It’s almost Thanksgiving, and the United States government is not shut down. Also, the speaker of the House has not been fired.
In this time of severely diminished expectations for anything and everything out of Washington, these are things we can all be thankful for — even those who are watching Mike Johnson’s very young speakership with concern, or all-out alarm.
The representative from Louisiana’s 4th district has a reputation as nice but uncompromising in his conservatism. So it’s noteworthy —?and to his credit —?that Johnson rebuffed the chaos agents from the right of his own party and crafted a compromise Democrats could live with to keep the government going through the holidays and into the beginning of 2024, anyway.
As a foot soldier, Johnson could vote against basically the same conditions —?and he did. But as the House’s new leader, Johnson did the very easy math, figured he needed Democratic support not only in his chamber but in the majority Democratic Senate and White House, and got it.
The government will now be funded through Jan. 19 for some things and Feb. 2 for others —?the staggered deadlines being a Johnson innovation —?minus the deep cuts and ideological poison pills that some of his fellow conservatives had insisted upon, and still do.
So what conclusions are we to draw from this?
Maybe it’s that nice goes further than we think, even as nastiness seems to prevail in the nation’s Capitol.
Consider the fate of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who crafted similar legislation keeping government funded at 2022 levels through this weekend and passed it with Democratic votes but without backing from many Republicans, including Johnson. McCarthy then turned around and blamed Democrats for the near-shutdown, which is likely only one of many reasons why they didn’t lift a finger to help when the fringe element of his own party came for him. He was removed under new rules he’d agreed to in his long quest to become speaker which made removing him much easier, and which are still in effect.?
Republican ideologues whined about Johnson taking this road, too, and acted out the following day on a procedural vote —?but so far they aren’t making any moves to unseat him, and he wisely sent them home for the holiday break to cool off. They probably won’t, but it’s at least a smart attempt to lower the temperature.?
Or maybe the lesson is that, like Richard Nixon establishing relations with communist China, it takes someone with unquestioned conservative credentials to effectively move toward the middle.
Unlike his squishier predecessor, Johnson’s got a store of goodwill with his fellow hard-liners, even many who voted against the government funding bill.
“We trust what he says,” Ralph Norman of South Carolina, one of 93 Republicans who opposed the deal, told The New York Times.
Perhaps Johnson’s just still in his honeymoon period, and the hordes will come after him soon enough if he proves too pragmatic for their taste.
Or maybe —?hopefully —?he’s approaching his big new job with the country, not just this party, in mind.
Of course, this deal is just a stopgap, an attempt to buy some time. Immensely difficult issues remain unresolved —?aid to Israel and Ukraine and border enforcement among them. Johnson may well have showed his truer colors in his first big clunker, a cynical attempt to tie Israel aid to ideologically-driven cuts to IRS enforcement, which would not only help fat cat donors avoid paying their fair share but cost the government money in the long run.
Still, it’s nice to see the gentleman from Benton, thrust into leadership after a quick rise and a series of unfortunate events for those ahead of him in the hierarchy, approach his new job with a sense of realism.
As much of a true believer as he is, he seems to get that the GOP controls the House by a hair and cannot pass anything with just Republican votes if the fringiest players are willing to blow everything up; that the Senate and presidency are in Democratic hands; and that outright dysfunction may please the extremists but doesn’t win the hearts and minds of most Americans.
Let’s hope he remembers all that when the honeymoon inevitably ends.