Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus, warned “the majority of the Republican conference” will be “disappointed and upset” if Johnson doesn’t do more to fight for the anti-abortion policy riders that conservatives have demanded since last year.
“You’re not going to get everything that you want when you have divided government,” Good said. “But the House majority ought to count for something. We should get at least half of what we want, shouldn’t we?”
Conservatives cheered the recent rise of Johnson, a longtime abortion opponent, and
said they trusted him to deliver wins on abortion that proved elusive under his predecessor. But the Louisiana Republican has met intense pushback from swing district Republicans in his conference and from the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has vowed to block attempts to roll back abortion access. That leaves little room for Johnson to craft a deal that doesn’t alienate at least some members of his caucus and isn’t dead on arrival in the upper chamber.
Johnson and his allies, hoping to assuage irate conservatives, are arguing that his budget deal with Democrats — which punts the fight into March — gives House Republicans another opportunity to push for conservative policies in the coming weeks as lawmakers hammer out the details of individual spending bills.
“The speaker has put us in a position to at least be able to negotiate,” stressed Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who chairs the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. “A shutdown will do nothing except waste money and destroy our ability to get conservative wins.”
Conservatives viewed the fight over government spending as their best and possibly only vehicle for undoing Biden administration policies expanding access to abortion, and they spent months adding provisions to nearly every appropriations bill. They proposed measures to ban mail delivery of abortion pills, reimpose anti-abortion restrictions on global HIV programs, block the military from funding service members’ travel across state lines for an abortion, cancel coverage of abortion for veterans, kick Planned Parenthood out of various federal health programs and ban state Medicaid programs from covering abortion.
But Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, is tamping down expectations as members wait to see final bill text.
“[Johnson] hasn’t promised us policy wins,” Cole said. “He’s promised us that we can fight for policy wins.”
Talk of the House GOP’s anti-abortion priorities has largely evaporated amid
the rollout of Johnson’s spending deal with Democrats, with hardliners in an uproar over their spending and immigration demands. Several subcommittee chairs in charge of drafting individual spending bills before March said they have received no guidance from GOP leaders about whether the anti-abortion policies will make it in the final text. And several House lawmakers confirmed to POLITICO that Johnson hasn’t mentioned the fate of specific anti-abortion provisions in their closed-door caucus meetings since the spending deal was announced.
“Not a thing,” one House GOP lawmaker, granted anonymity to discuss internal conference matters, noted after the latest meeting.
Some House Republicans insist there’s still an opening to demand these measures as funding deadlines — and the possibility of a government shutdown — draw near. But others, pointing to the House’s narrow majority, the Senate’s vow to block the policies and the White House’s threat to veto bills if they are included, are acknowledging the math is not on their side.
“I don’t think any of this stuff passes without bipartisan support,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.). “It’s not surviving 60 votes in the Senate. It’s just not.”
During a press conference Wednesday, amid conservative angst over the fading prospects for restricting abortion through budget riders, Johnson stressed that he’s managing the second-narrowest House majority in the country’s history, limiting what they can expect to achieve.
“We won’t get everything we want,” he admitted.
The speaker also pledged to keep fighting for House Republicans’ “conservative agenda,” a careful phrase many members say they understand as aspirational — at best.
“They want to work to get our policies included. But I think we all recognize that’ll be tough,” one House Republican lawmaker, granted anonymity to discuss private conversations, said of Johnson’s team and its approach to abortion and a host of other GOP policy riders. The lawmaker expected the final funding bills to reflect a bipartisan compromise similar to the defense bill, which was stripped of anti-abortion policies Democrats deemed “poison pills.”
Johnson did not respond when asked about the fate of the budget riders Wednesday, and his office declined to comment.
If Johnson doesn’t deliver on the riders, “Then we’ve got a problem,” Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) warned, insisting that the provisions are “still a priority” for many conservatives.
The fear that House Republicans will likely have few wins to show voters in November on spending, immigration policy or their anti-abortion push is also drawing fire from outside groups.
“I understand the numbers,” said Tom McClusky, an anti-abortion lobbyist with the organization Catholic Vote, referencing the House’s slim majority. “But what I don’t understand is that there just doesn’t even seem to be a fight. It doesn’t even seem to be a factor with House leadership.”
The Heritage Foundation — which
called Johnson “the right person for the job” in November — is also ramping up pressure on House Republicans to include the anti-abortion measures.
“Congress has to assert its constitutional authority to push back against these extreme pro-abortion regulations and policies coming out of the administration, and it does that through the power of the purse,” said Roger Severino, Heritage’s vice president of domestic policy who held a prominent agency post in the Trump administration. He added that Congress should say to the executive branch: “If you want money to do what you’re supposed to do, which is serve our veterans or provide health care, etc., then you do it without the taint of abortion.”
Asked whether GOP hardliners will try to hold up key funding bills in the coming weeks if their abortion policy demands are not included, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), a Freedom Caucus member, didn’t make any commitments. Instead, he said the sanctity of life should be “defended at all cost.”
Facing pushback from unhappy conservatives — who made their dissatisfaction clear by
blocking an unrelated bill last week — House GOP leaders are now trying to rally GOP members around a pair of stand-alone bills endorsed by anti-abortion groups. One diverts federal funds to crisis pregnancy centers, which don’t provide abortions and counsel patients against seeking them. Republicans argue the legislation will support pregnant people and children while avoiding the ire of centrists who oppose new abortion restrictions. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation.
Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have pledged for months to act as a “firewall” against the anti-abortion riders on spending bills.
“Under no circumstances are we going to enact new restrictions on abortion in our spending bills like House Republicans have done in theirs,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the Senate Appropriations chair. “If Republicans insist on anti-abortion poison pills, they will only be pushing us closer to shutdown.”
Discouraged by the fading prospects for attaching anti-abortion measures to the government spending bills, some members are discussing backup plans, such as hitching them to a possible national security supplemental or end-of-year package. But conservative veterans of funding battles are dismissing those ideas as unrealistic and arguing that Republicans are letting their best chance slip away.
“Unless we can figure out a way of getting pro-life legislation on a post office naming, then I don’t really know how much will be possible,” McClusky said. “This is just about the only bicameral opportunity to either get something done or at least fight and show the contrast between Republicans and Democrats.”