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Congress Finally Funds the Government
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Congress Finally Funds the Government

The controversial funding package could put Speaker Mike Johnson’s gavel at risk.

Happy Monday! Some bittersweet TMD news to start the week: As The Dispatch continues to grow, we are working to build out the business side of our operation—and given his background in communications and public relations, James was the perfect candidate to fill a foundational role on that side of the house. We’re very excited about the work he’s going to do to get our articles and newsletters in front of more people, but will of course miss his contributions here on TMD.

In corresponding moves, Mary and Grayson have been promoted to editor and deputy editor of TMD, respectively. Each of them has been working on this newsletter for more than a year, and they both understand what makes it tick. We couldn’t be more excited about the future of The Morning Dispatch. —Declan Garvey, Executive Editor

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • A terrorist attack on a concert hall in Moscow, Russia, on Friday night killed at least 137 people and injured 150 more. The attackers shot into the crowds inside the venue and set off explosions that caught the building on fire. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, and four men—all reportedly from Tajikistan—who officials believe were responsible for the violence have been arraigned in Moscow on terrorism charges. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Ukraine was responsible for the attack, suggesting in a speech on Saturday that the attackers were attempting to flee to Ukraine when caught by Russian security services. “ISIS bears sole responsibility for this attack,” Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement. “There was no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever.” The U.S. had received intelligence about a potential terrorist attack and shared the information with Russian authorities earlier this month, though Putin called the warnings “blackmail” from the West. 
  • Russia launched a series of strikes against Ukrainian electrical infrastructure over the weekend that knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of people in cities across the war-torn country. One of the Russian missiles targeting Western Ukraine violated Poland’s airspace, according to the Polish military. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed the disruption in U.S. military aid for the severity of the attacks. “It is important to understand the cost of delays and postponed decisions,” he said. “We need air-defense systems to protect people, infrastructure, houses, and dams.” Russian forces also struck Kyiv with a barrage of dozens of missiles and drones on Sunday, though Ukrainian forces claimed to have shot down the majority of the weapons used in the attack.
  • The Israel Defense Forces clashed with Hamas over the weekend in Khan Younis and Gaza City in large raids on Nassar and Al-Shifa hospitals, both areas the Israeli military had previously secured and cleared in the southern and northern parts of the enclave. The fighting resulted in hundreds of Hamas members being killed or detained, according to Israeli officials, and the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health said five patients died as a result of the fighting at Al-Shifa hospital. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrived in Washington yesterday to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and other senior officials. 
  • The Nigerian army on Sunday rescued 137 schoolchildren abducted by gunmen earlier this month. On March 7, local school officials in Kaduna state—an area north of the Nigerian capital, Abuja—claimed 287 students were kidnapped. But Uba Sani, the governor of Kaduna, claimed Sunday that only 137 students were missing from the March attack and that all had been rescued. 
  • The Senate voted 74-24 early Saturday morning to pass a $1.2 trillion spending package, which President Joe Biden quickly signed to avert a shutdown and complete government funding through the end of the fiscal year in September. The government technically ran out of funds at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, but the Office of Budget and Management said in a statement it “ceased shutdown preparations” when the legislation’s passage became imminent. Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene filed a motion to remove House Speaker Mike Johnson from his position on Friday as the House passed the spending package. Greene has not requested a vote on the motion and described the move as “more of a warning and a pink slip.”
  • GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin announced Friday that he will resign from Congress on April 19. Gallagher, who serves as the chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, had previously said he would not seek reelection, and his resignation before the end of his term will bring the House Republican majority down to a single seat.
  • New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy suspended her campaign for Senate on Sunday, clearing the way for Democratic Rep. Andy Kim to secure the Democratic nomination to replace Sen. Bob Menendez. Menendez is facing federal bribery charges and announced last week that he wouldn’t seek reelection as a Democrat but hinted at running as an independent.
  • Catherine, Princess of Wales, announced on Friday that she had been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. Kate, 42, explained in a video message that after she underwent “major abdominal surgery” in January, subsequent tests revealed the presence of cancer. She disclosed neither the details nor the severity of her diagnosis and requested privacy for her family, including her three children, as she undergoes treatment.

