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Speaker Mike Johnson Faces Hard-Right Discontent, Risking Disarray Ahead

(Bloomberg) -- Republican ultra-conservatives are running out of patience less than four weeks after installing one their own, Mike Johnson, as House speaker, signaling turmoil ahead and heightened risk of a government shutdown in the new year.

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Many of them are fuming over the new speaker’s support of an interim funding measure that postponed a Nov. 18 government shutdown until mid-January without winning concessions conservatives wanted. That seemed too reminiscent of Johnson’s predecessor, whose ouster unleashed a fierce succession struggle.

“We went through an entire month of drama about a speaker — and we just did the same damn thing we’ve been doing?” Representative Chip Roy of Texas complained bitterly Wednesday on the House floor.

The party’s assertive hard-liners, a few of whom toppled then-speaker Kevin McCarthy just last month, are warning they won’t yield on their expectations for steep cuts in government spending and conservative policy changes, despite the limited leverage possessed by a slim and fractious Republican House majority.

Their resentment over the interim funding was compounded because Johnson prevented them from adding amendments to impose conservative demands, using the same procedural maneuver McCarthy deployed to avert an Oct. 1 government shutdown. To do it, he relied on support from Democrats, who supplied 209 votes while only 127 Republicans voted in favor. Ninety-three Republicans voted against.

In a demonstration of their power to undercut the new speaker, dissatisfied ultra-conservatives used procedural tools to scuttle consideration of an annual spending measure, leaving Johnson to give up on work for the week and send lawmakers home early for their Thanksgiving holiday.

The disappointment is surfacing even though Johnson, 51, is a self-described “arch-conservative” whose movement bona-fides include years of work before he entered politics fighting abortion and same-sex marriage for a Christian Right legal advocacy group.

Ringleaders of the revolt against McCarthy such as Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida are holding off on firing any major broadside against Johnson.

But Johnson is being put on notice to deliver on hard-liners’ demands when funding to keep the government open next lapses early in the new year.

“We want our speaker to bring about the change that’s needed,” said Bob Good of Virginia, one of the eight Republican lawmakers who joined with Democrats to overthrow McCarthy.

The short-term funding measure Johnson proposed, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden, sets the stage for an unusual two-stage shutdown if no agreement is reached on annual government spending. Some government agencies are funded until mid-January and others through early February.

Johnson argued that gives House Republicans time to agree on full-year spending measures for the entire government.

“We shouldn’t do this, and we’re not going to do it again next year,” Johnson said of the interim funding.

Yet in pressing for funding cuts and demands for conservative policy changes such as new asylum rules and abortion restrictions Republican hard-liners are not only up against Democrats in control of the White House and Senate.

Divisions among House Republicans also have prevented them from passing the 12 annual appropriations bills that traditionally determine government spending. So far, the GOP has only been able to muster enough votes to pass seven of those bills, though they were due on Oct 1.

The party’s majority in the House is so slender that Republican leaders at the moment can only lose three votes on any legislation unless they have support from Democrats. Yet 18 House Republicans represent areas Biden won in the 2020 election and face more moderate voters likely to be alienated by the ultra-conservative stances of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus.

“Speaker Johnson can’t deliver what the Freedom Caucus demands and keep the government funded,” said Joshua Huder, a senior fellow at American University’s Government Affairs Institute. Unless hard-liners are willing to accept compromise with Democrats, Johnson “faces the threat of early retirement, a weaker speakership, policy losses to Democrats, or all the above.”

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