House Approves Mike Johnson’s Stopgap Funding Bill

Hello from Capitol Hill, where members are feeling a bit testy and everyone is itching to head home for Thanksgiving. First, they’ll have to fund the government.

The Congressional Record

  • The House voted 336-95 on Tuesday to pass a stopgap funding bill introduced by House Speaker Mike Johnson, with 209 Democrats joining 127 Republicans to get it over the finish line despite opposition from conservatives in the chamber. The Senate appears ready to take up the spending bill and avert a government shutdown before Friday’s deadline, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer signaling openness to it on Monday.
  • Rep. Gabe Amo, the first black member of Congress from Rhode Island, was sworn into the House on Monday. A Democrat and former Obama administration official, Amo replaces retired Rep. David Cicilline, who left the chamber over the summer to lead the philanthropic Rhode Island Foundation. 
  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, announced Monday she will not seek reelection to the House as she launches a bid to succeed Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin—who is term-limited—in 2025.
  • Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican who has served in the House for two decades, announced Monday he will not seek reelection.
  • Rep. Pat Fallon, a second-term Republican from Texas, also won’t seek reelection to the House. He’s instead running for a Texas state Senate seat he held before joining Congress. “At the end of the day, the decision came down to, If we lose Texas, we lose the nation,” Fallon explained. “It’s just terribly important to ensure that Texas has written a great success story and I want to keep moving that forward.”
  • The Supreme Court announced Monday it will adopt its first official code of conduct. Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised the move as a step in the right direction, but argued its lack of an enforcement mechanism “falls short” of his expectations.

Congress May Avoid a Shutdown

House Speaker Mike Johnson conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center where he addressed the continuing resolution to fund the government and the war in Israel, on Tuesday, November 14, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
House Speaker Mike Johnson conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center where he addressed the continuing resolution to fund the government and the war in Israel, on Tuesday, November 14, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

House Speaker Mike Johnson’s stopgap government funding bill is poised to become law in time to avert a Friday shutdown deadline, clearing the House Tuesday night with a vote of 336-95.

Johnson’s measure won 209 Democrats and 127 Republicans. But 93 Republican lawmakers, upset the bill keeps spending at current levels rather than cutting it, voted against the legislation. Two Democrats opposed it. Johnson passed his first real test as speaker by pushing the bill through the chamber.

The stopgap bill, which extends funding for some programs until January and others until February to avoid a Christmastime crunch, otherwise looks a lot like the approach former speaker Kevin McCarthy took—relying on Democrats to get short-term spending over the finish line—before eight far-right Republicans joined Democrats in ousting him from the speakership in early October. But as we reported last week, conservatives are giving Johnson some more leeway because he’s new to the gig. That dynamic is holding true this week, even as some members railed against the stopgap bill for not making cuts to spending.

“People aren’t mad at him,” Rep. Tim Burchett said of Johnson. Burchett, a Tennessee Republican who voted to remove McCarthy from the speakership and opposed Johnson’s spending bill, told The Dispatch members “realize he’s only had two weeks.”

What will conservatives expect in the new year, when Johnson has to shepherd more government funding through the House? “I would expect some real cuts, and maybe some expenditures on border security,” Burchett said in an interview. He added he doesn’t know what will happen if Johnson isn’t able to deliver on those ideas, but “at least he’s going to try, which is something we haven’t had in the past.”

Burchett, who claims McCarthy elbowed him in the kidney as they passed each other in the Capitol on Tuesday, described the former speaker as “a bitter person” and told The Dispatch the altercation shows “we made the right decision in removing him from that position.” (McCarthy, for his part, told reporters he didn’t intend to hit Burchett—it was instead an accident as he was distracted by questions from journalists while walking in a narrow hallway. “If I kidney punched someone, they would be on the ground,” he said.) 

An official statement from the House Freedom Caucus indicated the broader group isn’t thinking about deposing Johnson over the stopgap spending measure, either. The caucus complained the bill has “no spending reductions, no border security, and not a single meaningful win for the American People.” Its members, though, remain “committed to working with Speaker Johnson” even as they want to see “bold change.”

