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Is Mike Johnson playing chicken with detractors over foreign aid?

Is Mike Johnson playing chicken with detractors over foreign aid?

A new, ambitious plan could imperil the Speaker’s leadership post

Reporting | Washington Politics

UPDATE 4/17, 12:45 PM

The House Republicans released three of the bills on Wednesday. The supplemental package includes approximately $26 in aid for Israel, $60 billion for Ukraine, and $8 billion for the Indo-Pacific. The fourth bill, which Johnson says will include the "REPO Act, TikTok bill, sanctions and other measures to confront Russia, China, and Iran," has not yet been introduced. The legislation will reportedly include an "open" amendment process and is expected to be voted on on Saturday night.

After months of waiting, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) is expected to unveil an ambitious foreign aid plan this week.

According to a one-pager that contained an incomplete list of the items in the bill posted on X on Monday by PBS News correspondent Lisa Desjardins, the plan includes at least $48 billion for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel, as well as money for allies in the Indo-Pacific and operations in the Red Sea.

As far as the foreign aid is concerned, details of the plan are remarkably similar to the bill that the Senate passed in February, and which Johnson has thus far refused to bring to the House floor for a vote. That bill contained roughly $60 billion in aid for Ukraine, and $14 billion in security assistance for Israel.

Johnson’s plan is reported to also include other Republican sweeteners such as legislation that could ban TikTok and permit the U.S. to seize Russian assets to increase the scale of aid for Kyiv.

The House is planning to vote on each of the elements separately later this week, and then send one single package to the Senate containing each approved piece. While the aid for the Indo-Pacific figures to be uncontroversial and a version of the TikTok ban has already passed the House, the other parts of the legislation face a more complicated situation.

A number of congressional Democrats have raised concerns about approving more unconditional aid to Israel as it continues to carry out its war in Gaza which has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children. But, in the aftermath of Iran’s strikes on Israel over the weekend, a sufficient number of Democrats are likely to vote in favor of the aid. And, as Politico noted this morning, “there’s an understanding that [sending aid to Israel] will be the price of finally securing Ukraine funding.”

The biggest holdup, as has been the case since Johnson assumed the speakership, is additional assistance for Ukraine. Regardless of the “important innovations” that Johnson hopes to include in the legislation, getting a package through while surviving politically remains a difficult needle to thread.

The problem for Johnson has never been procedural or substantive — the Speaker will likely need Democratic support to bring the legislation to a vote, and each element of the package should have enough votes to pass on its own. But none of Johnson’s maneuvering over the past few months is likely to relieve him of the accompanying political headache.

After the House passed a bill to fund the government last month, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) filed a motion to vacate, a process that could result in a vote to remove Johnson from the speakership. Following Johnson’s announcement to the GOP conference that he was moving forward with his foreign aid proposal, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said that he would co-sponsor Greene’s motion. Massie has told reporters that there will be more GOP votes to remove Johnson than the eight that voted to oust then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy last October.

Some members of the Freedom Caucus, who have been opposed to continued funding for Kyiv, have also expressed concern over Johnson’s plan, but it is unclear whether they would support removing him.. The group put out a statement on Monday saying that “under no circumstances will the House Freedom Caucus abide using the emergency situation in Israel as a bogus justification to ram through Ukraine aid with no offset and no security for our own wide-open borders”

Johnson appeared Tuesday to take on his detractors. “I am not resigning,” he said after a morning meeting of fellow House Republicans on Capitol Hill. Calling himself a "wartime Speaker," he called efforts to oust him “absurd ... not helpful.”

The Republican Party’s margin in the House is so narrow — it will drop to 217-213 when Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) resigns on Friday — that Johnson can only afford two GOP “no” votes before having to rely on Democratic members to save his job. Some Democrats have already said that they were open to helping Johnson if the Speaker allows a vote on Ukraine aid.

Massie, who has already called on Johnson to resign, said that this outcome would not work for Johnson. If he relies on Democrats, “He goes further in the hole with Republicans. He becomes toxic to the conference,” Massie said, according to NBC News’ Sahil Kapur. “For every Democrat who comes to his aid he’ll lose 2-3 more Rs.”

The Biden administration and prominent Senate Democrats have so far reserved judgment on Johnson’s proposal, saying that they wanted to see the final details before weighing in, but they appeared open to supporting the eventual package. “It does appear at first blush that the Speaker’s proposal will in fact help us get aid to Ukraine, aid to Israel and needed resources to the Indo-Pacific,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. “We just want to get more detail.”

Biden and Johnson spoke by phone on Monday night, and, given the hurdles that the speaker will have to overcome to get his plan through the House, he is likely to want to ensure that whatever does get through has support in the Senate and White House. Johnson also met with former President Donald Trump over the weekend in Florida, but the presumptive 2024 GOP nominee’s praise for the Speaker does not appear to have won over skeptical Republican members. Trump was noncommittal about supporting Johnson’s aid request, though he maintained that any future money sent to Kyiv should be "in the form of a loan rather than a gift."

Some Republicans may be determined to advance a foreign aid bill to the floor regardless of how the votes on the looming legislation go. “One House Republican made the point to me that if this GOP plan doesn’t pass, the floodgates will open and they’ll just sign the Senate bill discharge petition,” said Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman on X.

The discharge petition, which would send the bill to the floor over the Speaker’s objections, currently has 195 of the necessary 218 signatures. Only one Republican, the recently retired Rep. Ken Buck, has signed on so far.

House rules typically allow 72 hours for members to review bill text before voting. If that procedure is followed, Johnson’s foreign aid bill could be brought to a vote as soon as Friday night.

President Joe Biden is seen with Speaker of the House Mike Johnson as he departs from the Friends of Ireland ceremony on the House steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on March 15, 2024. (Photo by Aaron Schwartz/NurPhoto)
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