Transcribe your podcast

From The New York Times, I'm Mike Labarro. This is The Daily. Today, by working with Democrats to avert a government shutdown at the end of last week, the new Republican House Speaker, Mike Johnson, seemed to put himself on the same path of self-emulation that doomed his predecessor.




Did he? My colleague, Katie Edmondson, on why this time things could be different. It's Monday, November 20th.


Katie, the US government did not shut down over the past few days, as many had that it might or would, especially given the dysfunction we have observed and talked to you about endlessly from this Republican-controlled house over the past year.


That's right. Congress was staring down this deadline at midnight last Friday. Government funding was set to expire unless Congress came to some deal to keep the government funded. There were a lot of questions as to whether Congress would be able to make that happen. They were working on a very short time frame in large part because House Republicans really wasted three weeks trying to elect a new speaker. Then there were a lot of questions about what that new Speaker, Speaker Mike Johnson, would do once he got the job to try to avert a shutdown.


Right. And the fact that there wasn't a shutdown was very much the work of this new House Speaker.


So in.


Brief, what did we learn about Speaker Mike Johnson from the fact that there wasn't a shutdown?


I think the first thing that we learned is that Mike Johnson, as Speaker, operates differently, at least so far, than Mike Johnson, the rank and file member did. So if you remember back in September, Kevin McCarthy, really the last major thing he did as Speaker, was to pass this deal to keep the government funded through this November deadline, and he used Democratic votes to do that. And that was a deal that Mike Johnson opposed. He voted against keeping the government open back in September. Okay. Fast forward to November, now he's Speaker. He chose in this case to rise above his own hard right ideology and to instead make the decision to keep the government open and to use Democrats, in fact, to do that.




Think the second thing that we learned is that in doing so, he has invoked the ire of the Freedom Caucus in such a way that puts him on potentially a similar collision course to what former Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, found himself on at the very beginning of his job with those hard-right Republicans. Because even though Mike Johnson really was considered one of the Freedom Caucuses own, the Freedom Caucus obviously was very unhappy to see Mike Johnson pass this short-term spending bill with Democratic votes.


Okay, so tell us the story of what happened during this almost government shutdown that was averted that helps really explain these two learnings that you just laid out.


Well, when Mike Johnson is elected speaker, he automatically inherits all of the spending drama that eventually led to the ouster of Kevin McCarthy. And so the first question really was, how is this completely untested speaker going to handle this? And the first move that we saw Speaker Mike Johnson make was, if you remember, the Israel funding bill that he put on the House floor. And that was a really partisan measure. He didn't advance legislation just to send aid to Israel. He structured it in a way that said, Well, in order to send this money, we're going to cut a bunch of money that the Biden administration wanted for the IRS.


Right. A clear signal that his approach to this job as speaker, right off the bat was very partisan, very much about sticking it to the Democrats.


That was the first message that he sent. And so the first indication was, Well, maybe this is someone who is on every important move, going to nod to the hard right-flank of the party that he came from.


Okay, so that's the impression we have of Johnson heading into this extremely high stakes question of, Will the government shut down? So how does he approach it? What happens?


Well, he actually pulls a page from Kevin McCarthy's playbook, and that is by taking a lot of meetings with the various factions of the House Republican Conference. He heard a lot of varying opinions. There were some Republicans within the House Freedom Caucus who said, Let's have the shutdown. Let's force this discussion about how we have to cut spending. And if that requires us to just shut the whole place down, so be it. Chip Roy said, I'll eat my Thanksgiving dinner on the floor of the house and have this discussion.


Right. This is the group of Republicans who are basically saying, McCarthy didn't have the courage to do what needed to be done, so brand new Speaker, Johnson, you should do what he wouldn't. Shut it down. Take a stand. Cut government spending at any cost. Which would, we should note, be in line with how Mike Johnson acted for years.


Yes, that's exactly right. And some of them were saying, Well, let's pass a bill that has deep cuts in it. And when the Senate refuses to take it up as we know they will because Democrats don't want to support those types of deep spending cuts, then let's blame them for the shutdown. Now, of course, he hears an entirely different message from the moderates who tell him, Of course, we cannot have a shutdown, especially right before Thanksgiving. It's going to look terrible if we just spent three weeks fighting among ourselves, unable to elect a speaker, and the next thing we do is shut down the government. Right. And then there's a final group of players that he's talking with, and that's over in the Senate. And he checks in with Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader over in the Senate. And Chuck Schumer tells him in order for any funding mechanism to be signed into law, it has to be a partisan. You have to work with us because that is the reality of this government. Let's keep government open and we'll work with you.


So after hearing from all these various factions, what do we know about what Johnson is thinking at this particular juncture?


