Johnson Needs Dems to Avoid a Shutdown, Just Like McCarthy

Can Johnson succeed where Kevin McCarthy failed?
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As you may recall, Kevin McCarthy was ejected as Speaker of the House for the sin of relying on Democratic votes to pass a stopgap spending measure needed to head off an imminent government shutdown.

Now, just over a month later, his successor, Mike Johnson, is also trying to head off a government shutdown beginning on Friday, when the stopgap bill McCarthy gave up his gavel to pass expires. He’s come up with a slight variation on the “clean CR” (a continuing resolution extending current funding levels temporarily) McCarthy pushed through with Democratic support. Johnson is pushing a two-part (or “laddered”) stopgap bill extending funding for some departments until January 19 and others until February 2.

The CR is considered “clean” because it doesn’t include spending cuts or other poison pills like the cut in IRS funding that Johnson offered to pay for emergency aid to Israel. But it theoretically makes right-wing House Republicans happy by contemplating the passage of individual appropriations bills instead of the kind of “omnibus” funding measure that Democrats would prefer (thought by House Freedom Caucus types to facilitate runaway spending), and it doesn’t include any of the items in Joe Biden’s supplemental spending request covering aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan along with border-security spending. That will have to be worked out separately instead of being sneaked through Congress as part of a stopgap bill, giving MAGA types an opportunity to fight aid to Ukraine and insist on more vicious border-control policies.

These aspects of Johnson’s “clean CR” can be distinguished from McCarthy’s if you squint hard enough, and they appear to satisfy many House conservatives. But several chronic trouble-makers (e.g., Marjorie Taylor Greene and Chip Roy, along with six other House Republicans) are indicating they’re not onboard. Unless the new Speaker can win virtually all of the malcontents over (which seems unlikely if not impossible), he’ll have to solicit some Democratic voters like the old Speaker did at the price of his position.

So far, despite some critical comments about the “laddered CR” idea and the failure to include the supplemental request emanating from House and Senate Democrats and the White House, there have been no line-in-the-sand declarations from Democratic leaders promising to whip opposition to Johnson’s plans. But he cannot be thrilled with the identity of the first House Democrat to offer him a hand:

Any bandwagon led by Phillips isn’t going attract a lot of House Democrats. But Johnson can’t afford to be terribly choosy. And he may not want a single Democratic vote beyond what he needs to offset Republican defections.

In the end, the outcome could depend on whether Republican hard-liners like and trust Johnson — one of their own, after all — sufficiently more than they liked and trusted McCarthy, who never seemed like a true believer in the MAGA cause. He may also benefit from the fact that even the nihilists and bomb-throwers in the House GOP conference aren’t thrilled at the idea of another decapitation of their party leader in the chamber followed by an endless and embarrassing struggle to replace him. The changed circumstances from the days before McCarthy fell may be just enough to enable Mike Johnson to keep the federal government open.

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