Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is getting a free pass from hard-line Republicans who are upset with his approach on keeping the government open with a “clean” funding extension, but are holding him to a different standard than former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — for now.
“Everybody gets a mulligan,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who voted against the continuing resolution (CR).
Weeks ago, Gaetz led a group of eight Republicans who joined with Democrats to oust McCarthy from the Speakership in part because of how he pushed through a CR with the help of Democrats.
But the same members who rose up against McCarthy were much more forgiving of Johnson’s very similar move — even as they lament that the latest, two-step CR did not include spending cuts or set up the House to extract conservative policy concessions from the Senate and White House.
While they voted against the continuing resolution, no one is calling to snatch away Johnson’s gavel — and few are seriously questioning his leadership.
“He’s had two weeks to pass it. His predecessor had since January, and then he jammed us up against the Sept. 30 deadline,” said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), another one of the eight GOP members who voted to oust McCarthy.
The change in attitude has frustrated those who supported McCarthy and disagreed with ousting him.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a McCarthy ally who served as Speaker pro tempore after former Speaker’s ouster, said that it is up to those who voted to take away McCarthy’s gavel to explain “how they can contort themselves into now supporting this Speaker making the same play call.”
“It’s up to their acrobatics, their contortion to justify their position,” McHenry said.
To be sure, not every hard-line conservative member was willing to brush off Johnson’s handling of the continuing resolution.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) was particularly incensed that Johnson opted to push the stopgap through a fast-track suspension process that avoided any possibility of Republicans blocking on a procedural vote while relying on strong Democratic support for passage.
“I gotta tell you, you can’t assume my vote on any bill if the Speaker is going to roll us,” Roy said Tuesday on Fox Business.
The bill passed Tuesday with near-universal support from House Democrats, with two voting against it — while 93 of the 221 House Republicans opposed it.
Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), another member who voted to oust McCarthy, declined to comment on the stopgap’s passage and Johnson’s leadership on Tuesday evening.
And with House Republican leadership being forced to pull attempts to pass full-year appropriations bills twice last week, Johnson has a steep uphill climb ahead of him without a clear path out of the quagmire.
“He’s got a very difficult management task,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said. “But I do know that his heart is in it.”
Gaetz had yet another sports metaphor to explain the GOP willingness to let Johnson continue in the Speakership despite him moving to pass another stopgap.
“When you change football coaches, like, the new coach that comes in, he still has to coach the last coach’s team for a few games before they really get their system and their offense installed,” Gaetz said. “So this is the last McCarthy play we have to run, and I know Speaker Johnson doesn’t even want to do it.”
Johnson has made a similar argument.
“I can’t turn an aircraft carrier overnight,” the Speaker said in a press conference Tuesday.
And Johnson said Tuesday morning on CNBC that the two-step CR — which has some government funding run out Jan. 19 and the rest Feb. 2 — did more than a single-date extension to try to implement change, arguing that it puts the House in a better position to avoid a massive omnibus funding package.
Asked about criticism of the stopgap from “arch conservatives,” Johnson responded: “I’m one of the arch conservatives, OK?”
“I want to cut spending right now, and I would like to put policy riders on this. But when you have a three-vote majority, as we do right now, we don’t have the votes to be able to advance that,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s conservative credentials are one reason why the hard-liners are more eager to trust him. He is the former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House.
On Monday evening, Johnson made an in-person visit to the House Freedom Caucus’s weekly meeting to discuss the stopgap funding bill, members confirmed — a move that is highly unusual for a Speaker, if not unprecedented entirely.
The Freedom Caucus nonetheless came out with a formal position statement opposing the CR on Tuesday. But the position was sure to note that the group is “committed to working with Speaker Johnson,” even though it added it is looking for “bold change.”
“He’s one thing that’s unique. We trust what he says,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a Freedom Caucus member. “He will not meet with a group and come back and tell Freedom Caucus something else, which is a good thing.”
Mychael Schnell contributed.