” Johnson said. “When you have a small majority, it requires [that] some things are going to have to be bipartisan.”

While some hard-right Republicans expressed disappointment in Johnson for relying on Democrats, there have been no calls to remove the Louisiana congressman from his leadership post, which he has held for just three weeks. Johnson’s political strategy echoes the approach taken by McCarthy, the previous Speaker who relied on Democratic votes to pass a stopgap spending bill on Oct. 1 only to be ousted by eight members of the conference days later. For now, Johnson appears to be benefiting from a political grace period as he settles into his new role—though that sentiment could change in the coming days. 

The internal Republican discord was palpable on Tuesday, with even members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus who supported McCarthy through the motion to vacate opposing the Johnson plan. Their grievances centered on the absence of border-security provisions, immediate spending cuts, and a general aversion to short-term spending patches, according to a statement released by the group.

“If you’re storming the beaches of Normandy and the commanding officer goes down and somebody else takes over you don’t say, ‘Oh, well you get a honeymoon period,’” Roy said. “You got to pick it up and go. And so for me, this was a strategic failure. We should not do this.”

The House GOP bill shelves several priorities that Republicans have said they want to pass, including billions of dollars for Israel’s military and tougher anti-immigration laws at the U.S.-Mexico border. And if the CR is approved, Republicans would essentially be funding the government at the same levels that were set in bipartisan fashion at the end of 2022, when Democrats controlled Congress, marking a failure by Republicans to cut federal government spending despite their slim majority in the House.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called the CR “a very significant win” on Tuesday, pointing to the GOP’s decision not to cut spending levels or insert any conservative “poison pill” language. Although some Democrats were confused by the proposal’s staggered deadlines for funding different parts of the federal government—one on Jan. 19 and another on Feb. 2—House Democratic leaders announced their caucus would support the measure because it did not include any spending cuts or policy changes, and many of them saw no other way to prevent a shutdown. 

“We have consistently made clear that a government shutdown would hurt the economy, our national security and everyday Americans during a very fragile time and must be avoided,” top Democrats, led by House minority leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, wrote in a statement shortly before the vote.

Read More: Lawmakers Almost Came to Physical Blows at the Capitol. Twice

As the House engaged in discussions on the spending bill, tempers flared across the Capitol on Tuesday with a number of skirmishes—some of them physical—adding to the sense of unruliness and dysfunction that has at times clouded Congress this year. At one point, Republican Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee chased down McCarthy, accusing him of deliberately elbowing him with a “clean shot to the kidneys” as he passed him in the hallway. “Hey Kevin, you got any guts?” yelled Burchett, one of the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats to oust McCarthy from his speakership. McCarthy denied he elbowed him. “If I kidney punched someone, they would be on the ground,” he said.

Shortly after in the upper chamber, during a hearing, Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma challenged a witness to a fistfight. “It’s time to pass the CR and get the hell out of here,” said Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. “Wouldn’t that be nice? Everybody can calm down.”

The bill’s fate now rests on the Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority and have signaled a willingness to accept Johnson’s package ahead of Friday’s deadline. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he supported the House proposal, calling it “a solution” that he expected would pass with bipartisan support. “It’s nice to see us working together to avoid a government shutdown,” he said.

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