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Hardliners pressure Johnson to back off spending deal with Schumer as shutdown looms


By Lauren Fox, Manu Raju, Haley Talbot, Clare Foran and Melanie Zanona, CNN

Hardline conservatives are ramping up pressure on Speaker Mike Johnson to walk away from a topline spending deal struck with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a move that threatens to derail bipartisan negotiations with Congress just days from a partial government shutdown.

GOP hardliners, who want deep funding cuts, expressed optimism after meeting with Johnson on Thursday that the speaker could revise the agreement, which would set spending at close to $1.66 trillion overall – but the Louisiana Republican was quick to say that he has made no commitment to back off the deal.

The fury from conservatives, and their effort to tank the deal, underscores the major challenge facing Johnson as he attempts to steer his extremely narrow majority ahead of a shutdown deadline next Friday. If Johnson were to walk away from the topline agreement, that would create a massive breach of trust with the Senate and could put Congress on a path to a shutdown.

One day after conservatives staged a revolt on the House floor in protest over the spending deal, a group of GOP hardliners met with Johnson on Thursday. Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina said that Johnson assigned the group a task. “He just said, ‘What way do you want me to go? You show me how we can get 218 votes.’ That’s his question.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, said they were working on revising the deal in the meeting.

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

Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, exiting Johnson’s office, said they are working on a new topline spending deal that will appease the right flank.

“We’re working on fleshing it out,” he said, after the nearly two-hour meeting with the speaker and others.

But Johnson attempted to tamp down those comments when he emerged from his office after the meeting, saying he’s made no commitment so far to back away from the deal he cut with Schumer on government funding.

He said he’s having “thoughtful conservation” with various corners of the conference, which will continue, but “while those conversations are going on, I’ve made no commitments and if you hear otherwise it’s simply not true.”

The push by hardliners to get rid of the spending deal has drawn the ire of other Republicans.

Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, a staunch McCarthy ally, called the effort from his hardline colleagues to try to renegotiate the topline spending number “uninformed and idiotic.”

Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, who was another one of McCarthy’s chief allies, warned the speaker against going back on his word.

“The speaker either gave his word and made an agreement or he didn’t,” McHenry said. “So he’s got to decide whether or not he gave his word. And if he gave his word he’s got to fulfill his word.”

GOP Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, a senior appropriator, said his hardline colleagues have “never” operated in reality and told CNN it would be a “flawed” strategy to reopen the bipartisan spending agreement the speaker made with Schumer. “If you straddle the fence, better make sure it’s not made of barbed wire, if you’re a male,” Womack said. He also remarked on the divisions in the GOP conference: “I’m not confident we can pass a rule to make it sunny and 72 tomorrow in Washington, DC, right now.”

Thursday’s meeting comes after a group of conservatives protested the spending deal by joining with Democrats to sink a procedural rule vote on the House floor Wednesday afternoon, the second rule vote defeat in Johnson’s 11-week tenure. The rule came up for a vote again on Thursday and passed.

The floor revolt raises questions over what extent conservatives will go to express their frustration at Johnson, who was elected speaker after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted in a historic and unprecedented vote by a group of conservatives.

In a sign of the anger in the ranks, GOP Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, a senior appropriator, said there needs to be “consequences” for the hardliners who keep tanking procedural votes. And GOP Rep. Nick LaLota of New York, who represents a swing district, said if the trend continues then it needs to be “dealt with.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, had a blunt message for the hardliners trying to derail the bipartisan spending agreement: “Get a life. Get over yourself.”

“They should find another job,” she added. “Because they clearly don’t want to, nor are they capable of, being in the United States Congress and to carry out what their duties or responsibilities are.”

McCarthy was removed from his post after opting to put a bill to avert a shutdown on the House floor that passed with bipartisan support. Johnson now has multiple shutdown deadlines ahead of him.

In a rare event, Congress is confronting not one but two government shutdown deadlines early this year – on January 19 and February 2.

Even with the bipartisan topline spending deal, there is still much more work to be done to prevent a partial shutdown next week. Senate leaders have said that a short-term funding patch will be needed to allow more time to complete work on full-year annual appropriations bills now that the topline deal is in place.

Adding to the complications for the speaker are calls from his right flank to force a shutdown if their demands are not met on border security.

That issue is already imperiling the future of a supplemental bill to provide security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. And Senate and House appropriators have warned against injecting the thorny political issue into the spending fight for fear it could erupt a shutdown.

CNN’s Annie Grayer contributed to this report.

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