Thanksgiving is still more than a week away, but the House is already heading home for the holiday after 19 far-right Republicans rebelled against Speaker Mike Johnson and GOP leaders Wednesday and voted to block action on a 2024 spending bill and a separate piece of legislation pertaining to frozen Iranian assets. With any chance of progress on spending bills halted and nothing else left on the schedule, Republican leaders canceled votes for the rest of the week and sent members home to cool tensions.
The GOP hardliners joined with Democrats in voting against a typically routine procedural step to open floor debate on the two bills, including funding for the departments of Commerce and Justice — a revolt that was, at least in part, retaliation for House Speaker Mike Johnson’s decision to press ahead Tuesday with a “clean” stopgap spending measure to avert a government shutdown at the end of the week. That bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR, was passed by relying on Democratic votes. A majority of House Republicans supported it, too, but hardliners were incensed that it did not include spending cuts or other of their policy priorities.
“We’ve had enough,” said Rep. Scott Perry, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. “We’re sending a shot across the bow.” Moderates saw it somewhat differently. “This is retaliation when something doesn’t go their way,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, chair of the more moderate Main Street Caucus, according to Politico.
GOP leaders also had to pull the bill funding the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services from the floor due to opposition from moderates to steep proposed spending cuts and anti-abortion provisions.
Wednesday’s ultraconservative revolt is reminiscent of a similar blockade on House legislative activity by hard-right lawmakers earlier this year after then-speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to a deal with the White House to raise the debt limit. GOP hardliners have insisted that lawmakers should pass individual annual spending bills rather than massive year-end packages that combine those single-subject measures. Yet while the House has thus far passed seven of the 12 annual spending bills, Republicans have struggled to reach agreement on the five remaining pieces of legislation, with multiple planned votes derailed by intraparty clashes.
“On Wednesday’s rule vote, GOP objectors expressed dual concerns,” Roll Call reports. “First, they opposed the Commerce-Justice-Science bill for not going far enough to cut FBI spending, despite 9 percent cuts already baked in. Second, they didn’t like that the rule governing debate on the Iran bill was “closed,” precluding members’ ability to offer amendments.” Some moderates also opposed the Commerce-Justice-Science bill out of concern over anti-abortion language and those cuts to law enforcement.
Johnson’s honeymoon is over: Hardliners had indicated that they would give their new speaker some leeway in his first weeks on the job, and while they aren’t threatening Johnson’s job — yet — they are already signaling limits to their patience. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told CNN that Johnson’s decision to back a spending bill without cuts and pass it under a suspension of the normal rules and with Democratic help amounted to “strike 1 and strike 2.”
What’s next: The Senate appears set to pass the stopgap spending bill, averting a shutdown this week and setting up new deadlines in January and February. It could happen as soon as tonight, though Senate leaders still have to overcome an obstacle or two.
On the House side, Johnson faces a fight — or several fights — after Thanksgiving, and Republicans don’t have a clear path to advance the five annual spending bills that are now in limbo due to their infighting. Keep in mind that Johnson has vowed that he’s now done with short-term spending bills and that the House and Senate will still need to hash out differences between their respective versions of the full-year spending bills. With less than two dozen legislative days on the calendar before mid-January, the new House speaker has his work cut out for him.