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Mike Johnson

New warning signs for Johnson

Congress averted a government shutdown Thursday. The Senate cleared the stopgap — which extends government funding until March — by a comfortable 77-18 margin.

In the lower chamber, members of the House Freedom Caucus tried to get Speaker Mike Johnson to put the bill through the Rules Committee and amend it with H.R. 2. Johnson resisted, and the bill passed 314-108.

But behind that massive total were some warning signs for Johnson.

There were some notable votes against him. House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, Johnson’s No. 3 who is said to be in the mix for former President Donald Trump’s running mate, bucked the speaker.

Also defying Johnson:

Budget Chair Jodey Arrington (Texas)

Veterans Affairs Chair Mike Bost (Ill.)

Rep. Mike Gallagher (Wis.), the chair of the China Select Committee

Homeland Security Chair Mark Green (Tenn.)

Ethics Chair Mike Guest (Miss.)

Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (Ohio)

Administration Chair Brian Steil (Wis.)

Natural Resources Chair Bruce Westerman (Ark.)

Small Business Chair Roger Williams (Texas)

There should be alarm bells blaring on the second floor of the House leadership suite. This is a stunning number of defections from lawmakers who should be loyal to Johnson.

Johnson needs all the loyalty he can muster. He is about to enter an extraordinarily challenging period — one that would challenge any speaker, not to mention one who’s been in power fewer than 100 days.

Let’s run down what to expect over the next few weeks.

1) Border and supplemental. It’s fair to say that the White House meeting between congressional leaders and President Joe Biden did not solve anything major when it comes to the foreign aid and border supplemental.

As early as next week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will begin the process of bringing this package to the floor.

Johnson will tear the bill apart — partially because he will inevitably disagree with the policy, and partially because it’s in his political benefit to do so.

And then there’s the fact that a majority of House Republicans outright oppose more Ukraine funding. At some point, Johnson is going to want to call the White House to Capitol Hill to brief Republicans on Ukraine. That will be quite the show.

2) How soon does the Senate move? Schumer has queued up nomination votes for the beginning of next week, but it’s unclear if the legislative text for the border portion will be ready in time for the Senate to begin the process of passing it.

“We want to make sure everyone has a chance to see and fully understand what the bill would do,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune told us Thursday. “I don’t think there’s any particular rush. It’s more important that we get it done right.”

Senate GOP leaders don’t want the perception to be that they’re trying to jam this through with little time to review and critique it. This is of particular concern for Republicans who oppose Ukraine aid and will try to torpedo the effort.

Of course, the exact timing is up to Schumer.

3) All eyes on McConnell. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been one of the strongest advocates for the supplemental — not just the border policy changes, but also what he sees as the urgent national-security priorities addressed in the package.

McConnell has a difficult task. He’ll need to convince enough GOP senators to support the package as a way to show Johnson it has strong Republican backing. GOP leaders say a good benchmark is half of the conference — so at least 25.

Johnson could ultimately decide to say no to the Senate bill regardless of how many Republicans vote for it. But this will be an important number for McConnell, whom we expect will intensify his push.

4) The right and left will mobilize. During the first two years of Biden’s presidency, the Senate passed major bipartisan legislation with the support of all Democrats and just a handful of Republicans to get 60 votes.

This isn’t going to be one of those bills.

Conservatives who oppose Ukraine funding will be against it, as will progressives who oppose the border policy changes. The big question is whether there’s a large enough universe of senators in both parties who could vote for the bill. If there’s any prayer of getting a vote in the House, it’ll need a lot more than 60.

5) What will Trump do? It’s not hyperbole to say Trump has the power to kill this entire effort. Trump has been cool to Ukraine funding. And his political operation is certainly wary of Republicans giving Biden a win — even a perceived one — on an issue like the border that has made him so vulnerable.

If Johnson hasn’t already declared the Senate bill dead, Trump coming out against it could be the nail in the coffin.

— Jake Sherman and Andrew Desiderio

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