Schedule update: The Senate will begin voting on the CR to fund the federal government through early March at 12:30 p.m. today. There will be four votes, including amendments that will be rejected. The short-term spending measure will then be sent to the House for quick action.
The Washington area is bracing for a major snowstorm tonight into Friday. The House leadership will be under a tremendous amount of pressure to bring up the CR today instead of Friday.
The immigration jam: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s plan to begin pushing through a border security and foreign aid bill as soon as next week throws another problem in Speaker Mike Johnson’s lap at a perilous time for the Louisiana Republican’s 85-day-old speakership.
Consider what Johnson has to deal with right now:
→ After saying in November he wouldn’t pass any more CRs, Johnson will pass a CR before the week is out.
→ Conservative hardliners are furious that the speaker is pushing a spending deal with just $16 billion in cuts.
→ Come March, Johnson will have to fund the entire government over the course of seven days. He is unlikely to achieve any big policy wins, with Democrats vowing to stand firmly in the way.
→ Johnson has two other major deadlines in the coming months: FAA and FISA. FISA is incredibly thorny. And FAA could quickly turn messy, too.
→ Johnson already has some lawmakers saying they’re open to booting him from the speakership.
→ In four days, Johnson will have the smallest House GOP majority in American history.
And if Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have their way, Johnson will be in the hot seat, forced to reckon with a bipartisan bill that is aimed at addressing the border crisis and aiding U.S. allies.
Johnson will be split between his policy and political roles. Republicans have been sounding an alarm about the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border throughout Joe Biden’s presidency, so for the House Republican Conference to not pass some bill when given the opportunity would be risky. But with former President Donald Trump racing toward the nomination, Johnson has political considerations as well. None of this is easy.
Let’s get this out of the way: Schumer, McConnell and Johnson all have relatively similar goals. All three have said Congress needs to fix the problems at the border. Schumer and McConnell are strong proponents of Ukraine aid as well. And since Johnson took the speakership, he has spoken positively about the need to deliver aid, but said he wants to know more about the Biden administration’s endgame. Johnson has pressed the White House on this point since he took the gavel.
The difference is that Johnson has to deal with a House Republican Conference that will be skeptical, to put it charitably, about any bill that emerges from the Senate, especially one with tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid. Johnson’s aides feel as if the House is much more aligned on policy with the average Republicans than is the Senate.
There are some in Johnson’s leadership circle who say openly that anything that emerges from the Senate is too toxic for House GOP lawmakers to consider. If Johnson chooses to take up a Senate bill, he’ll have to navigate the choppy waters of the House Republican Conference.
To wit, in an interview Wednesday night with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Johnson refused to commit to putting the Senate bill on the floor. This highlights the reality that Johnson’s House Republican Conference is going to want to tear the legislation up and inject all of their priorities. This would make it unpalatable to the Senate, where GOP leaders have already warned against that approach. But let us reiterate: Johnson is exceedingly unlikely to just take whatever the Senate passes and put it on the floor.
But Johnson has softened his tone in recent days, as we pointed out in the Midday edition Wednesday. Johnson is no longer saying that he will only accept H.R. 2, the House GOP’s hardline border bill. Although on Fox Wednesday night, Johnson said it has to be “H.R. 2 or the functional equivalent thereof.”
McConnell acknowledged that real differences remain between the two chambers on legislative strategy and said that shouldn’t be surprising. Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), the lead Democrat in the border talks, said Johnson is “in a 24-hour survival mode” in dealing with his right flank. So Senate leaders are full-steam ahead on the supplemental, regardless of how Johnson may handle it. On Wednesday, both Schumer and McConnell were exuding new optimism about the prospects for a deal.
That’s to say nothing of the widespread GOP opposition to Ukraine funding — no matter what it’s paired with.
McConnell has a sizable group of Ukraine-skeptical Republicans to deal with, as well. Many of them banded together to request a conference-wide meeting on Ukraine funding, which is scheduled for next Wednesday. These are the same GOP senators who have complained that they’re still in the dark about what a border deal would entail, and are concerned that it’ll be jammed through on a condensed timeline.
“This has been an exercise in trying to get enough votes to get Ukraine funding. We haven’t even seen the bill yet,” one GOP senator lamented. “What’s the deal even?”
McConnell clearly wants to wrap up what has been a politically treacherous period for Republicans in both chambers. He feels strongly that Republicans shouldn’t squander this opportunity to do what Congress hasn’t been able to accomplish in years on border security and immigration. The Senate’s compromise “is designed to actually pass,” McConnell said Wednesday, and the policy changes on the table as part of the current talks could never be achieved under a unified Republican government.
And McConnell has consistently made the case that there are overwhelming national-security imperatives for moving fast — citing not just Ukraine, but also ongoing threats from Iranian proxies like the Houthis.
“It’s time to act,” McConnell told us after the Wednesday meeting between congressional leaders and President Joe Biden. “And that’s not a decision I get to make, but hopefully that’s what the majority leader will do and we’ll get on the bill next week.”
— Jake Sherman and Andrew Desiderio