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It’s time for Johnson to make a quick decision

News: We expect Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to take the first procedural step today to tee up a stopgap funding bill to avert a partial government shutdown on Jan. 19 — and potentially a full shutdown two weeks later.

That means filing cloture on an underlying legislative vehicle that would eventually be replaced with a continuing resolution to keep federal agencies open beyond Jan. 19 or Feb. 2, the two current funding deadlines. That cloture vote would come Tuesday.

So Schumer’s move today will kick off what’s usually a weeklong process needed to overcome objections from both sides of the aisle to fund the government. And it gives the Senate enough time to act before the first deadline.

The big question here is the duration of a new CR and whether it maintains the “laddered” approach pushed by Speaker Mike Johnson. Schumer doesn’t have to decide right away. But a longer stopgap package — one that extends existing funding to late February or early March, as those in leadership are predicting — could help insulate Johnson from his far-right critics in the House by ensuring he wouldn’t need to pass yet another CR in short order.

But Johnson will need Democrats’ help to pass anything. And after cutting a topline spending deal with Schumer that conservatives hate, there could be an effort to oust Johnson. That’s a potentially nightmarish scenario for House Republicans. More on this below.

Schumer’s mission here is to preserve the Fiscal Responsibility Act’s spending levels and prevent wider chaos — even if that means throwing a lifeline, indirectly, to Johnson. During his floor speech Wednesday, Schumer defended Johnson from House conservatives whom he said are trying to “bully their own speaker.”

Guess who? He’s under unrelenting fire for a spending deal with Democrats who he now may need to survive. The House has slunk into a state of paralysis with rebellious Republicans taking down a rule and trashing the speaker. The House Freedom Caucus’ hair is on fire. Hardline conservatives are calling him a no-good squish while constantly changing positions on what they want. He goes on Fox News to explain himself but that doesn’t make much difference to a House Republican Conference that’s losing trust in his ability to lead them to victory.

Who is he? Speaker Kevin McCarthy or Mike Johnson?

Johnson, on day 78 of his speakership, finds himself in a stunningly similar position to his predecessor.

Johnson came into the speakership riding high, garnering support from every single House Republican after weeks of internecine fighting that included McCarthy’s ouster. The House GOP conference hoped that Johnson, a self-proclaimed “hardline conservative,” would have the spine to win political showdowns with President Joe Biden and the Democrats.

But some in the House GOP ranks are growing tired of Johnson just as they did McCarthy. It’s a bad sign.

We’ll defend Johnson for a moment. The Louisiana Republican is indeed inexperienced at the ways of high-level governance. Biden, Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and key White House aides were negotiating complex budget deals when Johnson was still a lawyer back in Louisiana.

So what was Johnson to do here? He got the only deal that was available to him. The speaker is beginning to realize that, just like McCarthy, he is the only bastion of Republican control in a sea of Democratic power. And Johnson’s control is tenuous — at best.

He has a two-seat majority and a conference where a dozen lawmakers are sure to be against him every single day. Johnson had no choice but to accept the Fiscal Responsibility Act even though some in his conference considered the top-line spending number to be too high. Johnson had no leverage going into talks with Schumer — and it showed.

Johnson now has a tough task in front of him. House and Senate Republicans demanded that Biden and the Democrats agree to a border security and immigration policy package in order to secure tens of billions of dollars in new funding for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region.

But HFC members are now pressing for Johnson to demand a border deal as part of any government-funding debate. This could lead to a partial or full government shutdown that Johnson knows — as does his entire leadership team — House Republicans can’t win. It would be an absolute gift to Biden.

Johnson also faces strong pushback from House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) over government funding. Jordan wants Johnson to insist on a year-long CR, which, under the FRA, would lead to big cuts in domestic programs while freezing the Pentagon budget. Defense hawks don’t like this plan, and neither do Senate Republicans, but Jordan — a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus — has enormous sway with hardliners.

With Schumer moving to set up a CR vote next week, Johnson has to decide if he wants to send his own stopgap to the Senate. Say what you want about McCarthy — and there are lots of legitimate criticisms of the California Republican — but he was able to make quick decisions. Some of these decisions were wrongheaded and flawed. Yet McCarthy generally didn’t linger long on decisions that could give him a strategic advantage.

So, in sum, Johnson either moves quickly on a CR or he gets jammed by the Senate. Which may actually prove a blessing in terms of governance, but a huge problem with his fellow House Republicans.

— Andrew Desiderio, Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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