Congress Does Its Job … Six Months Late 

House Speaker Mike Johnson returns to his office at the Capitol on March 22, 2024, after GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced a motion to vacate. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
House Speaker Mike Johnson returns to his office at the Capitol on March 22, 2024, after GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced a motion to vacate. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

As Senators plowed through amendment vote after amendment vote late Friday night and into the wee hours of Saturday morning in an effort to forestall a government shutdown, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont sat contentedly at his desk on the Senate floor, earbuds in, looking at his iPad. There’s even money on whether he was watching tape of an old boxing match or the Wolf of Wall Street

Sanders’ apparent boredom notwithstanding, the Senate ultimately passed—by a vote of 74-24—the 1,012-page government funding package worth $1.2 trillion a few minutes before 2 a.m. on Saturday, with no amendments that would have sent the whole thing back to the House to pass again. Though the Senate passed the bill after midnight on Friday, when funding technically expired, the Office of Management and Budget told federal employees to cease their preparations for a shutdown when it became clear that the legislation would advance.

After months of the kind of bruising wheeling-and-dealing that probably makes former House Speaker John Boehner puff a little more deeply on his cigar somewhere in the wilds of Ohio, the entire government is fully funded—and only around six months into the fiscal year to which that funding applies. The bipartisan compromise package President Joe Biden signed into law Saturday angered hard-right lawmakers in the House and Senate who pressed for deeper spending cuts and hardline immigration proposals. But while the funding fight is over for now, its end may have jumpstarted another effort to oust the House speaker leading the increasingly narrow Republican majority in the lower chamber.

Congress—which must pass 12 appropriations bills to fund the government every year—has been giving itself extensions on that assignment since September 30, when the 2023 fiscal year came to an end. Almost six months into fiscal year 2024, they’ve punted four times, instead using continuing resolutions (CRs) to extend government funding at 2023 levels for weeks at a time. 

Why the extensions? As we detailed here, here, here, here, and here, lawmakers could not agree on how much to spend or where to spend it. Members of House Speaker Mike Johnson’s Republican conference—particularly those in the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), a hardline group of bomb-throwers—spent months agitating for deep spending cuts and policy riders, trying to get unpopular policy changes attached to must-pass legislation like appropriations bills. Those demands were unlikely to get past their more moderate Republican colleagues, much less the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The CR lawmakers passed on February 29 had real potential to be the last—for real this time—of this appropriations season. And indeed, the first tranche of funding passed on March 8, grouping together the first six bills in a “minibus” package—a bunch of bills jammed together in one easy-to-read tome—that was 1,050 pages

On Thursday, with fewer than 48 hours left before funding was set to expire for the remaining unfunded agencies and services, Hill leadership released the second hefty package—1,012 pages—to fund the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education as well as other agencies and services. The $1.2 trillion bill increases defense spending by 3 percent and holds domestic spending basically flat overall. 

Several Senate Republicans were frustrated with how little time they had to review the bill before funding was set to expire. “This is a crazy way to run the country,” Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said late last week. GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who tried unsuccessfully to delay final passage, said the process was “utterly absurd.” Despite the fact that the spending was presented in two 1,000-plus-page packages, Johnson praised the bills as an effort toward “breaking the omnibus muscle memory,” referring to a common practice of passing all 12 funding bills at once in so-called “omnibus” bills-of-bills.

Process aside, both parties had wins to tout in the second package even while stipulating that the bill was ultimately full of compromises for both sides. “Tonight, we have funded the government with significant investments for parents and kids, and small businesses and health care workers, military families, and so much more,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Saturday after the Senate passed the bill. “It’s no small feat to get a package like this done in divided government.” Democrats have touted new spending to the tune of $1 billion for federal childcare and education programs. The spending bill also left in place a controversial Defense Department policy that allows members of the military to travel for reproductive healthcare and abortions. 

