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Johnson turns to Democrats on Ukraine aid amid ouster threat

Johnson turns to Democrats on Ukraine aid amid ouster threat
Johnson turns to Democrats on Ukraine aid amid ouster threat


Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) will lean heavily on Democrats to move a series of bills in the coming days providing aid to Ukraine, Israel and other democratic allies overseas — a strategy that acknowledges the nuances of governing in a divided Washington but also heightens the risk of his removal by disgruntled conservatives.

In rejecting a Senate-passed foreign aid bill favored by Democrats, the Speaker has sought to mollify his hardline GOP critics and put a more conservative stamp on the contentious foreign assistance. Simultaneously, he’s moving a border security bill, also aimed at bringing conservatives on board, that is dead-on-arrival in the Senate.

But that alternative, multi-prong strategy for moving almost $100 billion in overseas aid has only aggravated his restive right flank, put a spotlight on his tenuous grip on the conference he leads, and triggered a new threat to his gavel, when Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) announced he’s ready to boot the Speaker from his leadership perch.  

The backlash means the success of the legislation hinges on the votes of Democrats — not only on the final bills when they hit the floor, but on the procedural resolutions that will get them there. 

That dynamic was made crystal clear on Wednesday, when Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) announced that he and Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) — the three most hardline members of the House Rules Committee — would oppose the rule sending Johnson’s bills to the House floor.

Roy told reporters it “sure would seem likely at this point” that Democrats will need to help pass the rule out of committee.

“I just fundamentally and strongly disagree with where the Speaker’s landed,” he said.

Despite the sharp criticism, Johnson earned the coveted endorsement of a key Republican last week — former President Trump — who said the Speaker is “doing a very good job.” The vote of confidence has complicated the path forward for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who is leading the ouster effort — the one endorsed by Massie — but said she would not force it to the floor before the foreign aid votes this weekend.

“I’m not going to call it before that bill comes to the floor because I think that bill is definitely going to tell a lot of people exactly what I have been saying,” Greene told reporters.

Johnson has dismissed the threat, saying he’s simply working to defend a democratic ally overseas in the mold of the Reagan conservatives who steered the GOP before Trump’s arrival on the political scene. 

“My philosophy is you do the right thing and you let the chips fall where they may. If I operated out of fear over a motion to vacate I would never be able to do my job,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I could make a selfish decision and do something that’s different, but I’m doing what I believe to be the right thing. I think providing lethal aid to Ukraine right now is critically important.”

Johnson’s decision to charge ahead with his plan in the face of that internal resistance means that he’ll first need Democrats on the Rules Committee to override the conservatives’ opposition — a highly unusual dynamic on a panel where the minority party, almost without exception, opposes the procedural resolutions that bring proposals to the floor, even if that same minority party supports the underlying legislation.

House Democratic leaders haven’t publicly committed to that support. But President Biden endorsed all four of Johnson’s bills on Wednesday — even before the last had been unveiled — and other top Democrats they’re ready to provide the votes Johnson needs to send the legislation along to the Senate. 

“We cannot retreat from the world stage under the guise of putting ‘America First,’” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “We put America first by demonstrating the power of American leadership – that we have the strength, resolve, and heart to fight for the most vulnerable people, protect their freedom, and preserve their dignity. 

“I urge swift passage of these bills.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) stopped short of pronouncing that same support, saying he first wants to gauge the temperature of his Democratic Caucus during a Thursday morning meeting in the Capitol. But with Biden and DeLauro already endorsing Johnson’s legislation, it’s virtually inconceivable that Jeffries would oppose the legislation. And on Wednesday afternoon, he framed the foreign aid in the most sweeping historical terms. 

“This is a Churchill or Chamberlain moment,” Jeffries told reporters in the Capitol. “We can either confront Russian aggression in defense of democracy, or we can allow the pro-Putin, extreme MAGA Republicans to appease him.”

Johnson, for his part, said he is pushing not to have to rely on Democratic votes to get the rule across the finish line — “I hope not,” he told CNN in an interview — but in the same breath he acknowledged the tough political landscape in Washington is leaving him no choice but to work across the aisle.

“We’re not going to get 100 percent of what we want right now because we have the smallest majority in history, and we only have the majority in one chamber,” Johnson said. “The Republicans run the House. We have the small majority in the House. The Democrats are in charge of the Senate and the White House. So, we’re, by definition, we won’t get everything we want.”

That’s the same reality Johnson has acknowledged in cutting deals with Biden on federal spending and government surveillance, which the Speaker ushered through the House in recent weeks. But both negotiations infuriated the hardliners, who are up in arms with the Speaker’s propensity to team up with Democrats, despite the current dynamics in D.C.

Some of those critics are now accusing Johnson, a stalwart conservative over his tenure in Congress, of betraying his roots on the Ukraine package, as well.

“The Democrats are gonna provide, I predict, as many votes that are needed to pass the rule, ‘cause the rule will surely fail on Republican votes,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who called part of Johnson’s plan “a joke.”

“The Democrats will find as many votes as needed, why wouldn’t they?” he added. “We’re doing, once again, what Democrats want to do.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a top Johnson critic who has filed a motion to vacate against the Speaker, specifically took aim at his decision to move a border bill separate from the foreign aid legislation.

In an effort to appease conservatives, Johnson announced Wednesday morning that the House would consider a border bill under a procedural rule separate from the foreign aid measures — meaning it will not move alongside the aid bills to the Senate, if passed.

The gambit, however, did not land well with conservatives, who called it out as a symbolic way to try and appease conservatives without alienating Democrats — or actually passing border security.

“It’s a theatrics, shiny object,” Greene told reporters. “And it’s separated from the foreign aid package because he needs the Democrats to help him pass it, so he clearly made the agreement with them.”

“It’s separate not to upset them, so they’ll vote for the foreign aid package,” she added. “And it’s the shiny object for Republicans that are saying we got to do something for the border.”

On one level, Johnson has satisfied the conservatives: He’s adhering to a 72-hour rule which allows lawmakers a full three days, after introduction of legislation, before they have to vote on it — a timeline that extends the foreign-aid votes to Saturday evening.

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