Well, we really didn't know that much about how he was thinking about this. We would talk to the lawmakers after these meetings, and they would say, He listened to us a lot, but even we don't really have a sense exactly of what he might be planning to do. And so as we kept getting closer and closer to the deadline and we weren't receiving any sorts of leaks or glimmers of how he might approach this, there was really a sense of suspense building, I think, for everyone, because he kept getting closer to this deadline and did not have really any visibility on how he might try to get out of it.


Okay, so when do you finally get a leak or glimmer?


Well, in classic congressional fashion, Speaker Johnson holds a conference call with his members where he tells them the bill that he is going to put on the House floor to keep the government funded is not going to have any spending cuts. It will not be conditioned on any conservative policies being passed into law. What he unveils to his conference is essentially just a bill that is going to keep government funding flowing into early next year. Now, he did throw a bone, essentially a very small bone, to the House Freedom Caucus with this plan in that the way he structures this bill funds the government essentially in two steps. And so in order to keep the government funded again in early 2024, lawmakers will have to take one vote to fund some parts of the government in late January and then they'll have to take a second vote to fund the rest of it a couple of weeks later in February. The reason why he structured it this way is that the House Freedom Caucus for years really has complained about the idea that they've had to vote to fund the government in one up or down vote.


This breaks that in two, that takes away that grievance. But at the end of the day, this is still a clean spending bill that he's advancing.


Which is very hard for them to accept. It is.


Pretty much a replica of what Kevin McCarthy put on the floor back in September that angered the Freedom Caucus so much that they moved to Oustim.


Okay, so what happens when Johnson does this?


Well, I mean, the conference call was still continuing when one influential conservative, Chip Roy of Texas, took to Twitter to say that he would oppose the plan. Normally, people wait, at least until the conference call is over, to announce their opposition. But I think that gives you a sense of how angry people were. I think, honestly, some of the Freedom Caucus members were really surprised that Mike Johnson took this tack, because again, in their mind, he's one of them. And so I think they were expecting to see something that hewed closer to what they wanted to do. So then the question becomes, is this something that Democrats will support? Because clearly the number of Republican defections to this plan are stacking up in such large numbers that we know Democrats are going to be required to pass this on the House floor. And so we initially hear some grumbling from Democrats on this, and some of it is showmanship, but a lot of it also, frankly, is substantive, and they are really frustrated by the two funding deadlines that this bill lays out. But at the end of the day, we hear some Democrats saying the quiet part out loud, which is, This is great for us because there's no spending cuts and there's no conservative policies attached to this.


This is exactly what we wanted.


The House will be in order.




So- Members will record their votes by electronic device. This is a five-minute vote.


When the vote is all said and done with early last week-.


On this vote, the A's are 3-36. The Nays are 95.


-we see that a large number of Republicans have opposed this plans in more than 90. Wow. And in fact, every single Democrat except two supported it.


Two-thirds being in the affirmative, the rules are suspended. The bill is passed and without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid on the table.


Which means Democrats put this Republican spending bill over the edge, and Johnson had been transformed into someone capable of bipartisan on a very meaningful scale.


That's right. He chose the McCarthy root in using Democrats to supply the bulk of votes to keep the government open.


I want to yield it to our speaker, Mike Johnson. Thank you, Steve. I want to thank this extraordinary leadership team. They're doing a.


Great job. This is something that he is sensitive to or aware of, at least. We see that manifest in a news conference that he has on Capitol Hill shortly after the vote..


Thank you for the morning. My question is.




Hard is this then for your members? Because they said this is essentially the same thing that bounced Kevin McCartney, and.


If you get- A reporter says to him, Look, the arched Conservatives are really unhappy with this decision that you've made. And Seymour Johnson actually interrupts him.


And says- Chad, I'm one of the arched Conservatives, okay? I want to cut spending right now, and I would like to put policy writers on this. But when we have a three-vote majority, as we do right now, we don't have the votes to be able to advance that right now. So what we.


Need to do is avoid- It's just that the math didn't work here. This is the only way for me to keep the government open and funded.


I've been at the job less than three weeks. I can't change. I can't turn an aircraft carrier overnight. But this was a very important first step to get us to the.


Next stage. But for those arch-conservatives, that's not really a satisfying answer. And so the question for them becomes, can they believe Speaker Johnson when he says to them, Look, I'm still one of you guys.


We'll be.


Right back. Katie, if you are a student of this Republican-controlled house and this moment in American politics, the logical repercussions of what Speaker Johnson did in working with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown is that some far-right-house member walks out onto the floor, hits the Ejection button, and begins a process of basically ending Johnson's speakership. So does it look in the hours and days after this shutdown is averted, like Speaker Johnson's going to suffer.


