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Hard-right Republicans pressure Johnson to back out of bipartisan spending deal

House Speaker Mike Johnson, under fire from the same conservative rabble-rousers who tormented his predecessor as he tries to keep the government funded, said he made no commitments to the group.
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WASHINGTON — Hard-right House Republicans on Thursday met with Speaker Mike Johnson and pressured him to renege on the spending deal he cut with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., just days ago.

Some conservatives left the meeting proclaiming that they were successful. But Johnson, R-La., told reporters shortly thereafter that he had made no commitments to back out of the deal.

“While those conversations are going on, I’ve made no commitments,” Johnson said. “So if you’ve heard otherwise, it’s just simply not true.”

He then put a cellphone to his ear and didn’t take any more questions.

Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus and their allies are furious over the $1.66 trillion bipartisan spending deal he announced over the weekend that puts Congress on a path to avert a shutdown this month and finish its fiscal 2024 appropriations process. The conservative rabble-rousers used Thursday’s meeting to push the new speaker to reverse course and endorse a new strategy.

Leaving the closed-door meeting, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., insisted that border security “absolutely” needs to be part of the budget negotiations and that Ukraine should receive no additional aid from the U.S.

Johnson “claimed in there he agreed with everything I said. He claimed in there he agreed with other conservatives, everything that we said,” Greene told reporters. “There’s going to be a new deal drawn up, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing.”

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., a Freedom Caucus member who met with Johnson, said he came away with the belief that the speaker wants a new plan.

“My view: Speaker Johnson understands the present deal ... will not work,” Norman said. “He also realizes the real crisis: illegal immigration.”

“We have to have a different plan,” Norman said.

But other conservatives in the meeting did not believe Johnson had made a commitment to the group. “I don’t know that I would say that” Johnson is backing out, said Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Mo., another member of the Freedom Caucus.

The clash comes at a crucial moment for Johnson, who is seeking to balance the demands of the ultraconservative forces that ousted his predecessor while also striking deals with a Democratic-led Senate and White House to do the basics of governing.

A group of 13 GOP hard-liners, including some of those who met with Johnson, made their anger known Wednesday after tanking a procedural vote on an unrelated bill to protest Johnson’s deal with the Senate.

The hard-right Republicans have zeroed in on the must-pass spending legislation as their vehicle to make a stand, seeing it as their best leverage to force Democrats to swallow budget cuts and conservative policy provisions that they wouldn’t ordinarily accept.

Schumer said Thursday the upper chamber intends to follow through with the deal and pass a continuing resolution, or CR, to avert a shutdown in the meantime.

“Look, we have a top-line agreement. Everybody knows to get anything done, it has to be bipartisan,” he said. “So we’re going to continue to work to pass a CR and avoid a shutdown.”

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said if Johnson backs out, it would lead to a harmful government shutdown. Funding runs out for several federal agencies on Jan. 19.

“We have publicly and clearly and unequivocally reached an agreement on the top-line spending number. ... There’s nothing more to discuss,” Jeffries said at his weekly news conference. “To the extent that House Republicans back away from an agreement that was just announced a few days ago, it will make clear that House Republicans are determined to shut down the government, crash the economy and hurt the American people.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Appropriations Committee chair, said, “I’m doing my job according to the agreement we have and I’m moving forward.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the panel’s vice chair, said she hopes that Johnson sticks to the agreement and that rumors of it falling apart aren’t true. “I certainly hope that’s not true,” she said. “Because it increases the chances of a government shutdown.”