Johnson found much over which to claim victory as well. “During the FY24 appropriations process, House Republicans achieved conservative policy wins, rejected extreme Democrat proposals, and imposed substantial cuts while significantly strengthening national defense,” the House speaker said. Republicans in favor of the bill have pointed to the additional funding to the Department of Homeland Security, including a $3 billion boost for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to increase the number of border protection agents as well as fund 7,500 additional beds in CBP detention centers.

Republican wins also included shuttering the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion, a functional ban on flying the LGBT pride flag at U.S. embassies, and a provision that will keep the Consumer Product Safety Commission from banning gas stoves. The bill also ends funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) after Hamas tunnels were discovered under the agency’s Gaza headquarters and a dozen of its employees were accused of participating in the October 7 attack on Israel. 

Despite the flag-planting by GOP leadership, many Republicans were nevertheless unsatisfied with the outcome of the funding negotiations. In the House, the bill passed by a vote of 286-134 on Friday morning, having received more Democratic votes in favor than Republican ones: Only 101 Republicans voted for the bill with 112 GOP members voting against it. “It’s a total lack of backbone, total lack of leadership, and a total failure by Republican leadership,” Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the HFC, said of the Republican leadership’s stewardship of the bill Thursday on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. “There’s no other way to describe it. This bill is an abomination.” The HFC campaigned loudly against the minibus, calling it the “Swamp Omnibus” and panning it for earmarks to Democratic causes and funding for the new FBI headquarters in Maryland, and for failing to secure the border. 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was particularly incensed over the bill’s border security provisions—or lack thereof. “This was our leverage,” Greene said of the must-pass legislation. “This is our chance to secure the border, and [Johnson] didn’t do it. And now this funding bill passed without the majority of the majority.” (A bipartisan effort led by Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma aimed at improving the situation at the border was effectively killed last month after Johnson said it would be “dead on arrival” in the House.)

In a move she labeled a “warning,” Greene filed a “motion to vacate the chair” Friday. The mechanism, if enacted, allows members to begin the process of removing the speaker of the House, as they did with former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over the government funding battle in October. “Today I filed a motion to vacate after Speaker Johnson has betrayed our conference and broken our rules,” Greene told reporters on Friday. “It’s time for us to go through the process, take our time, and find a new speaker of the House that will stand with Republicans and our Republican majority, instead of standing with the Democrats.” 

The motion was not “privileged,” meaning there’s no time limit on when it must be taken up. But Greene doesn’t seem to have found much support for her effort, even among the typically rabble-rousing crew in the House. Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana, an outspoken HFC member who voted against the funding bill, called the move “abhorrent.” Rep. Matt Gaetz—who instigated McCarthy’s ouster—said Thursday, prior to Greene’s motion, that ejecting the speaker now would result in a Democrat replacing him. “When I vacated the last one, I made a promise to the country that we would not end up with a Democrat speaker,” he said. “I couldn’t make that promise again today.” With GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher announcing plans to resign from the House in a few weeks, the Republican majority will soon be able to afford only a single defection, if all Democrats vote together.

But rather than plotting to install their own guy, House Democrats may be looking to extract concessions from Johnson—like insisting he bring the Senate-passed $95 billion national security supplemental, which includes aid to Ukraine, to the House floor—in exchange for protecting his speakership. “If Speaker Johnson has a plan for aid to Ukraine, I’m sure a lot of Democrats would love to hear about it,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland. 

For his part, McCarthy—who perhaps lacks a measure of credibility on this issue—gave Johnson some advice Sunday: “Do not be fearful of a motion to vacate. I do not think [House Republicans] could do it again.”

