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House Dems rescue Johnson from shutdown with an eye towards ‘24
The GOP’s inability to keep government open with their majority is the latest instance in a pattern of poor governing that Democrats plan to present to voters as they look to reclaim power next year.
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The House passed a short-term extension on Tuesday afternoon to fund the government through early next year. But Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) relied on Democratic votes just like his predecessor Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did, an outcome that cost the latter his job. (FWIW, Johnson is expected to keep his—mostly because there’s no one else left to elect if they booted him, to be honest.)
Below is all my reporting on why Democrats bailed out the new speaker, why House conservatives rejected the bill and what’s next with two days before a government shutdown.
But first things first…
Supercreator turned four over the weekend (!!!). Talk about an unbelievable milestone. I was a personal and professional mess before I launched this project on a prayer and with pennies. I’m so grateful that I rediscovered myself and established myself as one of the journalists mentioned in the same breath as those I used to admire from afar.
This newsletter took me to the campaign trail last midterm election cycle to cover the red wave that wasn’t and to the White House to bring you closer to the Biden administration. It helped me become the only Black independent accredited congressional reporter during one of the zaniest eras in the institution’s history. It’s been a space to examine the human impact of the rollback of abortion rights, the gun violence epidemic, and the crises in health care, student loan debt, and affordable housing. Because as you know, creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum—it happens or is suppressed due to or despite what’s happening around you.
As I often say, though, what got me here won’t get me there. So ahead of the critical 2024 election that will require a renewed focus on the threats to American democracy, the Democratic Party’s attempt to reclaim the House and somehow hold the Senate, and the stakes of a potential second Trump term, I have some bittersweet news that I’ve been holding for a while: This will be the last week of Supercreator News.
Now that I’ve ripped the bandaid off rest assured that I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still be writing a newsletter, one that will be better suited for the moment and my current reportorial pursuits. If you’re signed up to Supercreator, you’ll get the new newsletter. And if you’re a paid subscriber, you’ll enjoy the upcoming premium experience. I’ll have more to say about the new thing after Thanksgiving.
For now, in the spirit of the season, know that I’m grateful that thousands of you have welcomed me into your most sacred (perhaps scattered!) digital space—the email inbox—to share the news as my sources and I see it. You’ve made me better in all ways. I’ll appreciate you always.
Now, back to the news…
The House-passed CR sets up two funding fights early next year.
The first deadline is Jan. 19, when lawmakers must fully fund the Agriculture and Transportation Departments, FDA, military and veterans initiatives, housing, energy and water programs.
The second cliff arrives on Feb. 2 and will force Congress to contend with the remaining appropriations bills unresolved in the January window.
The bill maintains fiscal year 2023 funding levels but excludes funding for national security priorities, including aid to Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and additional resources to secure the southern border. It also omits emergency dollars to address the child care crisis and invest in broadband access for underserved communities. A bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the government now uses for domestic surveillance and expires on Dec. 31, was also left out of the extension. Speaker Johnson said the bill would be considered separately and likely hitch a ride on the annual Pentagon reauthorization bill that must pass by the end of the year.
But a one-year extension to the farm bill is attached, a win for agriculture-minded lawmakers and advocates for nutrition programs like SNAP and The Emergency Food Assistance Program.
The 336-95 vote was almost identical to the McCarthy tally from the end of September, which was 335-91. In both cases, 209 Democrats carried the bill. 127 Republicans voted for the measure, which was passed under suspension of the rules—a fast-track mechanism that requires a two-thirds majority for passage but allows the House to skip procedural and amendment votes and limit debate on a bill.
The legislation now goes to the Senate, where the expectation is it will pass pretty quickly before President Joe Biden signs it into law.
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New speaker, same math
It was inevitable that House Republicans would find themselves looking across the aisle for help fulfilling one of Congress’s fundamental responsibilities: Funding the government.
Sure, they ousted McCarthy for putting a “clean” continuing resolution on the floor at the end of September devoid of any spending cuts or conservative policy priorities. But as White House Budget Director Shalanda Young, a former Capitol Hill workhorse, often says: The math is the math.
And a Johnson-for-McCarthy swap didn’t erase the reality of a divided government. Even under new management, House Republicans still hold a slim majority against Democratic control of the Senate and White House. (In fact, the House GOP’s margin is one vote thinner after the election last week and swearing in this week of Rep. Gabe Amo (D-R.I.), which brought Democrats to full strength at 213 members and means Johnson can only lose three Republican votes on party-line bills.)
