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Johnson

The minibus is here, and how Johnson handled it

New: House and Senate leaders released the six-bill, 1,012-page minibus package just before 3 a.m. They’re scrambling to get a floor vote in the House tomorrow, followed by a Senate vote ASAP in order to avoid a partial government shutdown at midnight Friday.

You can find the $1.2 trillion bill here. Here’s a summary of the bill from House Appropriations Committee Democrats. Here’s a House GOP summary.

On Speaker Johnson: “Don’t bet against me,” Speaker Mike Johnson told us Wednesday.

Well, Washington has been betting against Johnson since the Louisiana Republican ascended to the speaker’s chair. And most of those bets have paid off.

This particular bet was that the spending bill text would be released Wednesday before midnight. We won. Barely.

But if all goes according to plan, by Friday, Johnson will have cleared a massive hurdle in his nascent speakership — fully funding the federal government through FY2024.

Let’s not go crazy, though. The fiscal year began nearly six months ago, so this achievement is pretty late. Johnson and his GOP colleagues didn’t notch any major policy victories either; preventing the Biden administration from banning gas stoves won’t save the majority. House GOP conservatives have grown skeptical of the speaker as they head into the spring with little to show on the legislative side. The budget deal is essentially a freeze with perhaps a little cut after inflation, but Republicans promised a lot more when they took over in January 2023.

Yet there’s something to note here about Johnson and his style. He’s settled into being a fairly standard Republican speaker for the most part, unwilling to play the games of the hardline right and jamming through legislation that the GOP conference broadly accepts.

1) Secret talks: The mega-minibus bill was hashed out behind closed doors by the White House, Johnson and the other Big Four congressional leaders, especially the endgame. Far from decentralizing power, Johnson kept the leadership — meaning his office — in control of everything.

2) Wins. This is an actual compromise. Republicans and Democrats both got some wins. Democrats are touting 12,000 Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans who helped the United States during the long war in that embattled country, as well as more money for childcare. They blocked nearly every Republican “poison pill” across the six bills. Republicans are crowing about saving gas stoves, increasing the number of ICE detention beds, more border patrol agents, cuts to foreign aid and preventing the State Department from flying non-sanctioned flags at U.S. diplomatic compounds.

3) Ignoring the HFC. At a certain point, senior House Republicans learn that dealing with the House Freedom Caucus is like nailing Jello to a wall. Johnson has learned this too. He kept them in the loop and listened to their concerns but ultimately, Johnson went his own way on the dual spending packages.

Case in point: The speaker is waiving the 72-hour rule in order to avert a shutdown Friday. Some hardliners are complaining, but ultimately, Johnson isn’t bending to their demands.

4) FRA is reality. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was pushed out, in part, for cutting the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which conservatives saw as a bad deal. Guess what: Johnson kept the deal in place. He was forced to by both politics and circumstance. Johnson needed to bring the spending fight to an end because he had a weak hand. And the reality is that the FRA is pretty good for Republicans, which conservatives eventually figured out.

5) No shutdown. A shutdown would’ve been really easy for Johnson. The speaker could’ve shored up his right flank by showing that he was “willing to fight” with Schumer and President Joe Biden. But the House GOP leadership took a shutdown off the table early. Why? Because shutdowns are useless and Republicans would’ve lost the PR war handily.

OK, but the year isn’t over. Johnson faces some big decisions in the near future.

Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Johnson said Wednesday that his next order of business is figuring out a way to have the House consider foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Johnson didn’t show his cards here but did allow that GOP leaders have considered moving the bills separately or even converting them into a “loan,” mostly at the behest of former President Donald Trump.

Yet Johnson has to tread lightly. The Senate has passed its bill with 70 votes. Patience among Ukraine and Israel backers is growing thin. Two discharge petitions are already gathering signatures. Johnson needs to be decisive here.

FISA. The federal government’s surveillance authority expires in April. Johnson has tried to have two warring chairs — Ohio GOP Reps. Jim Jordan and Mike Turner — craft a compromise FISA bill. This will be a big test of his refereeing capabilities.

FAA. There is a lot going on in the aviation world. Boeing’s problems are well documented. The U.S.’ major airlines are brawling over adding additional slots to Washington Reagan National Airport. The FAA is a major bill.

Fundraising. The NRCC got absolutely shellacked last month by the DCCC. Johnson’s campaign committee raised $8.1 million. Compare that to the DCCC, which raised $14.5 million.

— Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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