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Andy Beshear

House Republicans had a bad night, can Johnson deliver?

Quick notes: Democrats had a very good Election Night on Tuesday. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won reelection in Kentucky, dispatching Republican Daniel Cameron, a close ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Ohio voters enshrined the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution. And Democrats won control of the state legislature in Virginia. Gabe Amo, a former aide to President Joe Biden, won a special election in Rhode Island.

Maybe for just a minute, this will stop Democrats from hand-wringing over Biden’s lousy poll numbers. Maybe. And anoint a new national political star in the 45-year-old Beshear.

Conversely, it was a bad night for the GOP nationally. And it was a bad night for House Republicans, as their version of the FY2024 Transportation-HUD spending bill got pulled from the floor. When it will be taken up is still unclear.

The big question: Can Johnson deliver? Since the birth of the Tea Party movement and the 2010 House GOP landslide, the right has pined for a speaker who would listen to them. A speaker who would pursue their preferred strategies, seek confrontation with the Senate and White House instead of compromise and run the House as if it were an extension of the Republican Study Committee. A speaker who was one of them.

They’ve finally got that in new Speaker Mike Johnson, who emerged from weeks of brutal House GOP infighting as their party leader. Now the rubber will meet the road as to whether governing as a conservative hardliner can actually work. The early signs are mixed, at best.

Johnson has, in essence, delayed critical aid to Israel by turning it into a partisan political fight, tying the $14 billion in new funding for the embattled U.S. ally to enacting offsetting IRS cuts (and increasing the deficit). The Louisiana Republican is signaling he’s very open to possibly impeaching Biden. He’s leaning toward pursuing a strategy pushed by the House Freedom Caucus to bifurcate government funding, a risky move given that Democrats control the Senate and the White House. And Johnson passed on an opportunity to try to move a stopgap funding bill this week, instead pushing off any House action to avert a shutdown until days before the Nov. 17 deadline.

This is the kind of legislative saber-rattling conservatives have dreamed about for years. But can it work?

The reality is this: Aid to Israel is going nowhere fast. As we noted above, GOP leaders had to pull the Transportation-HUD spending bill Tuesday night because both moderate and conservative Republicans rebelled. There’s a better-than-even chance that the federal government could shut down next week. Vulnerable GOP lawmakers don’t love the idea of impeaching Biden while some senior House Republicans fret it could actually help the president politically. Plus the Democratic-controlled Senate will never convict him anyway.

But Johnson is likely to face little — if any — of the backlash that his predecessors felt if his plans fall apart.

For the moment, Johnson has succeeded in somewhat calming the crisis atmosphere that prevailed inside the House Republican Conference. Internal GOP meetings are less contentious than they have been throughout this Congress. Conservatives, in particular, seem willing to give Johnson a chance to find his way in very difficult circumstances. He’s still firmly in his honeymoon phase.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, noted Johnson inherited his post following a disastrous few weeks for Republicans, which gives the speaker some more leeway in funding negotiations.

“Most of it was already baked in by the time he got here,” Perry said of Johnson. “The waters are just too high.”

Perry, however, was confident that Johnson won’t go for a clean CR like former Speaker Kevin McCarthy did at the end of September. That move ultimately cost McCarthy his job after conservative hardliners decided to oust the speaker.

“He’s not going to cave,” Perry insisted of Johnson.

Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), one of the eight lawmakers who voted to oust McCarthy, said he had full faith in Johnson to give the right what they want.

“The outcome is going to be quite a bit different,” Crane told us. “Speaker Johnson is a lot more conservative and I don’t believe he’s as transactional.”

Whether or not Johnson is more conservative than his GOP predecessors isn’t up for debate. He’s decidedly more to the right than McCarthy. Same with Paul Ryan or John Boehner.

Yet the real question is can a brand-new speaker with an inexperienced staff execute strategies straight from the Freedom Caucus playbook and be successful in an otherwise all-Democratic Washington? We’ll find out, but it’s going to be an up-and-down ride in the meantime.

— Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Mica Soellner

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.