Johnson spurs fresh conservative fury with new spending deal

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Speaker Mike Johnson is plowing forward with his plan to fund the government — at a cost.

House conservatives have renewed their threats that any actions against the Louisiana Republican are on the table, incensed over the latest spending deal that Johnson reached with Democrats and how quickly he’s pushing the legislation to the floor.

In the past, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, had broadly defended Johnson and dismissed talk of taking direct action against him, such as calling a vote to remove him from the speakership. But after leadership released legislative text for the massive spending bill in the middle of the night, Norman fired a direct warning shot on Thursday morning.

“We’ll just see,” Norman said when asked if calling for a vote to oust Johnson is an option. “I like Mike as a person. He’s honest. I just don’t know if it’s in his DNA to fight. … This is just sad.”

Still, the persistent question for conservatives this Congress has been if — or when — their frustration will evolve from saber rattling to actual action. Given the three weeks of limbo after the right flank pushed Kevin McCarthy out of the speakership last fall, many Republicans believe another ejection would be unconscionable, particularly in a heated election year. Even Democrats have little appetite for ejecting a GOP speaker right now.

Rep. Chip Roy, a Freedom Caucus member who has floated a vote to oust Johnson before, didn’t address a so-called motion to vacate in a Bannon War Room interview Thursday morning. But he railed against the speaker, saying: “Johnson blew it.”

“It’s total lack of backbone, total lack of leadership, and a total failure by Republican leadership, there’s no other way to describe this bill. It is an abomination,” the Texas Republican added.

Ahead of the deal becoming public, Johnson sought to steady expectations with the MAGA-aligned group during a private meeting on Tuesday night. Johnson argued in the closed-door meeting, which was described as cordial by people who attended, that the funding package isn’t perfect, but it had many policies House Republicans could be proud of, according to people familiar with the discussion. Johnson also spent a private Wednesday conference meeting highlighting what he saw as Republican wins.

Clearly, the messaging attempt didn’t quell conservative anger.

“I promise you I will not be going out and supporting any Republican who votes for this bill for any position, ever again,” Roy said.

Absent trying to oust Johnson this year, his right flank’s options for taking revenge on leadership is limited. Their most reliable play call, dating back to McCarthy’s speakership, is to paralyze the House floor — voting against so-called rules so leaders can’t pass any legislation, whether it’s related to their concerns or not.

Many are open to continuing that tactic in protest of the sweeping funding deal. But it’s also a limited option: When Johnson cuts deals with Democrats, as he did this week, he can leapfrog his own hard-liners. That means the bills they end up tanking are party-line GOP priorities.

Absent a quick ouster threat, the bigger test for Johnson could come after the 2024 election, when he’ll have to decide if he’s going to remain in leadership. If Republicans lose their paper-thin majority, some in his conference have already predicted he’ll be swept out of the top office.

But if they keep the majority, many Republicans predict he’s more likely to hang on. He would need 218 votes on the House floor, which could be a difficult prospect if he still faces opposition from the band of conservative rebels that helped elect him in October. Unless the GOP significantly grows its majority, he could still be in trouble.

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