Republicans losing faith in Johnson to score wins on conservative priorities during government shutdown fight

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Some within the House GOP are growing increasingly doubtful that Republicans will score any conservative policy victories on issues like abortion, green energy, student loan forgiveness, and preventing biological males from competing against girls in high school sports.

When House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., released the details of a bipartisan plan to fund the government earlier this year, he did so with the promise that it sets House Republicans up with more time to fight for the inclusion of conservative policies in whatever spending deal they reach.

But Republicans who spoke with Fox News Digital said the debate over including such policies is, at best, currently at an impasse.

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“I think that that is what’s the sticking point right now, that we are fighting for those and the opposition is fighting just as hard against them,” one GOP lawmaker close to the appropriations process told Fox News Digital.

U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) speaks to reporters as he leaves a House Republican candidates forum where congressmen who are running for Speaker of the House presented their platforms in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Oct. 23, 2023 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

When asked how he thinks negotiations are going, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., bluntly told Fox News Digital, “I don’t think it’s going well.”

“My position with both Speaker McCarthy and Speaker Johnson was that we should cut spending as much as we can in the House…the Senate wants more money, so you’re buying policy,” Donalds said. “Securing the border, in my view, is the only possible policy victory attainable, and we should be doing everything we can to make that happen.”

Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., unveiled an agreement to have appropriators work toward FY 2024 funding levels at a maximum discretionary budget of roughly $1.66 trillion. 

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In a Jan. 7 letter to House GOP colleagues, Johnson conceded that next year’s budget forecast was not for spending as low as members on his right flank wanted. But argued the plan “does provide us a path to: 1) move the process forward; 2) reprioritize funding within the topline towards conservative objectives, instead of last year’s Schumer-Pelosi omnibus; and 3) fight for the important policy riders included in our House FY24 bills.”

It was always going to be an uphill battle for GOP leaders to deliver on those wins, with just a slim, three-seat House majority and Democrats controlling the Senate and White House. But Republicans are nevertheless pressuring Johnson to deliver, even on measures Democrats have deemed nonstarters.

Schumer talks foreign aid

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., discusses next steps for the foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel on the day after the bipartisan Senate border security bill collapsed, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House Freedom Caucus reminded Johnson of that promise in a Wednesday memo demanding more information on the status of those talks and outlining several policy demands, including reducing Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ salary to $0 and banning the use of Pentagon dollars to fund travel to get an abortion.

Other policy goals listed include blocking President Joe Biden’s progressive policy agendas push towards on green energy and student loan forgiveness – and culture war items like banning transgender youth born male from competing on girls’ sports teams.

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The memo to Johnson then cast doubt on the House GOP’s ability to attain those policy goals, with the conservative group warning, “If we are not going to secure significant policy changes or even keep spending below the caps adopted by bipartisan majorities less than one year ago, why would we proceed when we could instead pass a year-long funding resolution that would save Americans $100 billion in year one? “I don’t know if [House Republican negotiators] are really fighting,” a senior House GOP aide said.

Mike Johnson

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said a “formal impeachment inquiry vote on the floor will allow [Republicans] to take it to the next necessary step.” (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Calls placed to Johnson’s office seeking comment were not returned. 

Under a plan negotiated by Johnson late last year and extended in January, the last Congress’s government funding levels for some departments expires on March 1, while others run out on March 8. If a deal is not reached in time, the government risks falling into a partial shutdown.

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