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Happy Friday morning.
One hundred days ago, following weeks of brutal GOP infighting, the House elected Mike Johnson of Louisiana to be speaker. This is the perfect time to assess Johnson’s performance — and the general political dynamics of the House right now — in the post-Kevin McCarthy era.
Johnson, 52, held a minor leadership role, vice chair of the Republican Conference, when he was picked to be speaker. Johnson went from scheduling one-minute floor speeches to running the House of Representatives. So Johnson’s allies believe he should be given some leeway when evaluating his performance. The speaker’s job doesn’t come with training wheels, as we’ve seen.
There have been a lot of fits and starts over the last 100 days — and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by the broader House Republican Conference. Johnson was all over the map on FISA. He pushed through a clean CR after saying he’d never do that. Johnson’s budget deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was widely panned by hardline conservatives. The Louisiana Republican caught flak for tying Israel aid to IRS spending cuts. And Johnson only endorsed this week’s $80 billion tax bill just before it headed to the floor for a vote.
There are also lots of potential tripwires that Johnson faces over the next 30 to 50 days:
The special election in New York’s Third District is Feb. 13 to replace the expelled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.). A Democratic pickup here would be embarrassing for Johnson and Republicans. Both sides are pouring millions of dollars into the race.
Twin government shutdown threats loom March 1 and March 8. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union is scheduled for March 7. Johnson is unlikely to notch any significant policy wins in the government funding bills and a shutdown still seems possible.
The FAA needs to be renewed by March 8 amid a series of aviation missteps over the past few weeks.
The House GOP conference still has deep schisms over FISA, which will make the April 19 renewal especially difficult.
The border and national security supplemental. If the Senate passes the supplemental, Johnson will have to balance the demands of his defense hawks, who will want to fund Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, against the majority of the conference, which opposes further aid to Ukraine. He’ll also have to deal with former President Donald Trump inevitably taking swipes at the bill.
If the Senate whiffs on a supplemental, there will be pressure on Johnson — and Senate leadership — to find a way to fund Israel and Ukraine. Israel will be easier for Johnson but may require him to swallow his pride and give up on the offsets.
Then there are little things that Johnson has to take care of in the near future. He has yet to fill a slot on the Intelligence Committee that’s been open since September, for example.
Let’s give credit where it’s due: Johnson has been a far better fundraiser than many expected. He’s kept pace for the Congressional Leadership Fund and the NRCC, which will heavily rely on him in the coming months.
Now we’ll talk about style. Johnson is the subject of constant chatter in the House. Democrats and Republicans both wonder how long he’ll last atop the chamber. None of this chatter really matters, but it’s out there.
But here are two more observations about how Johnson operates.
1) Johson is the least accessible speaker to the media in recent memory. He doesn’t talk in the hallways. He rarely holds solo media availabilities, preferring to appear with his leadership colleagues. Johnson’s aides explain that he wants to get the lower-level leadership soldiers in the press. But few quote anyone but Johnson.
2) Johnson stood with the New York Republicans on the SALT deduction cap issue. With a 40-3 Ways and Means vote in his pocket and every right to bring the bill to the floor, Johnson listened to the Empire State lawmakers and promised them a vote on a standalone SALT fix, working hardline conservatives to stand with their politically vulnerable colleagues. The New Yorkers are likely to lose here, but supporting vulnerable Republicans even when they face certain defeat is an important move for a speaker.
In many ways, Johnson has struggled with a broken institution. The House Rules Committee is inoperable because McCarthy stacked it with hardline conservatives to win the speakership back in January 2023. Johnson could fix that — but he hasn’t. Johnson has a historically slim majority, as well.
Johnson has told colleagues that part of his mandate is to bring down the temperature of the House. Has he done that yet? Probably not. Will he? With what he has stacked up in the next few weeks, we doubt it.
One other thing — Johnson won’t be able to hold on to the top GOP leadership post if Republicans lose the House. He can only stay on as speaker. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Majority Whip Tom Emmer and Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — all of whom tried and failed to become speaker — see themselves as minority leader in the next Congress if things go badly for Republicans in November.
— Jake Sherman
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After months of secret, closed-door negotiations, Senate leaders will unveil the long-delayed bipartisan border security and foreign aid package as soon as today. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to tee up a procedural vote for Wednesday, meaning the long-awaited moment of truth is almost here.
