Stop us if you’ve heard this before: a Republican speaker of the House is facing ire from the Freedom Caucus that is mad about a deal he’s cutting with Democrats, who run almost the entire government.
2024 picked up right where 2023 left off, with the narrow GOP House majority stuck between a Freedom Caucus-shaped rock and a hard place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. With at least a partial government shutdown looming, Speaker Mike Johnson’s proposed budget deal strikes many as almost exactly what former speaker Kevin McCarthy’s intra-party foes used as their alleged final straw against him.
The Freedom Caucus, which went from loving Johnson to comparing him to John Boehner in slightly over a month, called Johnson’s $1.59 trillion budget “a total failure,” arguing that “once you break through typical Washington math,” it amounts to $1.658 trillion. However, support from both President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats suggests that the compromise bill will pass and avoid a partial government shutdown, even if it’s ugly.
Within the GOP, the Freedom Caucus isn’t alone in voicing frustration over the deal (which some lawmakers found out about online). But there is also notable frustration among conservative members geared towards those who ousted McCarthy.
Representative Mike Collins summed up what many are feeling, asking whether “we are learning that negotiating with the Democrats in the White House and Senate with a slim majority is hard and you can’t get everything you want, no matter who is in the speaker’s office?”
While some on the right took issue with Collins’s remarks, he told me that the GOP position is simple: while he may end up voting against Johnson’s bill, “especially if we don’t get meaningful border security provisions, the point is that we wasted time and hurt our negotiating position because our team so often takes a knee when we can’t score a touchdown. We have to stop doing that and move the ball our direction at every opportunity, and sacking our quarterbacks won’t do it.”
There are some notable wins for conservatives, though, including “the first cut in non-VA, non-defense appropriations in years,” according to messaging guidance from Johnson, as well as a clawback of over $6 billion in unspent Covid relief funds, and cutting $20 billion from the IRS’s funding for new auditors — long a GOP bogeyman.
These wins, though, are insufficient for some Republicans like Senator Mike Lee, who stated that he “will not vote to fund the government until our border is secure.” His fellow Senate Republican, James Lankford, is leading tri-partisan negotiations with senators Kyrsten Sinema and Chris Murphy to address the border, immigration and aid to Israel and Ukraine.
“This agreement has to work,” Lankford said. “Everyone’s counting on this actually working.”
Lee’s remarks and Lankford’s negotiating come as Republicans have renewed their efforts to focus on securing the southern border. Speaker Johnson led more than sixty House Republicans to Eagle Pass, Texas, last month; the House passed a bipartisan border security bill, and the secretary of homeland security Alejandro Mayorkas is being eyed for impeachment.
Republican concern about the southern border vastly predates the current budget fight. Representative Darrell Issa, who represents a border district in southern California, even closed new border barriers himself. On the Johnson-led trip, illegal immigrants were seen crossing the border directly behind the gaggle of Republicans.
Democrats, cognizant of the political problems that immigration is increasingly posing, are laughably attacking the Republicans for their “anti-border security record.” Most Democrats in the House and Senate, however, are predicted to support whatever proposal Biden backs. The question, once again, is how many Republicans will back their speaker.
On our radar
PODIUM POWER STRUGGLE White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre is reportedly frustrated that she has recently been splitting time at the briefing room podium with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, according to Axios. Jean-Pierre has held just one solo press briefing since Hamas’s October 7 terror attack on Israel.
STEFANIK STUMPS FOR TRUMP House Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik gave a wide-ranging interview on NBC News on Sunday where she did not commit to certifying the 2024 presidential election results and referred to some January 6 prisoners as “hostages.”
MEHDI TO GO Progressive commentator Mehdi Hasan announced he is leaving MSNBC after the network canceled his program “The Mehdi Hasan Show” after nearly three years on the air.
Will Biden debate? Democrats are torn
Much has been said about the Trump-less Republican presidential primary debates, especially by his challengers. Now, it seems like President Biden may borrow Trump’s strategy of attempting to win without showing up, as some Democrats suggest that Biden should refuse to share the stage with the former president.
“I would think twice about it,” said Senate Democratic whip Dick Durbin about a potential Trump-Biden debate. “I’ve been physically present at one of [Trump’s] debates with Hillary Clinton, and I watched him do outrageous things and say outrageous things. It’s just an opportunity for him to display his extremism.”
Senator Chris Coons from Delaware also chimed in: “I was in the room for one of the debates in 2020 — Chris Wallace was the moderator. The former president in no way at all respected the rules or the tradition or decorum. It was a disaster.”
The senators claim they want to prevent Trump from causing harm on the nation. Nonetheless, Democrats acknowledge privately that avoiding the debates may be more about self-preservation for Biden.
“[Democrats] acknowledge that voters’ perception of Biden’s age — he’s eighty-one years old — is his biggest political liability,” reports Alex Thompson. “While Democrats think Biden won his two debates with Trump in 2020, he would be four years older if he faced Trump on stage again.”
–Juan P. Villasmil
The media’s Lloyd Austin folly
The Pentagon revealed on Friday that defense secretary Lloyd Austin had been in the hospital for a full work week following complications from an elective surgery. Journalists quickly uncovered that while Austin had spent four days in the intensive care unit, the DoD did not inform the president nor the national security advisor of Austin’s hospitalization.
Austin has since recovered and says he takes “full responsibility” for the lack of transparency surrounding the medical event. Biden is reportedly standing by Austin, even as NSC officials are privately pointing out the unusual nature of the situation. Deputy defense secretary Kathleen Hicks supposedly picked up Austin’s duties while he was away, but was also on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time.
The debacle raises further questions about how national security reporters didn’t notice that the defense secretary was missing in action in the midst of two wars, escalating attacks in the Red Sea and a broader conflict with Iran. And it’s not the first time the media has been asleep at the wheel in regard to the disappearing acts of Biden cabinet members. It took two months for anyone to realize that transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg had been away on paternity leave as Congress debated a massive infrastructure bill and US supply chains were in a crisis. When his whereabouts were finally made public, the media chastised the GOP for their concern over Buttigieg’s absence. Similarly, Politico explained away Austin’s failure to alert the White House to his medical leave as merely a symptom of his “tough, ‘stiff upper lip’ bearing that will be immediately familiar to those of us who grew up in military families.”