In their first major confrontation, a staunch conservative gives in | ET REALITY


Just weeks into his new role, Speaker Mike Johnson has already learned a valuable, if painful, lesson: Being an uncompromising, hardline conservative is much easier from the back benches of the House than from the leadership levels.

The stopgap spending bill he pushed through the House on Tuesday with overwhelming support from Democrats over the objections of a solid bloc of Republicans was a near-exact replica of the funding package he had opposed six weeks ago. when he was still an obscure Louisiana legislator.

But as speaker, Johnson was forced to bow to the political reality that spending proposals designed to appease the far right cannot become law in a divided government. In doing so, he exhibited a pragmatic side that surprised Democrats and frustrated right-wing allies who just days ago were ecstatic about his sudden rise.

Johnson made the calculation that House Republicans, divided and known more for their acrimony than their accomplishments these days, could not afford to be held responsible for a crippling government shutdown ahead of the Thanksgiving Day. Thank you.

So he turned to the Democrats to save the Republicans from themselves once again, and the Democrats delivered. That same scenario cost Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California the presidency last month. But Johnson won’t face any challenges at this point, as Republicans have given him some slack since he was new to the job. They say Mr. Johnson is not Mr. McCarthy. Not yet, anyway.

“There’s something unique about it,” said Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, one of 93 Republicans who broke with the president over the spending deal but still supports it. “We trust what he says.”

Despite his compromise maneuvers to avoid a shutdown, Johnson has another advantage over McCarthy: The far right views Johnson much more as one of their own compared to McCarthy, a reputation the Louisianan sought to reinforce before the U.S. election. Tuesday. vote.

When asked why he was having trouble getting support from ultra-conservative Republicans for the bill, Johnson responded, “I’m one of the ultra-conservatives, OK?”

Still, there was no sugarcoating the fact that the interim continuity resolution headed for quick approval in the Senate on Thursday was a far cry from what those on the far right would have written.

They would have preferred one full of deep budget cuts and right-wing policy provisions that would drive Democrats crazy and trigger a shutdown that some of them were eager to instigate. Instead, it was essentially a “clean” resolution that temporarily kept funding at levels set in 2022, when the Democratic triumvirate of Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Majority Leader Chuck Schumer; and President Biden was in charge.

It was a lot for House Republicans.

“That’s the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill that Republicans vehemently opposed last year,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said on Fox Business Network. “Not a good start.”

Johnson acknowledged the dissatisfaction but said he was unwilling to risk a shutdown while he was still getting on his feet and finding his way around the president’s office on Capitol Hill.

“I’ve been on the job less than three weeks, right?” he said. “I can’t turn an aircraft carrier around overnight.”

The speaker tried to emphasize that the stopgap bill was different in one important way from the one that ended McCarthy’s presidency: It staggered deadlines for funding government agencies, with some spending due on Jan. 19 and the rest on Feb. 2.

Johnson said that approach would avoid the hated holiday backlog of spending bills that has led to the passage in the past of giant omnibus legislation that funds the entire federal government with little review. Now the House and Senate would have time to finish their spending bills, he argued.

“This was a very important first step in moving to the next stage of changing the way Washington works,” Johnson said.

But Johnson’s innovation was seen by others on both sides of the aisle primarily as a misleading cover for a temporary spending plan that gave Democrats what they wanted and left conservatives shaking their heads.

Top Democrats still trying to rein in the new president said they were encouraged by Johnson’s bipartisan approach, particularly after his first legislative action was to tie $14.3 billion in aid to Israel that a majority in Congress wants to IRS cuts. that Democrats despise. Democrats had prepared for more partisan maneuvering, but instead found Johnson willing to compromise, albeit with a complicated structure they considered unnecessary.

Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said he was “encouraged, very cautious” that Johnson had approved a temporary spending measure “that omits precisely the kind of far-right cuts that would not have been feasible for Democrats.” . He said he had consulted with the speaker about how to structure what Schumer called the “silly” tiered bill to lessen Democratic resistance.

The stopgap bill is not the end of Johnson’s spending challenge. He promised he would not advance another stopgap measure, meaning House Republicans must now pass a series of spending bills that have already tied them up, and then reach a compromise with the Senate and White House to early next year.

It’s not an easy task, but Johnson said he was determined to see it through.

“I’m done with short-term CRs,” he said, using shorthand for a continuing resolution to keep government funds flowing. “We are resolved.”

But if he falters in the coming days on spending, assistance to Ukraine and Israel or border security provisions demanded by Republicans, Johnson could find the initial patience shown by some on the far right wearing thin.

“This better not be the model approach,” Roy said of Tuesday’s move. “Or there will be trouble in the so-called paradise.”

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