GOP Hardliners Revolt Against Speaker’s Spending Deal

GOP Hardliners Revolt Against Speaker’s Spending Deal

Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA

More than a dozen right-wing Republicans revolted against their party leadership Wednesday, sinking a procedural vote and halting legislative action on the House floor in protest over the $1.66 trillion topline spending deal cut by Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

With government funding deadlines looking on January 19 and February 2, Johnson agreed to 2024 discretionary spending plans that made only minor tweaks to the deal then-speaker Kevin McCarthy made with the White House last year — a deal that eventually led to McCarthy’s ouster. Conservatives were infuriated by McCarthy’s deal and they were angered again by Johnson’s acceptance of the framework this week. The House Freedom Caucus quickly labeled it a “total failure.” The agreement included a McCarthy side deal for $69 billion in reprogrammed funding that conservatives say Johnson should have rejected.

Pushing for more fight: The latest right-wing rebellion recalls the blockade enacted by conservatives last year after the McCarthy deal. The renewed GOP drama illustrates again just how chaotic the House has been under the control of a narrow and fractious Republican majority. Right-wing Republicans had helped elevate Johnson to the speakership and have been pushing him to take a harder line against Democrats by pushing for stiffer border security measures and further spending cuts, even if it means shutting down the government.

They want a fight. They want more fight.

“We’re making a statement that the deal, as has been announced — that doesn’t secure the border and doesn’t cut out spending and is going to be passed apparently under suspension of the rules with predominantly Democrat votes — is unacceptable,” Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, the leader of the House Freedom Caucus and one of those blocking Wednesday’s rules vote, told reporters.

The other Republicans who voted against the rule are Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Eric Burlison of Missouri, Eli Crane of Arizona, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Blake Moore of Utah, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Andrew Ogles of Tennessee, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Matt Rosendale of Montana and Chip Roy of Texas. Moore reportedly changed his vote to no so that GOP leaders could bring the measure up again at a later date.

“We want to see bills moving forward that are going to actually cut spending like we said we would do,” Roy told CNN. “And a $1.66 trillion monstrosity — that’s not what we signed up for, so we kind of body-checked the conference a little bit and said, hey, let’s get back in here, let’s get in the room, let’s go figure out what we need to do.”

Roy and other hardliners argue that Johnson should try to exert more leverage in spending talks and that simply accepting a continuing resolution through the rest of the fiscal year would cut spending by about $100 billion compared with the latest deal. Roy again refused to rule out a motion to oust Johnson as speaker. “What I’ve said is that everything is always on the table,” Roy said on CNN, adding that Johnson is a friend.

For his part, Johnson has sought to sell his spending deal as a win for Republicans because it modified last year’s framework to provide an additional $16 billion in 2024 spending cuts, including the accelerated rescission of $10 billion in IRS funding. He has reportedly also made clear to his conference that he doesn’t favor a shutdown, which could hurt Republicans in an election year, though he has not yet laid out his strategy for the short-term funding extension that will likely be needed to avoid a shutdown while appropriators work on spending bills.

While hardliners ramp up the pressure on Johnson and flirt with the idea of calling for his removal, the speaker insists he and his members must face the political realities of governing with an extremely slim House majority in a divided government, where any spending deal would have to be approved by a Democratic-led Senate and White House. “We have to be the adults in the room and govern,” he reportedly told Fox News in a Wednesday afternoon interview, adding that he doesn’t think his job is in jeopardy.

The speaker still has support among the wider GOP conference, and any push to boot him would plunge Republicans into another messy and very public display of disarray. “We’re in a divided government. Anyone who thinks we are going to get more out of this deal is lying and they’re kidding themselves,” Republican Rep. Mike Lawler of New York told reporters. “The speaker did the best he could under the circumstances and frankly our hand was weakened by the eight nitwits who removed Speaker McCarthy.”

The outlook: A potential push to oust Johnson wouldn’t accomplish much, though that consideration hasn’t stopped hardliners in some cases before. The speaker now faces even more pressure as funding for some agencies is due to expire in just nine days and there’s no chance that the appropriations bills will be done in time. Will Johnson embrace the idea of a short-term funding bill or accept a partial government shutdown that might appease those looking for a fight? Some on the right are also now pushing for policy riders that Democrats will reject as poison pills, further clouding the prospects of avoiding at least a partial government shutdown.

Johnson may be more likely to keep border security demands tied to the supplemental spending deal to provide more aid for Ukraine. He reportedly told radio host Hugh Hewitt: “We cannot be involved in securing the border of Ukraine or other nations until we secure our own. And so that border fight is coming, and we’re going to die on that hill.”