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Republicans celebrated having a clear path to avoid a shutdown Friday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he looks forward to seeing the House bill pass on a bipartisan basis. Senate GOP Whip John Thune, too, predicted it will advance “fairly easily” in the Senate, and hopefully “without a lot of fanfare.”

The process the House used to approve the measure on Tuesday highlights the chamber’s cross-partisan “functional majority,” which is largely in agreement about the most basic tasks of governing. Establishment Republicans, centrists, and Democrats weren’t interested in a government shutdown. GOP leaders brought the bill forward under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority for a measure to pass—a strong show of support from the whole chamber. Yet they took that path because the GOP conference was at odds; leaders feared Republicans wouldn’t be unified enough to approve it under normal rules, where members first vote on a partisan basis on procedural parameters to consider bills.

“There’s no Republican majority in terms of a functional majority,” Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, told The Dispatch on his way to the vote Tuesday evening. “There’s a functional majority that’s made up of a great big number of Democrats and a significant number of Republicans. The reason that is only shown when we have our backs against the wall is the Republican leadership has decided that that’s not really true. They actually believe somehow that there’s some magic pill they can give people and turn them into reasonable people. And that’s not happening.”

Kildee noted Democrats had a similarly slim majority in the last Congress, but they were able to pass trillions of dollars of their priorities along party lines. On the Democratic side, Kildee summarized, members argue about how to govern. “On the Republican side,” he said, “they argue about whether they should do it at all.”

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a moderate Republican, told The Dispatch these kinds of results should be expected in a Congress with tight margins in both chambers and opposite parties in charge. “You have a lot of free thinkers, independent-minded people. So it’s a little bit of a chaotic situation right now,” he said Tuesday night. “But I’m glad the job got done.”

Republicans will have to sort out their own policy feuds to approve regular spending bills in the coming weeks, a task the party has struggled with. Those bills are intended to fund the government for fiscal year 2024, but they are months late and are far from becoming law. Members continued debating one of them on Tuesday, considering amendments to a labor, health and human services, and education funding package.

Johnson told reporters Tuesday that extending current spending levels as those deliberations continue does not represent surrender. “We are fighting,” he said of attempts to win conservative priorities in future spending bills. 

“I’ve been in this job for less than three weeks,” he added. “I can’t turn an aircraft carrier overnight.”

Lawmakers Don’t Expect Much as Biden Meets Xi

President Joe Biden will meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping for four hours on Wednesday, marking their first in-person meeting since last November. Lawmakers from both parties are pessimistic about the conversation.

“I don’t have really high expectations,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, “except it’s a meeting that needs to happen. Two of the greatest powers in the world have to have better communication.”

Kaine told The Dispatch on Tuesday he agrees with the Biden administration’s goal of reopening direct military-to-military communications with China, a step that would hopefully avoid misunderstandings and escalation in the Taiwan Strait and other hot zones. Chinese officials shut down that line of communication in 2022, after former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited self-governing Taiwan, the democratic island of 23 million people that China claims as its own.

“We’re doing everything we can to say, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got to have dialogue,” Kaine added. “We’re going to have some disputes, but let’s communicate.’”

It’s a low bar for a meeting preceded by months of preparation and highprofile American visits to China. Even a successful meeting likely wouldn’t do much to dispel broader tensions between the two countries, as the Chinese government grows more aggressive and persecutes ethnic and religious minorities both within its borders and in other countries.

Lawmakers are also wary of an additional agreement Biden and Xi are reportedly set to announce to keep artificial intelligence systems out of nuclear command decisions, a discussion that sounds like it was inspired by the Terminator—or Mission: Impossible—franchise. One Democratic congressional aide who works on China policy issues said lawmakers doubt China’s willingness to follow through on any of its commitments, even one as seemingly obvious as the AI discussion.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said he hopes Biden raises the case of Mark Swidan, a Texan who has been detained in China for more than a decade on wrongful drug charges.

“I’d just like to see an outcome,” McCaul added. “The only outcomes for Blinken and Raimondo and the others were cyber attacks on our federal government.”

