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Johnson’s new problem: Growing House GOP interest in a shutdown fight over the border

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As bipartisan talks on a deal linking stricter border security policies with Ukraine aid stretch on with no clear resolution in sight, Speaker Mike Johnson has a new problem: the growing number of House conservatives willing to shut down the government over it.

There are just two weeks remaining before the first tranche of federal funding runs out on Jan. 19, with a more high-profile group of agencies set to run dry on Feb. 2. And without a border agreement that Johnson can sell to the majority of the House GOP, he’s facing a growing rebellion among hardliners who want to pick a shutdown fight over surging migration at the nation’s southern border.

The idea began with Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who floated it on social media, and others followed suit. Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) reiterated the position during a House GOP trip to the border this week, with Biggs claiming: “No more money for his bureaucracy until you’ve brought this border under control.”

The conservative House Freedom Caucus is hardly united behind the push to shut down the government over the border — and without a bigger swath of its members vowing to oppose any funding plan without a border deal, the speaker’s headaches may prove somewhat contained. The Louisiana Republican had demanded any Ukraine aid be tied to border changes, but never truly embraced the Senate’s ongoing bipartisan talks.

So it’s not a good sign that House GOP support for linking the border to domestic funding is only growing. The number of public supporters for a shutdown fight over migration exceeds a dozen. In addition to the five Republicans named above, they are:

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), new chair of the Freedom Caucus
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.)
Rep. Eric Burlinson (R-Mo.)
Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.)
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.)
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.)
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.)
Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.)
Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio)

House Republicans have a narrow three-vote majority, which will shrink to two after Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) leaves office on Jan. 21. That makes the burgeoning demands from his right flank more than enough to sink any spending bill that GOP leadership tries to pass along party lines. If Johnson leans too heavily on Democratic votes to pass a funding agreement, though, he could face fresh threats to his gavel.
The speaker, importantly, has so far stopped short of embracing the threat of a government shutdown as soon as this month. Asked about the possibility during the trip to the border this week, Johnson said it was “too early to pre-judge,” but that Republicans were “resolved” behind two main priorities: “to get the border closed and secured” and to “reduce non-defense discretionary spending.”

During a private call with fellow Republicans this week, Johnson floated the idea of direct outreach to the White House on the border, according to a person familiar with the conversation who was granted anonymity to address it.

But any such effort would have a hard time leapfrogging over bipartisan Senate border talks that, after weeks of wrangling, are continuing to make slow headway on a deal that could with enough GOP votes across the Capitol.

When it comes to government funding, Johnson would be able to sidestep frustration from his hardliners if he can strike a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House. That gets harder if he decides to try to link a GOP border bill to the government funding talks, an idea that’s DOA in the Senate.

“We have seen this failed playbook before, and here’s the bottom line: shutting the government down over extreme partisan policies … doesn’t solve a single problem — instead, it forces the personnel at our southern border to work without pay and seriously undermines the very agencies responding to the uptick in new arrivals,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

While House Republicans have also used short-term funding extensions to buy more time since taking over the majority last year, that’s less likely to happen this time — the speaker is wary of turning to another stopgap bill after fierce backlash from his use of one in the fall.

If Johnson agrees to tie border security to a government funding bill, House Republicans would need to agree among themselves on what that proposal would look like. They previously passed a sweeping bill last year that would make it significantly harder to seek asylum in the U.S. and fund the continued building of the border wall, in addition to other GOP migration priorities.

Meanwhile, Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) offered his own idea during the GOP’s trip to the border this week: Insert language into any government funding bill that would suspend the processing and release of new migrants.

“We should put that one sentence into legislation,” Jordan said. “I think it boils down to the will of Republicans in the United States Congress. Are we going to force that sentence, that solution, on a piece of legislation?”

Caitlin Emma contributed.