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Mike Johnson

Will Democrats bail out Johnson?

Speaker Mike Johnson is set to face his first big vote on the House floor today — a clean stopgap funding bill designed to avert a government shutdown after Nov. 17.

And just like the GOP speakers before him, Johnson — who came into power vowing he would change the way Washington works — will have to rely on a bailout from House Democrats to pass the bill.

Support for Johnson’s “two-step CR” was so soft inside the House Republican Conference that the GOP leadership team decided to consider the bill under suspension of the rules. This circumvents the normal House procedural hurdles yet requires a two-thirds majority for passage, meaning 290 yes votes.

As of now, roughly 50 House Republicans are expected to vote against the CR, according to preliminary estimates. But the scale of the internal opposition will be clearer following the GOP conference meeting this morning.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and other senior Democrats also want to hear from their rank-and-file before publicly committing to this maneuver. We talked to more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers and aides on Monday night. Democrats don’t love the GOP plan, yet they want to avoid a shutdown as well.

One challenge for Johnson — what happens if more Democrats vote for the measure than Republicans? What kind of fallout would he face over that?

Remember: Johnson’s plan would extend funding for the Agriculture, Energy and Water, MilCon-VA and Transportation-HUD spending bills until Jan. 19 at current funding levels. The other eight bills — including Defense — would be extended through Feb. 2.

From a strategic perspective, there are problems and opportunities for both Republicans and Democrats here.

The fact that Johnson needs Democrats to pass his first major piece of legislation undermines the central tenet of his speakership — that the Louisiana Republican is decidedly more conservative than his predecessors and would govern that way.

This is a clean funding bill with no policy changes, no spending reductions, or anything conservatives really want. All House Republicans can hang their hat on is that Johnson has avoided a government shutdown while making sure that the Senate doesn’t jam them on a huge funding package before Christmas. It sets up new funding deadlines in January and another in February. Whether that helps Republicans achieve anything remains to be seen.

Johnson huddled with the House Freedom Caucus on Monday night. The HFC is leading the outcry against the new speaker’s plan.

At the same time, Democrats are getting nothing here for their support. They’re bailing Johnson out merely to keep the federal government open. Democrats tried and failed to get the annual defense authorization bill attached to this CR. They did get an extension of farm bill policies, but there’s no aid to Israel, Ukraine or Taiwan either. Those will have to be dealt with separately, and there’s no guarantee that Ukraine aid in particular will be approved.

“Democrats don’t want to shut down the government,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Monday evening. “I think this is a bad process that he set up.”

“The main thing is we have a clean continuing resolution and we don’t shut the government down,” added Rep. Brendan Boyle (Pa.), top Democrat on the Budget Committee. “Shutting the government down would cost taxpayers billions of dollars and impede our economic recovery.”

We talked to several senior Democrats who told us they’ll push for some “future considerations” when it comes to negotiating FY2024 funding bills. Exactly what those considerations are, no one would say.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top Senate GOP appropriator, told us she emphasized to Johnson during their meeting last week that the “Four Corners” — the top GOP and Democratic appropriators in both the House and Senate — still need to agree to toplines before going to conference on the FY2024 bills.

But even if Democrats were going to try to put up a fight or haggle for concessions in exchange for their support, it seems no one really has the energy to do so. Several Democrats told us bluntly Monday night that the House has been in session for 10 straight weeks and members are ready to go home and celebrate Thanksgiving.

In the Senate: Senators from both parties are indicating a willingness to pass the House’s CR if it’s dropped in their laps. It doesn’t include any obvious poison pills that Democrats are objecting to, and the January-February laddered dates will give the Senate some breathing room to finish up the national-security supplemental. That’s the hope, anyway.

We first reported Monday that negotiations around the border security provisions — which will be necessary to unlock GOP support for the Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan package — were faltering as the two sides were trading proposals.

Democrats pushed back on many of the border policy changes the GOP proposed, and they’re publicly condemning Republicans for tying Ukraine’s future to this issue. But Senate Republicans also see an urgency to get new Ukraine funding out the door, insisting they’re putting serious border-related ideas on the table to accomplish this.

“Ukraine is going to start to have problems finding bullets for their guns in a couple weeks,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator. “So we don’t have 30 or 60 days. We have one or two weeks to get this done.”

— Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan, Andrew Desiderio and Heather Caygle

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