That fate?


Well, we saw Freedom Caucus members come off the floor, and reporters were rushing after them saying, Well, are you going to do it again? Are you going to move to vacate him for this? And we heard a lot more sympathy for Mike Johnson from these ultra-conservative members than we ever heard them give to Kevin McCarthy. In fact, Matt Gates, who obviously was the lawmaker who successfully moved to oust Kevin McCarthy, he says, Well, everyone gets one mulligan.


We also.


Hear from a number of Freedom Caucus members that they are unhappy with this decision, but they don't really begudge Speaker Johnson personally.


If you characterize it as a football game at the end of overtime down three touchdowns, right? That's when Johnson came.


In and you're trying.


To say, Do you hold this quarter back to the same standard as the quarterback that got us to that point. No, we do not. But if he-.


Because after all, he's only been on the job for three weeks.


It's like throwing in a.


Quarterback in.


The fourth quarter.


And expecting to make up for three quarters of failure and you're behind 35-nothing.


Soso they're going to try to afford him a little bit more grace.


But why? I mean, if he did the exact same thing, you might imagine them feeling that the betrayal is even deeper.


I mean, I just think it comes down to, at the end of the day, they never really trusted Kevin McCarthy.


Was it worth though, toppling McCarthy given you the same policy? Absolutely. The same policy?


Worth it every day and twice on Sunday. At least he doesn't lie to us. They see Mike Johnson as someone who generally they have been able to trust. They generally see him as one of them. But there also are some lawmakers who are really angry.


We're too cowardly to stand up and do our job. Oh, no, a shutdown. Are you freaking kidding me?


Representative Chip Roy of Texas again, who is the first Republican member to come out against this plan, who couldn't even wait for the conference call to be done to contain his rage, says that for him, Mike Johnson putting this plan on the floor amounts to strike one and strike two.


We went through an entire month of drama about a speaker, and we just did the same damn thing we've been doing.


And we hear some Republicans who just say, look, we can't go on this way. We cannot allow anyone, whether it's our friend Mike Johnson or someone else to continue business as usual.


And do they start to in any way, act on their anger at all?


We see them begin to act on their anger the very next day.




Of the idea of advancing this short-term spending bill is to give Republicans in the House more time to pass their individual spending bills. This was a big priority of the House Republican Conference. Let's not have the one up or down vote to fund the government. Let's do it the old school way, and we are going to vote individually on 12 spending bills to fund all the government agencies.


Right, the fantasy of Republicans doing it the old school way, actually passing Appropriations Bill, getting a budget done so that the US government doesn't lurch from shutdown crisis to.


Shutdown crisis. Yeah, that's exactly right. The day after Mike Johnson passes this stop gap spending bill to avert the shutdown, he says, All right, let's get back to what we said we were going to do. Let's try to advance one of these spending bills that funds the Justice Department, the Commerce Department, for example. What we see the House Freedom Caucus do is essentially tank the House's ability to pass that bill. In a block, they all vote against this procedural step to allow a vote on the bill, and it brings the House to a crashing halt. This is a move that is really meant to be a very clear rebuke of Speaker Johnson.


They're voting against a spending bill that they themselves describe as a crucial priority in their efforts to make government function much better than it has and that embodies conservative values. And they're basically just doing that to show Speaker Johnson how pissed off they are.


That's right. And if you want to get super technical about it, they're not even voting against the bill. They're voting against letting the House consider the bill. And that's important just because in previous years, that was considered a third rail. It was just something that lawmakers didn't do. But this has become actually a tried and true method of bedeviling the House Speaker for the Freedom Caucus. And we know that because it is a playbook that they used on former Speaker, Kevin McCarthy when they were upset with him for putting bills on the House floor and passing them with Democratic votes.


Right. So if you're Speaker Johnson and you're seeing this tactic of torment used against McCarthy, used against you, you have to start thinking to yourself, there's literally a ticking clock now potentially on my speakership.


It is a pretty vivid example of Dejavous. We saw Speaker Johnson, who normally is pretty placid. We saw him storm off the House floor after that happened and on his heels, in fact, were members of the House Freedom Caucus who came out to Statuary Hall to tell us, reporters, we just put the speaker on notice.


Katie, that's where things were when the House went into recess for the Thanksgiving holiday, Johnson on thin ice with the far-right, and the far-right having basically said to Johnson, You are in our sights. Be extremely careful. I want to start to project forward just a little bit because the bill at the center of this drama we've been talking about only funds the government for a couple of months through January and February. Then, of course, Speaker Johnson is right back in the same position. If he does what he just did in the new year, I have to think that that is strike three for him. And then his speakership could very much be over.


