Jan 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Mike Johnson faces new threats and demands from GOP hardliners

Speaker Mike Johnson. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Getty Images.

A group of rebellious right-wing House Republicans is pressing Speaker Mike Johnson to renegotiate the terms of his spending deal with Senate Democrats, and threatening his job if he doesn't comply.

Why it matters: The escalating revolt Johnson faces from his right flank bears a striking resemblance to the series of events that led to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy's ouster in October.

Driving the news: Emerging from Johnson's office on Thursday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) added to the list of hardliners hinting at a possible effort to remove Johnson through a motion to vacate.

  • "I don't know, that could be something," she said. "If those deals are going to be made, then absolutely that's on the table."
  • Greene's comments came as Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) has also raised the specter of an ouster attempt.

The other side: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who introduced the motion to vacate against McCarthy but has emerged as Johnson's closest right-wing ally, is skeptical that Johnson is truly at risk of removal.

  • Asked if he thinks his colleagues would make good on their threats, Gaetz told Axios: "I do not."

The backdrop: Greene and other hardliners, who were negotiating with Johnson after blocking a package of Republican bills on Wednesday, said their current demand is that Johnson essentially renege on his deal and advance appropriations bills that cut spending.

  • "I think the goal is to possibly find a new path forward on spending," Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) told reporters.
  • Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, said there "was 100% consensus in the room with everyone who was meeting with the speaker that the deal is terrible for the country."
  • "We have to have a different plan," Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) told Axios, saying he believes Johnson understands "the present deal ... will not work."

The details: The spending deal would set government spending for this year at 2023 levels, the same topline spending number agreed to in the bipartisan debt ceiling deal last year.

  • That has angered right-wing lawmakers, who have spent this congressional session waging a heated, and so far unsuccessful, fight for deep spending cuts.
  • Compounding matters is that government funding is set to begin run out on Jan. 19, and Johnson will likely need to pass a short-term spending bill that is poised to further enrage his detractors.

Reality check: The split control of Congress — with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats the Senate — means a bipartisan deal is the only realistic way to pass annual appropriations bills.

  • "Congress cannot pass appropriations bills without the votes of House Democrats," warned a fact sheet from House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) obtained by Axios.
  • "It's a mistake to reopen the framework," said one House Republican. "I'm hopeful we can find agreement on some other details."
  • "We're having thoughtful conversations about funding options and priorities," Johnson told reporters. "While those conversations are going on, I've made no commitments."
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