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House Dems prepare to make another shutdown cliff easier for Johnson

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House Democrats are reluctantly preparing to give Speaker Mike Johnson the votes he needs to keep the government open as Congress nears final passage of another stopgap funding measure as soon as Thursday afternoon.

Republican leaders are bringing that spending patch to the floor using a fast-track maneuver that requires two-thirds majority for passage, which will require a large bloc of Democratic support amid entrenched opposition from hardline Republicans. The situation puts Democrats in the awkward position of bailing out a GOP speaker caught between warring factions of his conference — Johnson would be unable to pass the funding bill with Republican votes alone.

Even so, Democratic leaders are urging a “yes” vote on the spending patch.

“The entire session has been the most clusterfuck session that I’ve seen,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), an Appropriations Committee member. But, he added: “You can’t shut down the government.”

Democrats’ readiness to make the stopgap vote easier for Johnson reflects renewed faith among some of them in the speaker’s ability to clinch a longer funding deal now that the deadline is set to slip to March. Now that Johnson has agreed to stick to the funding levels in last year’s bipartisan debt deal despite pressure from his right flank, the opposing party is a bit more prepared to work with him — a political trust fall of sorts.

“It just gives me more confidence that he doesn’t want to shut down the government,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). “It gives me more confidence that he’s not going to cave to the Freedom Caucus and take us to crazy places.”

Things might play out much differently, however, if conservatives push for a vote to oust Johnson to vent their fury with him. A rerun of the painful, chaotic October firing of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy would leave centrist Democrats with a choice between backing House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) or bailing out Johnson.

For the moment, as some Democrats start to wonder aloud about the possibility of another speaker-ousting effort, there isn’t much appetite in the party to unconditionally save the conservative Republican. The centrist Blue Dogs are already signaling they wouldn’t lend Johnson a lifeline.

Some Democrats suggested that both parties’ leaders sit down to negotiate over the so-called motion to vacate the speakership. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), said in a brief interview that “there’s some Democrats who are willing to help out. But [Johnson has] got to be able to talk to Hakeem.”

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), who represents a swing district and had briefly floated voting “present” to protect McCarthy, predicted a “spirited debate” in the caucus over a potential ouster but indicated that Democratic lawmakers would ultimately defer to their leadership.

Democratic leaders have largely batted aside questions about the speaker-tossing motion as hypothetical. Jeffries had pitched a power-sharing agreement with Republicans amid the fallout from McCarthy’s ouster but it largely fell on deaf ears.

Asked Thursday about the motion to vacate, Jeffries told POLITICO: “We’re focused right now on making sure that we avoid an unnecessary partial government shutdown. That’s what’s in front of us right now.”

Others had very little sympathy for Johnson’s predicament.

“He got himself into this mess. He signed up for this. This is what it is to lead,” said Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Mich.).