The first major piece of legislation proposed by the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, is very similar to the one that cost his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, his job. With the support of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the House on Tuesday passed legislation to extend federal funding to early 2024 and avoid a government shutdown. The previous extension expired at midnight on Friday, November 17. Now, the deadline has been pushed back until after the holiday season.
The new extension was rejected by the hard wing of the Republican Party, since it does not include new budget cuts. The bill leaves out aid to Ukraine and Israel, since there are other related initiatives being processed in Congress and aid to Ukraine is a further source of division among Republicans, so that leaving it aside avoided more dissenting votes within their ranks.
The 336-to-95 bipartisan vote easily cleared the two-thirds threshold that was required to pass a bill through this special expedited procedure. Out of the yes votes, 209 came from Democrats and 127 from Republicans, while 93 members of the GOP and four Democrats opposed the bill. In fact, there was more Republican opposition to the initiative now than there was when McCarthy proposed a similar bill. At the time, Johnson voted against it. Now, he was the one to propose it.
McCarthy had followed the same strategy of leaving aid for Ukraine on the sidelines. But hard-line Republicans did not forgive him for saving President Joe Biden from the shutdown of the administration’s non-essential services. McCarthy said he was willing to avoid that crisis even if it cost him his job. And that was exactly the price that he was forced to pay after Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz filed a motion to vacate the chair on the House floor, a move to oust the speaker that passed with the vote of the Democrats and eight wayward Republican lawmakers.
After several weeks of chaos, paralysis, cross-vetoes and internal confrontation, the person chosen as the new speaker was Mike Johnson, a radical evangelical Christian who is also an election denier and loyal to Donald Trump. Despite this, Republicans have returned to the starting point: a budget extension that the most conservative members of the party dislike and that has more Democratic than Republican support. The more radical conservatives want to see a partial government shutdown in order to have leverage to demand public spending cuts. Those shutdowns are unpopular because members of the military and federal employees stop getting paid, while numerous government programs are placed on hold.
Hard-line Republicans who are part of the House Freedom Caucus issued a statement expressing their disappointment with a bill that “contains no spending reductions, no border security, and not a single meaningful win for the American people.” And even though the statement includes a warning to Johnson, there seems to be no appetite for a new crisis on the House floor: “While we remain committed to working with Speaker Johnson, we need bold change.”
The vote took place on a somewhat surreal day at the Capitol, where a Republican congressman named Tim Burchett spent the day denouncing an alleged aggression by former speaker McCarthy, who reportedly elbowed him in the small of the back. McCarthy denies the accusation. Burchett is one of eight Republicans who voted to oust the former speaker. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Markwayne Mullin challenged Teamsters president Sean M. O’Brien to a physical fight during a Senate hearing.
The federal spending bill still has to be approved by the Senate and signed by Biden, but everything seems to indicate that it will clear those procedures without any trouble. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has said that he will support it.
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