McCaul conceded any statements by the Chinese government can’t be trusted: He noted the Trump administration reached an agreement with Chinese leaders on fighting fentanyl, and it didn’t go anywhere. He still sees a point in meeting for diplomatic purposes, “but if you’re going to do it, I mean, get something out of it.”

More than 20 Senate Republicans, meanwhile, believe the meeting shouldn’t be happening at all. “President Biden’s planned meeting with Xi Jinping is a clear message that this administration will pursue an economic reset with China above fortifying the national security of the United States,” they wrote in a statement led by Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “China wants not only to harm U.S. national security, but also to undermine our economic prosperity. For the CCP, there is no distinction. The Biden Administration’s belief otherwise shows it thinks we can still change China—a belief that is divorced from reality.”

A bipartisan panel created by Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, shares similar pessimism. In its annual report released Tuesday, the commissioners argued that amid the ups and downs of diplomatic visits this year, “the rivalry between the United States and China was intensifying.”

The Chinese government “gives no sign of altering its policies, either at home or abroad,” the more than 700-page report reads. “None of the flurry of visits and other diplomacy over the past year have resulted in any significant change of course by the regime. The result of high-level meetings between the United States and China has been merely the promise of further meetings—that is, of more talk rather than concrete actions. China now appears to view diplomacy with the United States primarily as a tool for forestalling and delaying U.S. pressure over a period of years while China moves ever further down the path of developing its own economic, military, and technological capabilities.”

The commission recommended several steps for lawmakers to consider, including requiring more financial disclosures for investors to be aware of companies’ exposure to China, additional transparency about foreign donations to colleges and universities, and increased scrutiny of Chinese technology imports. The panel also called on Congress to direct the Biden administration to engage in talks with foreign allies to prepare economic sanctions in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Alex Wong, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and vice chairman of the commission, told The Dispatch on Monday that he can’t say there haven’t been any international conversations on that front, but he feels there needs to be “more and deeper and wider coordination, and perhaps even more public coordination, if countries are willing, on what the sanctions regime and mechanisms would look like if there were to be aggression across the Taiwan Strait.”

Carolyn Bartholomew, a former staff member for Pelosi who currently chairs the commission, said the recommendation stemmed from lessons learned in Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine. The goal, she told The Dispatch on Monday, is “knowing ahead of time what the sanctions are going to be, having a discussion with our allies so that they can be implemented quickly and effectively if necessary.”

“We know that the Chinese government is looking at and trying to sanction-proof its own economy,” Bartholomew added. “Once those discussions are ongoing, then it would make it much easier to move quickly if it needs to be done. Because if there is an attack on Taiwan, there’s not going to be a whole lot of time in order to prepare sanctions and put them in place.”

On the Floor

House Republicans may bring several appropriations bills to the floor this week after struggling to pass them last week. The chamber is also expected to consider legislation to freeze Iranian funds. A full list of measures the House may consider this week is available here.

The Senate is expected to vote on the House-passed stopgap government funding bill. You can follow floor activity throughout the week here

Key Hearings

  • The House Foreign Affairs Committee met this morning for a hearing on the Biden administration’s Afghanistan policy since withdrawing American forces from the country in 2021. Information and video here. Members of the panel met again this afternoon to hear from experts about the Afghanistan withdrawal. Information and video here.
  • A House subcommittee that deals with higher education held a hearing this morning to examine antisemitism on college campuses. Information and video here.
  • Members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee met this afternoon to discuss emerging therapies to combat suicide. Information and video here.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee heard from officials this afternoon about pandemic relief fraud. Information and video here.
  • FBI Director Chris Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid will testify about worldwide threats during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Wednesday morning. Information and livestream here.
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear from officials about the Biden administration’s approach to artificial intelligence during a hearing on Wednesday morning. Information and livestream here.
  • Biden administration officials will appear before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Wednesday morning to discuss the future of war-torn Nagorno-Karabakh. Information and livestream here.
Comments (11)
Join The Dispatch to participate in the comments.