By the early part of next week, we should have a pretty good sense of whether this bill — and the tens of billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine and Israel that will ride alongside it — is going to pass the Senate. Some would argue it’s already dead. Vocal opposition from Speaker Mike Johnson and former President Donald Trump may have scared off enough GOP senators from backing it. And even if it clears the Senate, Johnson has suggested that the House won’t touch it.
But there are several factors you’ll need to consider heading into the weekend and Monday evening, when senators are back in Washington for the first time since the text’s expected release.
Can Republican leaders overcome Johnson’s — and Trump’s — opposition? Johnson has been savaging the Senate bill ahead of its official release, relying mostly on what proponents say are “internet rumors” and “misinformation” to kill the measure before it can even get to his chamber. Trump has similarly dismissed the effort.
We don’t expect Johnson and conservative hardliners to suddenly embrace the package. What matters is whether their opposition impacts Senate Republicans who are on the fence about the proposal and the politics surrounding it. Senate Minority Whip John Thune, the GOP’s top vote-counter, suggested several times this week that many of his members will be influenced by both Johnson and Trump.
If Johnson vows to ignore it, some GOP senators will inevitably question whether it’s worth taking a political risk to vote for a bill that’s going nowhere. These Republicans also have to weigh whether they want to be on the opposite side of their party’s likely presidential nominee.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the lead GOP negotiator, acknowledged Thursday that the opponents aren’t going to change their minds about the bill when they see the text.
“I’m not confident anyone who has been attacking it… will come out and speak to y’all and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ None of those folks are going to look at it and come to the press and apologize,” Lankford said. “They’ll find something different.”
The path to 60: There will be a handful of progressives who oppose the bill due to the border security and immigration policy changes, as well as the lack of conditions on the Israel aid. Then the question becomes whether there are enough Republicans who are willing to get this over the 60-vote hump.
Remember — the goal for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Senate Republicans has been to win support from at least half of the 49-member conference for this proposal. Anything less, they’ve argued, will make it even less likely that Johnson takes it up in the House.
Say you start off with 45 of the 51 Democratic Caucus members in support — and that may be generous. Just 15 GOP senators gets you to 60. But that’s well short of half the Senate Republican Conference.
And conservatives are energized to kill this deal. They’re training their ire on Schumer but also McConnell, who’s been the most vocal advocate for the emerging Senate agreement and for Ukraine aid. Schumer’s timetable would, in theory, comport with the 72-hour review period that many Senate Republicans whose votes are in play have demanded. But that’s not nearly enough for conservatives who are likely to oppose the package.
“Schumer’s timeline is ridiculous as he yet again is trying to ram massive pieces of legislation through with no time for debate,” Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) told us. “Republicans should unite in opposition to these tired and undemocratic tactics.”
— Andrew Desiderio
As the 2024 campaign kicks into gear, House Democrats are acknowledging a challenging reality: Many young voters aren’t enthusiastic about voting for President Joe Biden.
Several Democrats told us they’re hearing from younger, more progressive constituents who are fed up with Biden’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war, his recent rhetoric on immigration and his administration’s record on climate.
“It’s hard for young people to see really powerful worker and climate wins from the president when you have so much continued death and destruction happening in Gaza and while we’re backpedaling on thoughtful immigration policy,” progressive freshman Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas) told us.
Four years ago, Biden bested former President Donald Trump on the back of strong support from young voters.
Since then, the Biden administration has delivered a number of wins on issues important to young voters, including the recent move to restrict natural gas exports, which has been hailed as a climate game-changer by activist groups.
But Biden, who’s long represented the more centrist wing of the Democratic Party, is — in the eyes of House Democrats — struggling to win over these more idealistic voters for his reelection bid. Here’s what Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) told us.
“We win and lose on turnout, and when you see that enthusiasm gap, it’s pretty troubling. Even though President Biden has been better than any other president on climate, there’s been too much fossil fuel business as usual.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said enthusiasm “must definitely rise” for Democrats to win the election.
“We’re not doing well,” Cleaver said. “If the election were held tomorrow, [youth voter apathy] would be a major problem.”
