Voices: Why Mike Johnson succeeded where Kevin McCarthy failed – for now

Amid all of the unrest, something interesting happened on Capitol Hill on Tuesday: The House of Representatives passed a government funding bill with no spending cuts.

More surprisingly, however, House conservatives did not revolt against Speaker Mike Johnson for doing the same thing that former speaker Kevin McCarthy did at the end of September, even though they hated the idea of a “clean” spending bill.

On top of that, even though Democrats think that Mr Johnson’s two-tiered spending bill is less than ideal, they are pretty satisfied with it and the Senate will likely take it up either Wednesday or Thursday.

“I think this whole idea of a two-part process is ridiculous, but at least we're not shutting down government and there's no spending cuts and there's no poison pills,” Rep Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Independent.

So what gives? Why are conservatives willing to give the new speaker a pass? Furthermore, why are House Democrats, who despised Mr McCarthy so much that they joined the likes of Rep Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to eject the House speaker, willing to give him some grace?

One reason is that Mr Johnson is still in the honeymoon phase. The newly-elected speaker is not even a month into his tenure. So everyone is inclined to give him a pass.

Similarly, the conservatives who don’t like the spending bill blame Mr McCarthy for putting Mr Johnson in this mess. None other than Rep Ken Buck (R-CO), the cantankerous conservative who voted to remove Mr McCarthy and is heading for the exits, told The Independent that the predicaments bear no resemblance.

“Johnson inherits that mess, and Johnson’s got to do something about it,” he said. “So he needs Democrats’ support for that, just like Kevin, but different circumstances because he didn’t cause this mess. This mess was caused by Kevin dragging his feet.”

Second is that Democrats think Mr Johnson has – so far – kept his word and hasn’t done anything to break the trust he has with Democrats, to the extent he has any.

This is, of course, the third time in the past year that Democrats have bailed out a Republican speaker to avert disaster. The first time came when Democrats helped pass not only the legislation to raise the debt limit, but also helped push the rule to allow the vote to even happen across the finish line. The second time came in late September when all but one Democrat voted for a “clean” continuing resolution when 90 Republicans opposed it.

Democrats certainly didn’t like the spending cuts in the debt limit bill and would have liked a continuing resolution to include support for Ukraine. They also think Mr Johnson’s bill that paid for aid to Israel with cuts to the IRS was a cockamamie scheme. But they see that as par for the course and they knew it would never pass the Senate.

Conversely, Mr McCarthy did everything he could to antagonise Democrats, tried holding up Democratic priorities and then proceeded to trash them on national television. So far, Mr Johnson hasn’t done so. A telling testimony of their ability to work together came during Tuesday’s rally for Israel and against antisemitism when Mr Johnson raised hands together with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

Of course, now comes the hard part. Conservatives will likely vote against any major spending bill that doesn’t have deep enough cuts or include riders that enact their preferred priorities. Democrats will likely call those priorities “poison pills” if they are included in must-pass legislation.

But for now, Mr Johnson just bought himself some time and given himself a chit to work with Democrats.