The only difference between the CR that McCarthy brought up and the one that passed this week is that Johnson split what’s usually one deadline into two, an idea put forward by the far-right House Freedom Caucus. (Ironically enough, the HFC came out in formal opposition to the bill the morning before the vote. And Johnson voted against the McCarthy bill.)
Democrats would have preferred a short-term funding extension that expired mid-December to provide appropriators with roughly a month to draft what’s known ‘round these parts as an “omnibus,” or a comprehensive funding agreement for the full fiscal year, that Congress can pass before they head home for the holidays.
But Republicans haaaaaaaate these “Christmas tree” bills, as they describe them. They argue that omnis prevent debate on the merits of the 12 individual funding bills that support US departments and agencies. Instead, they are written by leadership staff with little time to review before a vote is called for the final package because we know lawmakers always read the bills they vote on, right? Omni haters also despise the omission of an amendment process, which gives rank-and-file members a chance to put their stamp on a piece of legislation.
House Democrats were reluctant to initially support the bill because of the two deadlines, which many viewed as a gimmick. Case in point: House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (Calif.) said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe just gave Republicans two more chances to shut the government down instead of one.
Speaker Johnson defended the two-step approach as the best strategy to avoid a holiday omnibus and ensure that the domestic and national security emergency funding requests are debated separately while keeping the government open.
The White House immediately came out in opposition to the plan but quietly ended up changing its tune. And after Senate Democrats expressed an openness to the Johnson CR and a better alternative failed to emerge, House Democratic leadership ultimately endorsed the legislation.
The Dems’ case against a House GOP majority
The vote came on the same day Capitol Hill was beset with several instances of congressional Republicans behaving badly.
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), one of the eight House Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy from the speakership, accused the former speaker of elbowing him in the kidney in the basement hallway outside of where the GOP met for their weekly conference meeting.
And Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) challenged a witness during a congressional hearing to a tussle so out of order Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had to remind Mullin was a United States senator.
If that wasn’t enough, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) called Rep. Jared Moskowitz a “Smurf” after the Florida Democrat called Comer out for his hypocrisy in allegedly loaning his brother money while using a personal loan President Biden made to his brother as evidence of malfeasance in his toothless impeachment inquiry.
What’s more, the House had to pass the CR under suspension with majority Democratic support because Republicans didn’t have the votes to pass the procedural measure that would have allowed the bill to be considered in the first place. This isn’t supposed to happen when you’re in the majority, no matter how slim. And it never did when Democrats controlled the House with similar margins last Congress.
There is a real second-hand embarrassment among Democrats for the dwindling decorum among their Republican counterparts. But this is politics, honey. And one party’s drama is the other’s opportunity.
In addition to the argument that Democrats are better suited than Republicans to address the kitchen-table concerns of everyday Americans, they’ll also supplement their 2024 message with examples of the GOP’s inability to govern.
Several members told me this week that it’s one thing for the new speaker to need Democratic help on one bill, as he did on Tuesday. But the CR vote isn’t an isolated incident, they say. It’s the latest instance in a long pattern of ineptitude dating back to January when it took 15 ballots and four days for House Republicans to elect McCarthy as speaker only to remove him nine months later.
Since then, Republican leadership has been unable to bring at least five bills to the floor and has had to pull even more ahead of final passsge due to unfavorable whip counts. Democrats had to rescue Republicans from allowing the US to default on its debt for the first time in American history. And as reported, they had to carry the first funding extension six weeks ago before doing so again this week.
And although Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), who leads the House Democrats’ campaign, is far from an objective observer, she said the House GOP dysfunction will cost them their majority next November.
“House Democrats helped prevent a catastrophe today, but make no mistake—this is no way to run the country,” Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), who leads the House Democrats’ campaign arm and is responsible for leading the party back to power, said in a statement after the CR was approved. “House Republicans remain dysfunctional, embracing MAGA extremism and pushing us time and again to the brink. We will hold them accountable for their chaos and failure to govern responsibly—which will cost them the majority next year.”
Early 2024 will be messy
The state of play is frustrating for Democrats who think all of this could be avoided had House Republicans simply honored the plan McCarthy negotiated with President Biden in May that ultimately passed Congress and was signed into law.
But that ship sailed once House GOP appropriators ended up writing their funding bills billions of dollars below the threshold set in the McCarthy-Biden agreement.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who leads the House Appropriations Committee, said this week that the House would need to agree on a topline funding level before negotiating final bills with the Senate.
This means Congress will start the new year by picking up the mess it failed to reconcile this year. And the country—along with the friends and allies who rely on us—will be worse off for it.