We also heard from multiple members that the potential Biden-Trump rematch — between two white men born in the 1940s — isn’t the most exciting choice for voters born in the 21st century.
If young voters decide to sit out on the election, that would likely not only be bad news for Biden. It could also be a problem for House and Senate Democrats in tight races who are counting on the same voters to help them secure victory.
Biden v. the couch: The Biden campaign says it is focused on young voters and highlighted that it hired a director of youth engagement — Eve Levenson — at an earlier point in time than previous presidential campaigns. And Biden’s $140 million war chest will be utilized to deploy voter outreach efforts in the months to come before election day.
“Young people are voting like their rights depend on it, because they do,” Levenson said in a statement. “They know Donald Trump doesn’t care about them and if elected he’ll actively make their lives worse.”
The Biden campaign has also been dispatching key surrogates like Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) to swing states. Frost recently spoke with gun violence survivors in Las Vegas and reported that there was strong support for Biden among base Democratic voters in Nevada.
“I did hear from some of them that they’re concerned about enthusiasm outside of that base,” Frost said. “My concern with young voters is that our main opponent isn’t Trump, it’s the couch.”
The optimists’ view: Biden’s Hill supporters pointed us to his write-in victory in the New Hampshire primary as a sign of strength.
Leading progressive Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) rallied voters in the Granite State to back Biden. Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) credited their presence with strong young and minority Biden support in the cities of Nashua and Manchester.
Raskin said he told young voters that while “this is Joe Biden’s last presidential election as a candidate, it’s your first presidential election.”
“Whatever the chronological distances between Joe Biden and them, it’s irrelevant because we need them engaged right now,” Raskin added. “That seemed to resonate with them, but they are waiting for us to show that we’re interested in their views.”
— Mica Soellner and Max Cohen
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New: Jeff Miller, one of the town’s top Republican lobbyists, is holding a D.C. fundraiser for former President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign with Donald Trump Jr. as the special guest.
Quite notably, the co-hosts of the March 6 event are Speaker Mike Johnson, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, Senate Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) and a whole host of senators and other committee chairs.
Notably absent from this list — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Whip John Thune.
Miller was the finance chair of the 2020 GOP convention and the vice finance chair of Trump’s 2016 inauguration. Here’s the invite:
— Jake Sherman
… AND THERE’S MORE
New: A new poll commissioned by Republican Kari Lake’s Arizona Senate campaign shows her slightly ahead of Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, with the incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) in a distant third.
The poll results, obtained by Punchbowl News, also show former President Donald Trump with a four-point lead over President Joe Biden in Arizona.
Sinema, of course, has not yet said whether she’s running for reelection. But Sinema has been at the center of nearly every major bipartisan deal of the past few years. And she’s about to unveil a bipartisan border-security package that she negotiated with Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Lankford said Thursday that the effort “would not have happened without” Sinema.
But if the polls are to be believed, Sinema is being boxed out by Lake and Gallego. Sinema’s office had no comment.
Also: To mark Speaker Mike Johnson’s first 100 days as speaker, a constellation of Democratic groups have a new memo criticizing his agenda.
News: The Human Rights Campaign PAC, a leading pro-LGBTQ+ political organization, is endorsing Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester’s (D-Del.) bid for Senate. It’s the latest sign that Blunt Rochester is heading toward the Democratic nomination in Delaware.
LBR is running to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and has quickly amassed a huge amount of support from Democrats in the heavily blue state.
“With support from the Human Rights Campaign, I promise always to fight to build a more inclusive nation where love is love, and equality is a non-negotiable reality,” Blunt Rochester said in a statement.
— Andrew Desiderio and Max Cohen
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ALL TIMES EASTERN
President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will depart New Castle, Del., en route to Dover, Del., arriving at 11:30 a.m.
The Bidens, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff CQ Brown will meet with the families of fallen American service members at Dover Air Force Base.
The Bidens, Austin and Brown will participate in a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base.
The Bidens will depart Dover en route to New Castle, arriving at 2:55 p.m.
News Analysis: “Inside Impeachment’s Rise as a Weapon of Partisan Warfare”
– Peter Baker
– Asa Fitch
– Kelly Garrity
– Nathan Fenno and Adam Elmahrek
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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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