House Speaker Johnson facing first true challenge since climbing leadership ladder

You can put lipstick on a pig, but…

If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck…

What’s in a name? That which we would call a rose…

Don’t spit on cupcakes and call it frosting…

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., faces his first true test this week. The newly elected House speaker is offering something he’s characterized in recent weeks as a "laddered CR." Yeah, not a lot of people in Washington knew what that was either.

Johnson engineered a plan to fund the entire government on a temporary basis through Jan. 19, which is when Congress is expected to pass one batch of spending bills to avert a shutdown. The remainders would have until Feb. 2.

The "laddered" concept stems from dealing with one "rung" of bills by one date and the next "rung" of bills later on. Laddered. Get it?


Call it what you will, but what Johnson proposed is a "CR" – short for "Continuing Resolution." An interim spending bill which simply renews all funding at current levels to avoid a government shutdown early Saturday morning.

Ironically, this is exactly the same legislative idea that got former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., canned earlier this fall. So, what gives?

It’s rebranding. Companies change their names all the time. Firms wrap their products up in shinier, newer packages. It doesn’t affect the stuff inside. The term "CR" became toxified inside some quarters of the House Republican Conference. So, you have to alter the marketing. Moreover, Johnson reiterates that he is committed to advancing the 12 annual appropriations bills which fund the government one by one as Republicans promised.

Except for a couple of things. A CR is still a CR. There was never enough time from when Johnson clasped the gavel to advance all the spending bills through the House and merge them with the Senate to avoid a shutdown, so this was the only way out of this cul-de-sac for Johnson.

But moreover, Johnson is running into the same problems which dogged his predecessor. Republicans insist on passing their own partisan spending bills individually, but they can’t.

Republicans had to yank a Transportation/Housing spending bill off the floor last week and did the same with a Treasury/White House spending bill on Thursday.

And for the record, the latter bill met its demise after the House rejected an amendment to reduce the pay of White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre to $1 a year. That’s right. $1.

What is this? The Price is Right?

Jean-Pierre’s annual take-home pay is $188,000. Point being, Republicans burned crucial time making amendments like those pertaining to Jean-Pierre in order for debate and a vote when they couldn’t even get the overall legislation to pass.

These appropriations bills are not exactly ready for the Showcase Showdown.


It’s far from clear whether the House can even pass Johnson’s proposal. And, because of GOP skepticism, Johnson may need to rely on Democrats to avert a government shutdown. Sound familiar?

If Republicans give Johnson a pass and approve his "laddered" CR – especially with Democratic assistance – we will have confirmed something significant about the Speaker’s debacle which consumed most of October and prompted McCarthy’s ouster: the motion to vacate the chair was never about spending bills or legislation. It was a personal vendetta against McCarthy.

But back to the task at hand: government funding expires at 11:59 p.m. ET Friday. There is not much turning radius to move a bill of any sort through the House and through the Senate. Either way, it doesn’t appear that Johnson faces some of the same opprobrium which was leveled at his predecessor, but Johnson doesn’t appear to have a Midas Touch yet, either.

Lawmakers from both sides long suggested that Johnson would enjoy a "honeymoon" after finally securing the gavel following a brutal three weeks incinerating one speaker and three speaker nominees.

"There’s a honeymoon period here. I’m not sure how long that lasts. Maybe 30 days," opined Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., late last Thursday.


But minutes later, House Republican leaders pulled the Treasury/White House bill from the floor because it lacked the votes to pass.

"With what’s going on over on the floor today, I think that indicates that the honeymoon might be shorter than we thought. And every time the CR expires, the speaker’s putting his head in the lion’s mouth," said Massie.

Johnson may not be able to control the CR and he also can’t control privileged resolutions offered by Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who filed a special resolution late last week to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. 

Since the resolution is "privileged," it goes to the front of the legislative line. The House will likely consider Greene’s gambit on Tuesday.

It’s possible that the GOP-led House could impeach Mayorkas with no hearings, no depositions and no markup of a resolution. This would be after Republicans brayed for months about "the regular order." Greene said it was too late for all of that.

"No more strongly worded letters. No more committee hearings. No more clips on the press. We have to do something about it," she said.


To be frank, many Republicans would rather talk about impeaching Mayorkas instead of actually impeaching Mayorkas, especially with no committee hearings or markups. 

The House just voted to table (or kill) a resolution to expel Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., because the Ethics Committee hadn’t completed a report on his conduct. Moreover, Johnson said on Fox he was concerned about "due process," but that’s cast to the wind with Greene’s measure to impeach Mayorkas.

A senior House leadership source told Fox to expect a straight up or down vote on the Mayorkas resolution. In other words, no motion to table. Of course, Democrats could move to table, but it’s unclear if they would do that. Democrats don’t want Mayorkas impeached, but they may feel it’s a victory either way.

One of two things will happen: The House votes to impeach Mayorkas. If so, he becomes only the second cabinet officer ever impeached. The last was Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876, but Democrats know that the Senate would never hold a full trial on Mayorkas. It must start the process. But the Senate can vote to dispense with the articles.

Democrats will view impeachment as a victory because Republicans wasted their time – impeaching Mayorkas – as the government runs out of money. They’ll also point to who authored the articles of impeachment: Greene.

The other scenario is if the House fails to impeach Mayorkas. It’s far from clear that the House has the votes to do so. Democrats will then point to Republicans chattering ad nauseam about impeaching Mayorkas and then stumbling. 

All talk and no action, and some Republicans have had it.

"I’m not going to be thinking a lot about every privileged resolution that Majorie (Taylor) Greene files because we’ve got real work to do," said freshman Rep. John Duarte, R-Calif., who represents a battleground district and won by 564 votes in 2022. "I’m not interested in these peripheral impeachments."

Regardless, Democrats will point to election results last week in Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio and suggest that Republicans are again focused on the wrong things.

Not everyone in the nation knows who Mike Johnson is yet, but if the government shuts down on Saturday, you can bet everyone will learn who he is.

So, you can dress things up by applying lipstick, mascara and anything else on a CR… but it’s still a CR. That’s something Republicans abhor, but Johnson has no choice when his side still can’t even pass their own spending bills.

There is one school of thought on Capitol Hill that maybe a shutdown is inevitable. Congress narrowly averted a shutdown once McCarthy put a straight, six-week CR on the floor at the last minute, so maybe McCarthy simply delayed a shutdown. McCarthy paid the price for preventing that earlier in the fall.

Johnson won’t pay an immediate price regardless of how things go. He might not get a laddered CR, but this is the challenge Johnson faces for climbing the leadership ladder.