Worth Your Time

  • Writing for his Substack, technology and culture writer L.M. Sacasas pushed back on Ted Gioia’s well-circulated essay, “The State of the Culture, 2024,” published last month (and featured in our February 22 TMD). “Gioia’s basic thesis is that we have moved from a culture dominated by entertainment, to one that is dominated by digitally mediated distraction, which in turn generates a culture of addiction, or, as Gioia memorably puts it, Dopamine Culture,” Sacasas wrote. “The dopamine framing, while grappling with real and important dynamics, is inadequate and may ultimately be counterproductive. Why, for example, do we turn to the media of ‘dopamine culture’ in the first place and what keeps us coming back long enough to get addicted (if that is, in fact, what is happening)? Are there no genuine human desires in play at all? Do we keep coming back because we are addicted or because we imagine that we have no better alternative or no good reason not to? What are the underlying fears and aspirations that might be driving our compulsive relationship to digital media? It seems to me that the dopamine framing is far too blunt an instrument to provide nuanced and adequate answers to these questions, hence it tells us too little.” 
  • Writing for Christianity Today, Russell Moore unpacked how the evangelical subculture rejected virtue, “driven specifically by the very same white evangelical subculture that once insisted that personal character—virtue, to use a now distant-sounding word the American founders knew well—matters.” He continued: “Part of the vulgarization of the Right is due to the Barstool Sports/Joe Rogan secularization of the base, in which Kid Rock is an avatar more than Lee Greenwood or Michael W. Smith. But much more alarmingly, the coarsening and character-debasing is happening among politicized professing Christians. The member of Congress joking at a prayer breakfast about turning her fiancé down for sex to get there was there to talk about her faith and the importance of religious faith and values for America. The member of Congress telling a reporter to ‘f— off’ is a self-described ‘Christian nationalist.’ We’ve seen ‘Let’s Go Brandon’—a euphemism for a profanity that once would have resulted in church discipline—chanted in churches. If we are hated for attempted Christlikeness, let’s count it all joy. But if we are hated for our cruelty, our sexual hypocrisy, our quarrelsomeness, our hatefulness, and our vulgarity, then maybe we should ask what happened to our witness. Character matters. It is not the only thing that matters. But without character, nothing matters.”

Presented Without Comment

NBC News: [Former RNC Chair Ronna] McDaniel Defends Silence Over January 6th

NBC News’ Kristen Welker: Do you disagree with Trump saying he’s going to free those who have been charged and convicted? 

McDaniel: I do not think people who committed violent acts on January 6 should be free.

Welker: He’s been saying that for months. Why not speak out earlier, Ronna? Why speak out about that now?

McDaniel: When you’re the RNC chair, you kind of take one for the whole team, right? Now I get to be a little bit more myself, right? This is what I believe.

Also Presented Without Comment

Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers Face Tough Lobbying on TikTok—From Their Own Kids

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew looked at Democrats’ cash advantage heading into the 2024 election, Chris argued (🔒) Republicans are overestimating the effectiveness of Trump’s victimhood appeal, Jonah discussed the consequences of Bernie Sanders’ 32-hour work week proposal, and Nick analyzed (🔒) how the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion medication could hurt Republicans in November.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah ruminated on the Whigs, the dangers of Romanticism, the resilience of liberal democracies, and more on the Remnant. On today’s episode of The Dispatch Podcast, Jamie is joined by longtime media critic Brian Stelter to discuss the state of newsrooms and debate the blindspots of partisan outlets.
  • On the site over the weekend: Patrick T. Brown reviewed Tim Carney’s new book on family formation, Tod Worner reflected on the 20th anniversary of The Passion of the Christ and Elizabeth Grace Matthew reviewed a new movie about the life of Mother Francesca Cabrini. 
  • On the site today: John reports on the abortion pill case before the Supreme Court.

Let Us Know

Is avoiding omnibus spending packages that lump all 12 bills together a worthy goal? Is Congress capable of funding the government one bill at a time?

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.