A leading member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus indicated trouble ahead for Mike Johnson, the new speaker, after the House on Tuesday passed a bill to avert a government shutdown.
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Chip Roy, of Texas, told reporters the bill was “precisely what was put down on [Saturday 1 October], that then resulted in the motion to vacate against Kevin that following Tuesday, and here we are. We’re doing the same thing”.
In October, Kevin McCarthy, of California, relied on Democratic support to pass a continuing resolution (CR) and stave off the threat of a shutdown, which would leave federal workers without pay and cripple many functions of government.
Thus angering Roy and other rightwingers, McCarthy swiftly became the first House speaker ever ejected by his own party.
After a chaotic interregnum in which candidates for speaker fell in swift succession, Johnson, from Louisiana, succeeded McCarthy as a speaker acceptable to the hard right and Donald Trump, the presidential frontrunner who Johnson supported as he attempted to overturn the 2020 election.
Nonetheless, on Tuesday Johnson was forced to rely on Democratic support to get his “laddered” or staggered funding measure through. In the end, no fewer than 93 Republicans voted against the bill.
Johnson enjoys one key advantage over McCarthy. There is no sense – yet – that his days as speaker are numbered.
“Mike’s a friend,” Roy said. “You know, I wanted to give a little time to get all this going. I get it. It’s difficult.
“But, you know, for the same reasons that I opposed the CR on 1 October, I oppose the CR that Speaker Johnson is putting forward because it continues to perpetuate the very system my constituents sent me here to oppose.
“They don’t want me to continue spending money we don’t have at $1.6tn spending level, at the Pelosi spending level, to Pelosi spending, policies and priorities. And that’s what this is doing.”
Nancy Pelosi, the California congresswoman who was the Democratic speaker until the last midterm elections, has long been a potent bugbear for the Republican right.
Roy also aimed fire at his own ranks: “We have Republicans who violently opposed that bill a year ago and the omnibus bill last December, who are now trying to say that we need to continue that.”
Lamenting unchallenged funding for the Department of Homeland Security – another Republican bugbear, given its responsibility for controlling immigration and in particular the southern border – Roy stressed: “I oppose it. I oppose” the funding bill.
But Democrats did not oppose it, even if the “laddered” measure was not their preferred choice.
“The main principle is keeping the government open,” Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey congressman, told the Washington Post. “We’re not talking about even saving face. This is the 11th hour. We don’t have many alternatives here.”
Johnson’s bill must pass the Senate. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, indicated that it would, while of similar mind to Pascrell.
Though he called Johnson’s bill “goofy”, Schumer said on the chamber floor: “I am heartened – cautiously so – that Speaker Johnson is moving forward with a CR that omits precisely the sort of hard-right cuts that would have been nonstarters for Democrats.
“I certainly don’t agree with everything the speaker is proposing, and I can’t imagine too many senators would have taken the speaker’s approach in drafting this bill. But the proposal … does two things Democrats have pushed for: it will avert a shutdown, and it will do so without making any terrible hard-right cuts that the Maga [Trump-supporting] rightwing demands.”
Such demands will likely be made of Johnson some time soon.
“Mike is an extraordinary man of integrity and honor,” Roy told reporters. “I take him at his word. But what I think you’ve got to remember [is] this is a job where it’s very difficult to honor our commitments like that. You’re going to get up to another deadline.”
For now, though, the pressure is off – regarding funding bills, at least.
On a day when McCarthy denied shoving Tim Burchett of Tennessee, a rightwinger who voted to remove him as speaker last month, and when the Oklahoma Republican Markwayne Mullin physically threatened a union boss at a Senate hearing, Johnson told reporters his CR would “allow everybody to go home for a couple of days for Thanksgiving”.
“Everybody cool off,” the speaker said. “Members have been here for 10 weeks. This place is a pressure cooker.”
As the next funding deadline nears, such pressure will inevitably rise again.