Conservatives are furious, but they’re not threatening Speaker Johnson’s job

WASHINGTON — House conservatives are furious about the government funding bill negotiated by Speaker Mike Johnson that sailed through Congress last week, calling it a betrayal of Republican promises to cut spending and reshape the federal budget.

But in a twist, this time they aren’t threatening to overthrow the man in charge of cutting those funding deals with a Democratic-led Senate and White House, even as they’ve begun to paint him as a functionary for status quo policies.

House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good, R-Va., has blasted the first of two funding packages and said he doesn’t expect a better deal in the second one, which must pass by March 22 to avoid a partial government shutdown.

“Because the speaker doesn’t want to do that. He just wants to pass what the Senate wants so that we avoid any conflict,” Good told NBC News, saying that Johnson, R-La., wants to “join hands with the Dems” to “increase spending” and yield “no policy wins.”

“The speaker is unwilling to tell the Senate no,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what we offer.”

But Good didn’t have a solution when asked what the right flank can do about it, saying: “I’m open to ideas.”

When asked pointedly if that includes a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, Good, one of eight Republicans who used the tool to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, ended the conversation. “Thank you,” he replied.

The shift in mindset indicates that reality is setting in for a band of fiery rabble-rousers who came into the new Republican majority with high expectations of bending Congress to their will. The right-wing members continue to believe that a small House GOP majority can force the Democratic-led Senate and White House to accede to their wishes, but they’re slowly recognizing that many of their Republican colleagues don’t support the aggressive spending cuts they want. And they’re beginning to doubt that any speaker can change that.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a Freedom Caucus member and right-wing thought leader on fiscal policy, said the newly passed government funding bill was “more of the same games, a lot of smoke and mirrors.” And he predicted the next package of bills will similarly be “garbage.”

“It is business as usual,” Roy said, despite some “modest strides” toward a more normal process in developing the bills.

But when asked if he blames Johnson, Roy said, “I think the speaker reflects a conference that likes to give lip service to fiscal restraint and refuses to act on it. That’s what I think.”

As for a motion to vacate? Roy isn’t going there: “I think it’s a tool that should always be on the table, as an historical matter. I think it should be sparingly used. … I think we need to just keep working forward to try to get somewhere.”

Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, an ardent Donald Trump ally who wore a T-shirt with the former president’s mug shot to the State of the Union address, was more blunt about why Johnson’s job isn’t in danger: Nobody wants it.

“Let’s just go down to Disney and see if Daffy Duck or maybe Goofy would want the job,” Nehls said. “Maybe Mickey! Maybe Mickey would want the job.”

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., another Freedom Caucus member, doesn’t blame Johnson for spending bills he dubbed “irresponsible,” and said that a motion to vacate isn’t on the table.

“He inherited a lot of this. No, I don’t blame him,” Norman said. “It’s like herding cats up here.”

McCarthy, R-Calif., passed one short-term government funding bill as speaker, and the far right took away his gavel within days. His successor, Johnson, has passed three stopgap bills and a major appropriations package that falls short of their demands.

Norman said the two situations are different because McCarthy and Johnson operate differently.

“McCarthy had a lot of other issues other than that. He would tell us one thing of the top line, and then he had side deals. That was not right. Johnson, to his credit, does not do that,” Norman said.

Roy said things haven’t changed much since Johnson replaced McCarthy, starting with the spending bill that just passed.

“We know it’s going to spend more money than the [Nancy] Pelosi omnibus,” Roy said. “And all these little cuts, like the FBI — that was one building in Alabama!”

The FBI faces a 6% cut relative to 2023. But almost all of it comes from the “construction” part of the budget, which sources said was previously boosted by the now-retired Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Richard Shelby, R-Ala., for a project in his home state. Just 0.3% is cut from the FBI’s main “salaries and expenses” budget.

“There’s no cut,” Roy said. “Just admit it!”

Democrats are pleased to see Johnson side with the majority of his conference and against the far right on funding the government.

“I think people have come to realize that you come here to govern. We come here to do the work of the American people,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the top House Democratic appropriator.

They say he should do the same on aid for Ukraine and allow a bipartisan bill to come up.

“The speaker said that the House should do this. Well, we have a security package out there that he could put on the floor too, if he wants the House to do it,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., the chair of the House Democratic campaign arm. “Well? Let us vote.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., had threatened to remove Johnson through a motion to vacate if he brought funding for Ukraine to the House floor, calling it “an absolute no-go.” But she’s since sought to clarify her threat, saying it only applies if he brings up the Senate bill that includes Ukraine funding and border security.

“It wasn’t a stand-alone threat on Ukraine funding,” she said.