Speaker of the House Mike Johnson
Johnson has managed to avoid his third government shutdown deadline since claiming the gavel. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Mike Johnson Keeps Passing Short-Term Funding Bills and Conservatives Are Over It

“It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Rep. Chip Roy of Johnson’s negotiating.

Conservatives are growing increasingly agitated that Speaker Mike Johnson isn’t willing to play hardball in spending talks with the White House and Democrats.

Johnson has managed to avoid his third government shutdown deadline since claiming the gavel — this time for just a week, until March 8, by relying on a bipartisan “pro-governing” majority. For his right flank, it’s not something to celebrate.

“We’re sitting on a full house, sitting on our hand, and we’re looking at some idiot with a pair of twos, and we’re going to fold,” Texas Rep. Chip Roy, who wants to see deep cuts to government spending, told a group of reporters Wednesday. “It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Johnson has resisted the scorched-earth approach pushed by the House Freedom Caucus, who believe he should threaten a shutdown as leverage to advance Republican priorities, telling members it wouldn’t help in the upcoming November election. On Thursday, he also told his conference he didn’t have a strong negotiating hand to begin with, due to Republican divisions and their razor-thin majority.

That explanation doesn’t cut it for members like Roy. “It’s the same old game, right? A lot of rhetoric about all the things we say we want to do and accomplish, and no willingness to actually accomplish them,” he said Wednesday.

Roy and his Freedom Caucus colleagues argued last week that Johnson should advance a longer stopgap bill, which would come with automatic spending cuts to domestic programs, rather than trying to pass full spending bills for the rest of the current fiscal year. Johnson would have a tough time selling such a bill to Democrats, who oppose those cuts.

The House’s vote Thursday — passed with 113 Republicans joining almost all Democrats — gives negotiators a little more time to finalize their longer-term funding packages. Those bills, being written behind closed doors after months of discussion between members of the appropriations panels and leaders in each chamber, aren’t expected to offer many conservative victories.

Johnson told reporters Wednesday that the weeklong spending extension buys more time for lawmakers to closely review the spending bills next week, “and not jam people with a large piece of legislation they haven’t had a chance to review.”

That explanation doesn’t satisfy his critics.

“This same process has been used for 12 years,” said Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican. “Whoever’s in charge of the Senate and whoever’s in charge of the House, they put their staff in a room and they come up with something and tell you, ‘Take it or leave it.’ This is exactly what we said we would not do at the beginning of this Congress.”

Massie blamed Republicans’ two-seat majority, and he noted Johnson, as a newcomer to the role, “doesn’t have the tools” other speakers typically have to force their priorities across the finish line.

“Most speakers have helped win the majority or keep the majority,” Massie told reporters. “Most speakers have played a role in determining who goes on which committee, they’ve chosen the select committees. So they’ve got all the carrots and sticks, and Johnson doesn’t have those.

“We need a larger majority,” he summarized.

But he did not let Johnson entirely off the hook. Asked during a gaggle with reporters Wednesday night if he would support removing Johnson from leadership over the spending deal, as Rep. Matt Gaetz triggered with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy in October, Massie paused and appeared unwilling to answer the question. Pressed again, he said he is “not entertaining a motion to vacate.”

But would he rule out supporting an ouster in the future? “I’m not answering your question,” Massie told NOTUS.

Rep. Bob Good, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Freedom Caucus, said he was disappointed by Johnson’s approach, but he declined to weigh in on whether the new speaker is doing a good job.

“I’m not here to grade him,” Good said Wednesday. “I just don’t agree with this bill.” Good added that he didn’t talk about ousting McCarthy last year, “and I’m not talking about it with this one.”

Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, who raised fears that Johnson is being rolled by the Senate to pass more government spending, also said he wouldn’t support an effort to give the speaker’s gavel to someone else.

“We’re really so close to the end of this Congress,” he told NOTUS. “Going through that exercise, in my view, just isn’t prudent.”

Haley Byrd Wilt is a reporter at NOTUS.