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Mike Johnson

Inside Johnson’s funding options

Let’s get smart quickly on where we stand on government funding nine days before the first partial shutdown deadline.

There’s a bipartisan, bicameral topline spending deal. It’s precisely what we thought it would be — the Fiscal Responsibility Act with some slight tweaks.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Whip John Thune and most otherwise seasoned and honest Republicans and Democrats are now saying that Congress needs to pass a short-term stopgap funding bill to avert a partial shutdown next weekend. Thune went as far as suggesting Washington should punt the funding fight until March, a strategy that has support on both sides of the Capitol.

Speaker Mike Johnson, who has been the subject of widespread anger from conservatives over agreeing to the FRA levels, is still saying very little about his next move.

In a closed-door GOP leadership meeting Tuesday evening, Johnson repeatedly made the case that Republicans need to avoid a government shutdown. But he’s saying nothing about a CR.

We spoke to Johnson Tuesday night, and here’s what he told us:

Johnson may have many skills, but he’s no magician. The appropriators Johnson is talking about know that they won’t be able to finish by next week.

We spoke to several House GOP leadership sources about what options are available to the Louisiana Republican.

1) The cleanest option is to pass a CR next week and move the deadlines for all 12 spending bills to March. This would allow the appropriators to get the funding bills done in a rational way. The downside here is that this would effectively undo the “laddered” approach to government funding that Johnson has been bragging about. All the bills would come to the floor around the same time. House GOP conservatives will be mad, but they won’t vote for the spending bills anyway.

2) Johnson can pass a CR next week to avoid a Jan. 19 shutdown. According to leadership sources, Johnson doesn’t appear ready to do this. But it seems like a decent option if the right erupts.

3) The four bills that expire Jan. 19 are Agriculture, Energy and Water, MilCon-VA and Transportation-HUD. Johnson could let those departments shut down next weekend while appropriators continue to try to hash out the bills covering those agencies. There’s absolutely no upside to this at all, or at least none that we can see.

4) Johnson could just ignore both deadlines and let everything shut down. Again, nothing gained here for any Republicans.

The question Johnson needs to try to answer is what is it that he’s trying to achieve. If Johnson wants to fund the government while fighting for GOP policy changes at the same time, he’s not going to be able to do that by next week. In fact, Johnson may not be able to do that at all. But the more time he has, the better off he is. Johnson has already effectively taken a shutdown off the table. So the next logical step is choosing a CR strategy.

The GOP leadership needs to move quickly. If Johnson wants to have a say in this process, he will have to make a decision and get moving or else the Senate will jam him.

Among some in the House GOP, Johnson is on thin ice. House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.) got into a heated discussion with the speaker during Tuesday night’s meeting. Here’s what Good told us about the prospect of a stopgap afterward:

One question that’s bouncing around the leadership is whether hardline conservatives will try to dump Johnson over this deal. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) has openly raised the possibility, while Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) — one of the eight GOP lawmakers who pushed for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster — acknowledged “A lot of people are talking about it, but not yet. I think they’d like to see something on the border.”

Yet despite the complaints over the spending deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — and there are a lot — Johnson still has broad support within the conference.

“People are emotional all the time and say all sorts of different things,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer said of the backlash. “For us, it’s about just getting the [spending] bills done.”

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) doesn’t like the spending deal and is likely to vote no but also sees no serious effort to dump Johnson.

“I don’t think there’s any focus on that at all,” Jordan said, adding that he still backs Johnson.

Also: Former Speaker John Boehner will host a fundraiser for Johnson next month.

— Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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