Yes, we are essentially going to have to come back to the same place in January and then again in February. And I think the reality is every time Speaker Johnson faces a new government funding deadline, it gets worse for him, because now he has these rising expectations to manage. He has the Freedom Caucus getting increasingly upset with him. In an attempt to assuage the Freedom Caucus, he said to them prior to passing this bill, Look, I'll never do this again. I will not put a short term spending bill on the floor again.




That's a really hard promise to keep, because either you keep the promise, you refuse to put a stop gap spending bill on the House floor, and that potentially puts you down the road of shutting the government down, if not fully, at least partially shutting the government down. But if he decides to try to keep the government open by advancing, again, a short term spending bill and using Democrats to pass that, then he's just broken a promise to the House Freedom Caucus, and we've seen how they react when speakers break their promises.




Now, on the other hand, I do think that we need to think about the possibility that maybe, just maybe going forward, the Freedom Caucus cuts him a little more of a break than they cut Kevin McCarthy. I think a big part of this was that a lot of the antipathy the Freedom Caucus had toward Kevin McCarthy. It was substantive. It was about the policies that he was putting forward, but it was also really personal. That just doesn't exist in the same way for Mike Johnson. I think that really injects an unknown variable into the calculus of what happens as Mike Johnson goes down this road of trying to keep the government open at the same time he's trying to keep the Freedom Caucus happy simply because sometimes the calculation can change when you believe that the guy who's in charge is one of you.


So what you're evoking, which is very fascinating and very theoretical, is a world in which far-right House Republicans tolerate Speaker Johnson repeatedly, in a sense, selling them out on budgets. And if that happens and they don't oust him, then that will mean that Johnson has done something pretty remarkable. He's not just risen above his own political instincts in his transition from member to speaker, but he somehow convinced these other far-right Republicans to, in a sense, do the same.


Well, I think there's a school of thought out there, which is that some of the demands, or rather, many of the demands of the Freedom Caucus are simply impossible right now, given the fact that there's a Democrat in the White House and the Democrats control the Senate, that maybe it's going to take one of their own becoming speaker for them to finally realize we just can't have these things happen. But I also think there's another variable at play here, which is that we just saw what happens when the Freedom Caucus decides to out the speaker. That was a terrible three weeks that we all went through. The House floor was paralyzed. It was chaos, and Republicans were getting terrible headlines week after week because of it. I don't know that anyone, even those in the Freedom Caucus, are particularly eager to return to that status again. And so while in the interim they've made clear that they're going to try to make his life harder, that they're going to try to punish him in all these small ways, I do think there's a possibility where at the end of the day, if Johnson is able to keep the job, it's not necessarily going to be because the Freedom Caucus is so thrilled with how he's doing.


It would be because they essentially can't bear dethroning another speaker.


Well, Katie, thank.


You very much.


We appreciate it.


Thanks, Michael.


We'll be.


Right back. Here's what else you need to know today. On Sunday, a senior US official said that Israel and Hamas were extremely close to a deal that would release a large group of hostages being held in Gaza and would institute a days-long pause.


In fighting. What I can say about this at this time is we think that we are closer than we have been, perhaps at any point since these negotiations began weeks ago, that there are areas of difference and disagreement that have been narrowed, if not closed out entirely, but that the mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed certainly applies here to such a sensitive negotiation, and there is no-.


But as the war raged on, a UN official said that two schools run by the agency in Northern Georgia that were serving as shelters had been badly damaged by airstrikes. Video from one of the scenes, verified by the times, showed many bloodied and motionless bodies at one of the schools. Hamas officials blamed Israel for the attack. Israel, meanwhile, said it was reviewing the situation. On Sunday, John Feiner, a US national security official, was asked about the schools by CNN.


What I can say at this point, and we're also in touch with the Israelis to try to find out what they know about what happened, is that if harm was done to innocent civilians sheltering at a UN site, that would be totally unacceptable.


In a dramatic and surprise shakeup, the board of OpenAI, the company behind the influential artificial intelligence software ChatGPT, ousted the firm's CEO, Sam Alman, who has become the public face of the technology. But that decision, made on Friday, led to outrage from Alman's supporters inside OpenAI and from outside investors, including Microsoft. By Monday morning, Microsoft said it had hired Altman to run an advanced research lab. Today's episode was produced by Olivia Nat, Rob Zipko, and Muj Zadi. It was edited by Rachel Quester, contains original music by Marion Lozano and Diane Wang, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Runberg and Ben Landford of Wonderland. That's it for The Daily. I'm Michael Bobarrow.


See you tomorrow.