Skip to content
Sign up to receive our free weekday morning edition, and you'll never miss a scoop.
Mike Johnson

How Speaker Johnson will get squeezed

Brand-new Speaker Mike Johnson has two brewing problems — House GOP moderates and Senate Republicans.

House Republican moderates overwhelmingly backed Johnson, ending several weeks of internal fighting. But they’re warning they aren’t going to blindly follow a far-right agenda.

The vow from center-right Republicans will have an impact across a range of issues, but there are two areas in particular worth watching — government funding and the potential impeachment of President Joe Biden.

“We have to speak up,” Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) told us. “We’re a strong voice as majority makers. Now’s the time to express it with a new speaker.”

In the aftermath of Johnson’s election, many House Republicans exuded a kumbaya vibe, as unrealistic as that seems.

Yet there are lasting scars from the last three weeks. The bitter clashes between top Republicans — with threats in particular aimed at GOP lawmakers, their families and staffers from some supporters of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — aren’t going to be forgotten anytime soon.

Politically vulnerable Republicans, notably the 18 members in districts Biden won in 2020, have already faced a slew of tough votes.

Now, with the right flank viewing Johnson as an ally to continue their hardline agenda, moderates say they’re ready to push back.

Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) made it clear that he didn’t see a vote for Johnson as speaker as a “concession to the far-right.” He wants to see Johnson make a concerted effort to listen to those in purple districts.

“It’s critically important we message correctly,” Garcia said. “We have one of the most conservative conferences now, probably in the history of the Republican Party in this Congress… We have to be mindful that there are still those in swing districts that need to be able to navigate some of these issues.”

Moderate members also expressed frustration over the myriad messaging bills the House has passed so far that play poorly in their districts, especially on issues like abortion access and transgender rights.

Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) said he supports an effort to get the U.S. government’s fiscal house in order. Duarte, though, had a warning for those colleagues pursuing hot-button social issues.

“If the conservative majority starts to feed us things that are socially conservative and messaging bills that we don’t want to sign on to, well, then they’ll get some pushback,” Duarte said.

Of course, Democrats are already hitting vulnerable GOP incumbents over their vote to elevate Johnson to the speakership. Expect plenty of campaign ads tying endangered incumbents to Johnson’s socially conservative views.

Across the Capitol: Effective governing will require Johnson to work closely with Senate GOP leaders, some of whom didn’t even know the Louisiana Republican before this week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has never even met Johnson.

Johnson’s status as an unknown quantity in Washington has Senate Republicans concerned about the future of government funding, as well as new aid for Israel and Ukraine. Some are openly casting doubt on Johnson’s ability to work with Democrats, which will be necessary to approve the must-pass agenda items.

“To pass anything, you have to get Democratic votes. You don’t have to be Einstein’s cousin to figure that one out,” said GOP Sen. John Kennedy, a fellow Louisianan. “I just don’t know how he’s going to handle it. [Nov.] 17 is coming, the world’s on fire, the border’s open and inflation continues to gut the American people like a fish… All this has to be addressed.”

Senate Republicans aren’t yet sure how Johnson will deal with the looming funding deadline. Johnson told House Republicans this week that he wants to pass a stopgap funding bill through Jan. 15 or April 15 in order to avoid being jammed by the Senate with a year-end bill.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune described a stopgap as a “buying time” exercise, saying “We haven’t crossed that bridge yet.” Senators first have to “figure out what the art of the doable is in the next few weeks” on FY2024 appropriations, he added. The Senate is on track to pass its first three-bill minibus within the next week.

“We need somebody to work with and somebody who could get the House functioning again,” Thune told us.

The other big issue is Biden’s $105 billion national-security funding request. McConnell and several top Republicans support the idea of linking aid for Israel and Ukraine in one bill. Johnson has voted against Ukraine aid, but GOP senators said they expect him to honor the will of the bipartisan majority that supports more money for Kyiv.

“The question is whether — with a majority of his conference generally supporting Ukraine aid before you even go to the Democrats who also support it — what does he do?” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said of Johnson. “He’s going to get a chance to prove it pretty quickly.”

To be sure, GOP senators are relieved that the House was able to resolve its weeks-long speaker crisis, which reflected poorly on their party’s ability to govern. And Tillis said the fact that moderate Republicans voted for Johnson suggests the new speaker has assuaged their concerns about his priorities.

“One thing you learn when you become speaker — you can’t necessarily govern based on your own personal preferences,” added Tillis, a former state House speaker. “He’s got a tall order to fill.”

Andrew Desiderio, Max Cohen, Mica Soellner and John Bresnahan

Presented by The Coalition to Project American Jobs

It’s taking the IRS years to process a small business tax credit. 1M+ small business owners who filed for the Employee Retention Credit are stuck in backlog or waiting on payment for their claims. Tell the IRS to lift the moratorium now.

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