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GOP expects Johnson to deliver change in 2024

Congress returns next week under deadline pressure


Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) Anna Moneymaker/Staff/Getty Images News via Getty Images

GOP expects Johnson to deliver change in 2024

Jim Curry, director of graduate studies in political science at the University of Utah, believes it would be unfair to assess students who haven’t turned in their final assignments. So, when it comes to House Speaker Mike Johnson and his three-month track record, Curry says he can’t give out a letter grade just yet.

“How do you grade a speaker who had to take over in the way when he took over?” Curry asked. “It’s an ‘incomplete’ so far. He’s done some of the work, but he still has to do the final exam: appropriations and whatever happens with the border, Ukraine, and Israel. Those things are all going to happen in the next two months.”

Since taking over the gavel after the abrupt removal of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy in October, Johnson has produced little in the way of legislative achievements. Instead, when forced to choose between decisive action and GOP unity, Johnson has opted to steer clear of conflict. With a packed legislative slate ahead of him, he will not have that luxury for much longer.

Already, Johnson has yanked two appropriations bills off the floor because of inter-party conflict. And he carefully worked around objections from the GOP on issues like Ukraine funding and Israel aid while remaining uncommitted to what kind of border policy he might support other than the policies passed by the House last year.

The House faces another spending deadline on Jan. 19 that could lead to a partial government shutdown. Not far behind are questions about whether the United States will supply aid to Ukraine and Israel, whether the House will compromise on its version of border security legislation, and more.

Some Republicans are beginning to look for stronger leadership from Johnson—or at least have hinted as much. In December, many Republicans expected to enact reforms to the expiring Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Johnson avoided a thorny party showdown that would have forced him to put his weight behind one of two proposed solutions Republicans had drafted. Instead, he punted the matter into April of 2024.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., says that kind of decision making needs to change going forward.

“I wanted him to be more decisive,” Donalds said. “I think for the speaker [in 2024], we’re going to have an opportunity to restart a lot of these negotiations and build from there.”

Some of the more hardline conservative members of the House are starting to doubt Johnson will have what it takes to negotiate strong Republican wins. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., led a group of eight Republicans to topple McCarthy over a lack of meaningful spending cuts in hopes that a new speaker would deliver more substantive reductions.

When asked if he thinks the party will be able to cut spending by avoiding a 2024 omnibus bill, Gaetz said he’s not so sure.

“I’m becoming less optimistic that that’s the path forward. I think that tragically, we’re headed to the 1 percent cuts across the board that will save tens of billions of dollars but that tragically won’t achieve the policy goals that many of us have been fighting for,” said Gaetz, referencing the debt-ceiling agreement reached between Speaker McCarthy and President Joe Biden that would kick in if the House had to pass a year-long omnibus funding bill for 2024.

For now, Curry thinks that Johnson’s done an adequate job of keeping the party together. While he recognizes that Republicans may point to Johnson’s deliberations as a source of frustration, he believes Johnson doesn’t have much of a choice.

“I think it would have been worse if he walked in and started saying ‘we’re doing this, this, and this. That’s just not how it works. I think that’s what the hardliners want. But if you’re actually trying to govern, it’s a slower process. He doesn’t have the background of having been in these discussions for years like the rest of them have,” Curry said.

There are still major questions left unanswered about whether Johnson can fill McCarthy’s shoes—and not just in terms of what kinds of bills he can pass, but also the ones he can collect. The McCarthy Victory Fund and the Congressional Leadership Fund, two GOP fundraising political action committees, raised $280 million dollars from 2021 through 2022. During the first two years of former House Speaker John Boehner’s tenure, the Congressional Leadership Fund and the Freedom Project, another GOP leadership PAC, received just $15 million between 2011 and 2012.

“Kevin McCarthy was maybe the best fundraiser the House had ever seen. Point blank. Period,” Curry said. “In some ways it’s like replacing Babe Ruth. There was a reason that most of the party didn’t want to get rid of McCarthy.”

Federal Election Commission disclosures set to release in early January will soon reveal whether Johnson comes close to comparing with his predecessor.

In the meantime, as the House reconvenes next Tuesday, Johnson will have to work quickly to make headway while somehow keeping his party on their good side.

“The key thing is what will those hardliners do when he does inevitably have to bring some sort of compromise to the floor on spending, on border security, on Israel and Ukraine, on FISA—on any of these lingering issues? Because at some point he’s going to have to,” Curry said.


Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.

@_LeoBriceno


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