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Mike Johnson

Inside a key meeting in Johnson’s office

The House is gone until Feb. 28, which is just three days ahead of the first government funding deadline. The Senate is out of session too. Andrew Desiderio, our chief Senate reporter and foreign policy scribe, is in Munich, where dozens of lawmakers are attending the Munich Security Conference.

News: Speaker Mike Johnson hosted an animated and at times heated meeting in the Capitol Wednesday afternoon during which hardline conservatives warred with appropriators and GOP leadership over the pending FY2024 funding bills — including whether House Republicans should force a government shutdown in order to try to win policy fights.

In attendance were conservative hardliners including Reps. Byron Donalds (Fla.), Chip Roy (Texas), Michael Cloud (Texas) and House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (Va.).

Johnson was there, as were Appropriations Committee cardinals — subcommittee chairs — Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Tom Cole (Okla.), David Joyce (Ohio) and Robert Aderholt (Ala.). Vulnerable GOP lawmakers such as Reps. Mike Garcia (Calif.) and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (Ore.) were also in the room.

This was a long meeting with spats of yelling. But the basic gist is this — appropriators effectively told the hardline conservatives that they have no chance of exacting the kinds of “poison pill” riders that the House approved in GOP-only spending bills. The cardinals argued that a government shutdown was idiotic and would only hurt House Republicans.

Republican leaders and appropriators have urged conservatives to focus on one or two achievable goals — something modest on border security, for example — and to drop their focus on other poison-pill amendments. House and Senate appropriators have been negotiating daily on the bills, lawmakers and aides said.

The conservatives angrily accused Johnson and GOP appropriators of “surrendering” and giving up too easily on Republican priorities.

On several occasions, the conservative hardliners suggested that Republicans should simply provoke a shutdown or enact a full-year CR to ensure a 1% cut in government spending.

Remember: Under last spring’s debt-limit deal, there’s a 1% across-the-board spending cut if all 12 spending bills aren’t signed into law by April 30. This cut — roughly $50 billion total — will fall far more heavily on non-defense spending than defense. Conservatives’ goal for months has been to string the appropriations process along until that cut kicks in.

Johnson effectively has three choices right now to avoid a partial shutdown on March 1 — He can push for a stopgap bill to give appropriators more time to craft spending bills; he can put a full-year CR on the floor; or he can try to pass compromise bills with Democrats. Two of those options — a stopgap or compromise bills — could cost Johnson the speakership.

The frustration on the right is palpable right now. In conservatives’ view, they’re about to have to swallow a minibus or an omnibus. This isn’t what they bargained for.

Here’s Roy:

Donalds, who was particularly animated in the meeting, told Johnson he doesn’t think Republicans would lose a shutdown fight with President Joe Biden because “Barack Obama actually had control over the bully pulpit. Joe Biden does not.”

More news: Ten House members (five from each party) have drafted a compromise Ukraine-Taiwan-Israel-border security bill. You can read the text here, and the summary here.

The 10 members — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.) Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), Chavez-DeRemer, Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.), Don Davis (D-N.C.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.) — want to offer an alternative to the Senate’s $95 billion foreign-aid bill, which Johnson declared “dead on arrival” in the House. Their proposal would only cover a one-year period.

The proposal calls for nearly $48 billion in new aid for Ukraine, $10.4 billion for Israel, $5.4 billion for the Indo-Pacific including Taiwan and $2.4 billion to support U.S. operations in the Middle East, especially against the Houthis. Overall, this is $66 billion in “defense-only” support for the U.S. allies.

On border security, the Homeland Security secretary would be allowed to “suspend the entry of inadmissible aliens” in order to help achieve “operational control of the border.” Immigration officials could immediately detain and expel inadmissible migrants who cross over the U.S.-Mexico border or enter the country by other means. Asylum standards would be toughened, and the “Remain in Mexico” policy would be implemented for one year as well.

While GOP leaders will come under tremendous pressure from the growing anti-Ukraine faction in their conference to reject this proposal, there’s still a majority of House members who want to back Ukraine’s fight against Russia.

Progressive Democrats will strongly oppose the Israel funding due to the war in Gaza and lack of Palestinian aid, but again, Israel still has majority support on the Hill.

So this proposal is designed to up the ante for Johnson and the House GOP leadership.

— Jake Sherman, Mica Soellner and John Bresnahan

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