House Speaker Johnson Faces First Real Challenge Since Climbing the Leadership Ladder

You can put lipstick on a pig, but…

If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck…

What’s in a name? What we would call pink…

Don’t spit on cupcakes and call it frosting…

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, faces his first real test this week. The newly elected House Speaker is offering something he has characterized in recent weeks as a “staggered CR.” Yeah, not many people in Washington knew what that was either.

Johnson laid out a plan to fund the entire government temporarily until Jan. 19, which is when Congress is expected to pass a batch of spending bills to avoid a shutdown. The rest would have until February 2.

The “step” concept arises from dealing with one “step” of invoices on one date and the next “step” of invoices later. On stairs. Get it?


Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., laid out a plan to temporarily fund the government until Jan. 19, when a series of spending bills are expected to be passed to avoid a closing. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Call it what you want, but what Johnson proposed is a “CR,” short for “Continuing Resolution.” A stopgap spending bill that simply renews all funding at current levels to avoid a government shutdown early Saturday.

Ironically, this is the exact same legislative idea that got former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., thrown out earlier this fall. So what’s up?

It’s a brand change. Companies change names all the time. Companies wrap their products in newer, shinier packaging. It doesn’t affect the things inside. The term “CR” became toxic within some sectors of the House Republican Conference. So, you have to modify your marketing. Additionally, Johnson reiterates that he is committed to advancing the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the government one by one, as Republicans promised.

Except for a couple of things. A CR is still a CR. There was never enough time since Johnson pressed the gavel to advance all the spending bills through the House and merge them with the Senate to avoid a shutdown, so this was the only way out of this impasse for Johnson.

But Johnson also faces the same problems that plagued his predecessor. Republicans insist on approving their own partisan spending bills individually, but they can’t.

Interior view of the House of Representatives.

House Republicans insist on passing their own spending bills without help from Democrats. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Republicans had to pull a Transportation and Housing spending bill from the floor last week and did the same with a Treasury and White House spending bill on Thursday.

And for the record, this latest bill failed after the House rejected an amendment to reduce White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre’s salary to $1 a year. That’s how it is. $1.

What is this? Is the price right?

Jean-Pierre’s annual net salary is $188,000. The point is that Republicans spent crucial time making amendments like those related to Jean-Pierre so they could be debated and voted on when they couldn’t even get the overall legislation passed.

These appropriations bills aren’t exactly ready for the Showcase Showdown.


It is not at all clear whether the House will even be able to pass Johnson’s proposal. And, because of GOP skepticism, Johnson may have to rely on Democrats to avoid a government shutdown. Sounds familiar?

If Republicans give Johnson the nod and approve his “staggered” CR – especially with Democratic help – we will have confirmed something significant about the president’s debacle that consumed most of October and led to McCarthy’s overthrow: the motion to leave vacant presidency was never about spending bills. or legislation. It was a personal vendetta against McCarthy.

Kevin McCarthy

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was removed from office in an effort led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

But back to the task at hand: government funding expires Friday at 11:59 p.m. ET. There isn’t much turning radius to advance a bill of any kind through the House and Senate. Either way, it doesn’t look like Johnson will face the same opprobrium that his predecessor received, but Johnson doesn’t seem to have a Midas touch yet either.

Lawmakers on both sides long suggested Johnson would enjoy a “honeymoon” after finally securing the gavel following a brutal three weeks in which he incinerated one speaker and three nominated speakers.

“There’s a honeymoon period here. I’m not sure how long it lasts. Maybe 30 days,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said late Thursday.


But minutes later, House Republican leaders pulled the Treasury/White House bill from the floor because it lacked the votes to pass it.

“With what’s happening in the room today, I think that indicates that the honeymoon might be shorter than we thought. And every time the CR expires, the speaker puts his head in the lion’s den,” he said. Massie.

Johnson may not be able to control the CR and he also cannot control the privilege resolutions offered by Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who introduced a special resolution late last week to remove Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Since the resolution is “privileged,” it moves to the front of the legislative line. The House will likely consider Greene’s tactic on Tuesday.

It is possible that the GOP-led House could impeach Mayorkas without hearings, without statements and without passing a resolution. This would be after Republicans brayed for months about “regular order.” Greene said it was too late for any of that.

“No more strongly worded letters. No more committee hearings. No more press clips. We have to do something about this,” he said.

Georgia Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., introduced a special resolution to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)


To be honest, many Republicans would rather talk about impeaching Mayorkas than actually impeaching Mayorkas, especially without committee hearings and margins.

The House just voted to introduce (or overturn) a resolution to expel Rep. George Santos, R.N.Y., because the Ethics Committee had not completed a report on his conduct. Additionally, Johnson said on Fox that he was concerned about “due process,” but that was forgotten with Greene’s move to charge Mayorkas.

A high-ranking House source told Fox to expect a straight up or down vote on Mayorkas’ resolution. In other words, there is no motion to file it. Of course, Democrats could come to the table, but it’s unclear if they would. Democrats don’t want Mayorkas impeached, but they may feel it’s a win either way.

One of two things will happen: The House votes to impeach Mayorkas. If so, he would become the second Cabinet official ever indicted. The last was Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876, but Democrats know the Senate would never hold a full trial of Mayorkas. He must start the process. But the Senate can vote to dispense with the articles.

Democrats will view impeachment as a victory because Republicans wasted time – impeaching Mayorkas – while the government runs out of money. They will also point out who was the author of the impeachment articles: Greene.

The other scenario is if the House fails to remove Mayorkas. It is far from clear that the House has the votes to do so. Democrats will then point to Republicans who blather ad nauseum about impeaching Mayorkas and then stumble.

Mayorkas title 42 border

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas faces calls for impeachment, but it’s unclear whether lawmakers will actually take the steps necessary to carry it out. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

All talk and no action, and some Republicans have had enough.

“I’m not going to think too hard about every privilege resolution that Majorie (Taylor) Greene introduces because we have a lot of work to do,” said freshman Rep. John Duarte, R-Calif., who represents a battleground district. and he won by 564 votes in 2022. “I’m not interested in these peripheral political trials.”

Still, Democrats will point to last week’s election results in Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio and suggest that Republicans are once again focused on the wrong things.


Not everyone in the country knows who Mike Johnson is yet, but if the government shuts down on Saturday, you can bet everyone will know who he is.

So, you can disguise yourself by applying lipstick, mascara and whatever else on a CR… but it’s still a CR. That’s something Republicans hate, but Johnson has no choice when his side still can’t even pass their own spending bills.

There is a school of thought on Capitol Hill that perhaps a shutdown is inevitable. Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown once McCarthy introduced a six-week back-to-back CR at the last minute, so perhaps McCarthy simply delayed the shutdown. McCarthy paid the price for preventing it earlier this fall.

Johnson won’t pay an immediate price regardless of how things go. He may not get a stepped CR, but this is the challenge Johnson faces in moving up the leadership ladder.

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