Nobody’s happy with House Speaker Mike Johnson as government shutdown looms

House Speaker Mike Johnson is making no one happy, including his leadership team and Republican conference. They are looking to him to lead in averting a government shutdown, and they are getting sermons instead. Senior lawmakers are looking to him to make decisions on those funding bills, and he’s giving them lectures on the process of passing bills, a thing they know a lot more about than him since he hasn’t had the job of appropriating, ever.

One of those senior lawmakers, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, was pretty brutal in his assessment.

“Now, we are in a fully Johnson-run House, and he’s got to own all the decision making in the 12 appropriations bills. That’s probably not best for him. Probably not best for public policy either,” McHenry, who is retiring this year, told CNN. “It’s actually drug out what is sort of inevitable here, which is we will either perform to the (spending caps) or have a government shutdown.”

Another member, speaking anonymously to Politico, said that Johnson’s efforts to unify his team at a GOP retreat in Florida this week fell flat. “I’m not at church,” the member said, calling Johnson’s address “horrible.” The lawmaker continued, “I think what he was trying to do, but failed on the execution of it, was try to bring us together. … The sermon was so long he couldn’t bring it back to make the point.”

It certainly didn’t help generate any ideas about how to avert the looming government shutdown. Current funding runs out to four out of 12 agencies on March 1, and on March 8 for the rest of the federal government agencies. House and Senate negotiators have been working on an agreement, but face a problem with a host of poison pill policy riders—guns, abortion, equity programs, stripping Mayorkas’ salary—on which House Republicans are insisting. Bills with those restrictions can’t pass either in the House, where Johnson will have to get some Democratic support, or in the Senate. They certainly wouldn’t be signed by President Joe Biden.

Sources tell CNN that these tough decisions have been kicked up to Johnson. They also tell Punchbook News that Johnson “is taking a tough line on these riders, which complicates any agreement to pass the 12 bills.”

Johnson’s likely doing it to make the Freedom Caucus happy, since they hold his job in their hands, just like they did Kevin McCarthy before him.They’re not happy with Johnson either, demanding that he keep them informed of negotiations and pressuring him to do a year-long stop-gap bill (actually, a seven-month bill at this point, because we’re already five months in to the fiscal year). They can also force a government shutdown—and are all but demanding it—if Johnson fails to appease them.

Which brings us back to a very familiar place. Johnson is going to have to rely on Democrats to get the job done, just like McCarthy before him. It’s likelier than not that he’ll land on the side of getting the funding done, one way or another, and the government will stay open. But it will be on Democrats’ terms because it has to be, which could put Johnson’s job in jeopardy. Just like McCarthy.


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