Republicans revolt against GOP speaker’s deal with Democrats to avert shutdown

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CAPTOL HILL — Far-right Republicans are threatening another revolt after Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed on a topline spending number for 2024 as part of their negotiations aimed at averting a government shutdown.

It’s a late-in-the-game wrench in the machinery that has Washington analysts worried about whether Congress will be able to keep the government functioning — and predicting the imminent downfall of Mr Johnson.

Grumblings on the right wing spilled over into open rebellion on Wednesday and into Thursday as the House Freedom Caucus came out against the agreement negotiated between Mr Johnson and Mr Schumer, which set a topline spending number of $1.59 trillion for the fiscal year plus $69bn in “budget adjustments”. That $1.59 trillion number had been granted the support of the Freedom Caucus in December, making this week’s news all the more infuriating for Republican and Democratic negotiatiors.

“We’re making a statement that what the deal, as has been announced, that doesn’t secure the border and that doesn’t cut our spending, and that’s gonna be passed apparently under suspension of the rules with predominantly Democrat votes is unacceptable,” Rep Bob Good, the Freedom Caucus’s new chairman, told reporters.

Statements from multiple members of the group indicated that the Freedom Caucus was engaged on Thursday morning in talks with Mr Johnson about the prospect of changing the topline number or making other alterations to the legislation. Mr Johnson’s office has yet to comment in detail on the situation, while issuing a statement reminding his GOP colleagues of the relatively small size of their House majority.

“I’ve made no commitments,” the speaker added in a brief comment to reporters.

The Independent has reached out to the speaker’s office for further details about his conversations today with the Freedom Caucus.

Democrats reacted with pure derision.

“They say they want an alternate budget. What they're finding is an alternate reality,” quippied Democratic Whip Katherine Clark to The Independent.

One of those Republicans coming out in opposition to the spending measure was Marjorie Taylor Greene, who told reporters that there would soon be “a new deal drawn up”.

Throughout the morning and into lunchtime on Thursday the news broke across the Senate, where Republicans had been working with their colleagues to broker a deal with the House. Several senators reacted with surprise and anger upon hearing of the Freedom Caucus’s sudden opposition to the deal.

“If Republicans want to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the election this year, fail to fund the government,” Republican Senator Thom Tillis said according to Punchbowl News.

Then taking aim at right-wing Republicans in the House who had supported the ouster of Kevin McCarthy from the speakership last year, he reportedly continued: “I don’t believe Speaker Johnson wants to shut down the government. I do know there are people in his party who do. But they’re the same ones who were OK with us not having a speaker for two weeks, so I’m not particularly interested in their strategic advice.”

It remains unclear what repercussions this will have in the House. Speaker Mike Johnson could theoretically rely on Democratic votes to supplement his own party’s to see spending legislation pass the lower chamber, given that the deal already has support of Democratic leaders Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries. That course of action was taken by Mr McCarthy last year, and was his final act leading to the conservative revolt ending his career. Already as many as 10 Republicans have joined with Democrats to halt business in the House, a move which has not specifically affected the spending deal legislation but signals the level of resistance Mr Johnson faces within his caucus.

Garret Graves, a Republican aligned with leadership on the spending bill, sounded off on the Freedom Caucus when reached for comment by The Independent: “You've got a number of people that have no legislative track record, no legislative wins, that are out there trying to dictate strategies that have repeatedly resulted in less conservative outcomes. I think that if then a better path forward is actually following game plans and strategies that have resulted in wins that have resulted in conservative wins. And so that's what I'm gonna keep doing. “

He continued: “[T]heir tactics have resulted in us losing leverage over these months and we look like bigger idiots. So, you know, take the damn win!”

Republicans have a seven-seat majority in the lower chamber; as a result, thanks to new House rules put in place last year, Mr Johnson’s hypothetical firing could be led by just a handful of disgruntled lawmakers in his own party.

Signs of that same discontent are already here. Ms Greene, a perennial rabble-rouser, unloaded on the Republican speaker in an interview with Steve Bannon.

“Every day Mike Johnson gets closer and closer to this deal brings me closer and closer to vacating the chair because I have absolutely had it,” she told the former Trump White House strategist.

She added to Axios: "If those deals are going to be made, then absolutely that's on the table."