Dec 5, 2023 - Politics & Policy

House GOP hardliners push Mike Johnson to go full throttle

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Republican hardliners are starting to crank up the pressure on their hand-picked Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), warning that anything less than an aggressive push to the right means caving to Democrats.

Why it matters: Hopes that Johnson's election would calm the underlying tensions that triggered former Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) ouster are quickly dissipating.

Driving the news: Conservatives say Republicans need to fight harder — even by risking a government shutdown in the new year — to force the Senate and White House's hand on spending.

  • Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), an influential member of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, recently used a fiery floor speech to accuse Republicans of failing to pass anything meaningful with their majority.
  • Roy dismissed the notion that conservatives are pushing for unachievable goals, telling Axios: "As I've said from the very beginning, we have to pick a fight and mean it. That's it. This is not that freaking hard."

Zoom in: Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) recently laid out a list of demands to Johnson during a meeting on supplemental funding for Israel and Ukraine, two sources familiar with the conversation told Axios and Rosendale confirmed.

  • In what the sources described as a confrontational exchange packed with "ultimatums," the Montana Republican called for foreign aid and border funding bills to be passed separately.
  • Multiple conservative members say they've made it known to Johnson that they were displeased with the passage of the two-step stopgap spending bill that kept previous government funding levels in place.
  • "I don't know what's gotten more conservative" since McCarthy's ouster, said one lawmaker who supports Johnson but is not in the Freedom Caucus. "I think Kevin might have actually been able to extract some more conservative wins in the negotiations with the Senate."

The intrigue: In a conference meeting Tuesday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called for the release of all Capitol surveillance footage from Jan. 6 and the creation of what one source described as a "Jan. 6 revenge committee."

  • Johnson said the footage was in the process of being released with the faces of individuals blurred to protect their identities — an answer that did not satisfy Greene and has sparked public confusion.
  • As he works to alleviate tensions within the conference, Johnson also signaled Tuesday that the House will vote next week to formalize the impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

The other side: A range of House Republicans told Axios that the Freedom Caucus needs to tamp down expectations due to the current political climate.

  • Two sources said Johnson called on members to unify in Tuesday's conference meeting, saying they won't be able to accomplish anything if fractures continue.
  • A leadership source pointed to the impeachment inquiry, the Jan. 6 footage and Johnson's strides toward avoiding a massive omnibus spending bill as examples of his success.

Between the lines: Republicans had been pushing for a cap of $1.471 trillion in discretionary spending, which is now looking more like the $1.59 trillion agreed to in May's debt ceiling deal.

  • "It's not a change in our positioning, it's just going through the process of figuring out how to get the right numbers," Roy said.

What to watch: As Congress gears up for the new year, GOP lawmakers have just a handful of major pieces of legislation they can attempt to leverage for policy wins as election season heats up.

  • That includes funding the government, passing the annual National Defense Authorization Act and acting on Biden's request for additional aid to Israel and Ukraine.

The bottom line: Conservative pressure tactics and GOP infighting have been the stories of the 118th Congress. Don't expect that to end any time soon.

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