By STEPHEN GROVES and LISA MASCARO
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House prepared on Tuesday for a vote to prevent a government shutdown, with new Republican Speaker Mike Johnson forced to reach across the aisle to Democrats when hard-right conservatives revolted against his plan.
To keep the federal government running into the new year, Johnson was willing to leave his right-flank Republicans behind and work with Democrats — the same political move that cost the last House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, his job just weeks ago.
This time, Johnson of Louisiana appeared on track for a temporarily better outcome as some Republicans showed signs of unrest but stopped short of threatening to remove the speaker, who has been on the job for just three weeks. The Senate would act next, ahead of Friday’s shutdown deadline.
“Making sure that government stays in operation is a matter of conscience for all of us. We owe that to the American people,” Johnson said at a news conference at the Capitol.
But the new Republican leader faces the same political problem that led to McCarthy’s ouster —angry, frustrated, hard-right GOP lawmakers rejecting his approach, demanding budget cuts and determined to vote against the plan. Without enough support from his Republican majority, Johnson had little choice but to rely on Democrats to ensure passage to keep the federal government running.
“We’re not surrendering,” Johnson assured after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, vowing he would not support another stopgap. “But you have to choose fights you can win.”
Johnson, who announced his endorsement Tuesday of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president, hit the airwaves to sell his approach and met privately Monday night with the conservative Freedom Caucus.
Under his proposal, Johnson is putting forward a unique — critics say bizarre — two-part process that temporarily funds some federal agencies to Jan. 19 and others to Feb. 2. It’s a continuing resolution, or CR, that comes without any of the deep cuts conservatives have demanded all year. It also fails to include President Joe Biden’s request for nearly $106 billion for Ukraine, Israel, border security and other supplemental funds.
Johnson says the innovative approach would position House Republicans to “go into the fight” for deeper spending cuts in the new year, but many Republicans are skeptical there will be any better outcome in January.
The House Freedom Caucus announced its opposition, ensuring dozens of votes against the plan.
“I think it’s a very big mistake,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a member of the hard-right group of lawmakers.
“It’s wrong,” said Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn.
It all left Johnson with few other options than to skip what’s typically a party-only procedural vote, and rely on another process that requires a two-thirds tally with Democrats for passage.
Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said he remained concerned about the two-part approach. Veteran lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called it cumbersome, unusual and unworkable.
Nevertheless, Jeffries in a letter to Democratic colleagues noted that the GOP package met the Democratic demands to keep funding at current levels without steep reductions or divisive Republican policy priorities.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they cannot govern without House Democrats,” Jeffries said on NPR. “That will be the case this week in the context of avoiding a government shutdown.”
With the House narrowly divided, Johnson could not afford many defections from his Republicans, which is forcing him into the arms of Democrats.
Winning bipartisan approval of a continuing resolution is the same move that led McCarthy’s hard-right flank to oust him in October, days after the Sept. 30 vote to avert a federal shutdown. For now, Johnson appears to be benefiting from a political honeymoon in one of his first big tests on the job.
“Look, we’re going to trust the speaker’s move here,” said Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga.
But Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a McCarthy ally who opposed his ouster, said Johnson should be held to the same standard. “What’s the point in throwing out one speaker if nothing changes? The only way to make sure that real changes happen is make the red line stay the same for every speaker.”
The Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority, has signaled its willingness to accept Johnson’s package ahead of Friday’s deadline to fund the government.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the House package “a solution” and said he expected it to pass Congress with bipartisan support.
“It’s nice to see us working together to avoid a government shutdown,” he said.
But McConnell, R-Ky., has noted that Congress still has work to do toward Biden’s request to provide U.S. military aid for Ukraine and Israel and for other needs. Senators are trying to devise a separate package to fund U.S. supplies for the overseas wars and to bolster border security, but it remains a work in progress.
If approved, passage of the continuing resolution would be a less-than-triumphant capstone to the House GOP’s first year in the majority. The Republicans have worked tirelessly to cut federal government spending only to find their own GOP colleagues are unwilling to go along with the most conservative priorities. Two of the Republican bills collapsed last week as moderates revolted.
Instead, the Republicans are left funding the government essentially on autopilot at the levels that were set in bipartisan fashion at the end of 2022, when Democrats had control of Congress but the two parties came together to agree on budget terms.
All that could change in the new year when 1% cuts across the board to all departments would be triggered if Congress failed to agree to new budget terms and pass the traditional appropriation bills to fund the government by springtime.
The 1% automatic cuts, which would take hold in April, are despised by all sides — Republicans say they are not enough, Democrats say they are too steep and many lawmakers prefer to boost defense funds. But they are part of the debt deal McCarthy and Biden struck earlier this year. The idea was to push Congress to do better.