WASHINGTON — Hard-right House Republicans met with Speaker Mike Johnson on Thursday, and he was met a few days earlier by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. pressured him to abandon the cost contract he cut with.
Some conservatives left the meeting declaring their success. But Johnson, R-La., told reporters shortly afterward that he had made no commitment to withdraw from the deal.
“While these conversations are ongoing, I have not made any commitments,” Johnson said. “So if you’ve heard otherwise, it’s simply not true.”
Then he put the cell phone to his ear and asked no more questions.
Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus and their allies are outraged by the $1.66 trillion bipartisan spending deal he announced over the weekend, which puts Congress on track to avert a shutdown this month and complete the 2024 appropriations bill. Conservative hawks used Thursday’s meeting to push the new speaker to reverse course and back the new strategy.
Leaving the closed-door meeting, US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene insisted that US border security should “absolutely” be part of budget negotiations and that Ukraine should not receive additional US aid.
Johnson “claimed he agreed with everything I said there. He claimed he agreed with other conservatives there, everything we said,” Green told reporters. “A new contract will be drawn up and we are in the process of doing that.”
Rep. Ralph Norman, R.C., a Freedom Caucus member who met with Johnson, said he came away believing the speaker wanted a new plan.
“My take: Speaker Johnson understands that the current deal is not going to work,” Norman said. “He also recognizes the real crisis: illegal immigration.”
“We have to have a different plan,” Norman said.
But other conservatives at the meeting did not believe Johnson was committed to the group. “I don’t know what to say,” he said.
The clash comes at a crucial moment for Johnson, who is trying to balance the demands of the ultraconservative forces that ousted his predecessor while trying to strike deals with the Democratic-led Senate and White House to fulfill the basics of governing.
13 GOP hardliners, including some who met with Johnson, expressed their anger Wednesday after a procedural vote was taken on an unrelated bill to challenge Johnson’s deal with the Senate.
Hard-right Republicans entered the passage spending bill as a means of making their case, seeing it as the best way to force Democrats to swallow budget cuts and conservative policy provisions they would not normally accept.
Schumer said Thursday that the upper chamber intends to pass a continuing resolution, or CR, to continue the deal and prevent a shutdown in the meantime.
“Look, we have a high-level agreement. Everyone knows that any work should be done, it should be bilateral.” “So we will continue to work to pass a CR and avoid a shutdown.”
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said if Johnson backed down, it would lead to a damaging government shutdown. On January 19, funding for several federal agencies ends.
“We have openly, clearly and unambiguously agreed on the highest number of costs. … There is nothing else to discuss,” Jeffries said at his weekly news conference. “The withdrawal of House Republicans from the deal announced just days ago will make it clear that House Republicans are determined to shut down the government, collapse the economy and hurt the American people.”
“I’m doing my job and moving forward with the agreement we reached,” said Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The panel’s vice chairwoman, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she hoped Johnson would stick to the deal and that rumors of it falling apart were not true. “I sure hope it’s not true,” he said. “Because it increases the chance of a government shutdown.”