Johnson Risks Speakership for Foreign Aid

A set of bills would fund Ukraine, Israel, and other bipartisan priorities while ticking of the MAGA crowd.

WaPo (“Speaker Johnson moves on foreign aid, possibly triggering vote to oust him”):

House Speaker Mike Johnson is plowing ahead on a foreign aid plan that has roiled his conference and prompted two Republicans to push an effort to oust him from the chamber’s top job.

But instead of the complex four-part plan he floated this week, Johnson now intends to try to pass five bills — one each for aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Indo-Pacific allies, as well as a GOP wish list of foreign policy priorities and a fifth stand-alone bill to address widespread Republican demands to strengthen the southern U.S. border. GOP leadership announced that the House would stay in session until Saturday to consider the bills.

The new approach is risky and is already blowing up on the speaker, whose six-month-old hold on the gavel is being threatened by a promise by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to invoke a “motion to vacate” to topple Johnson (R-La.) if he puts Ukraine aid on the floor, something to which many hard-right Republicans object.

Greene said Wednesday night she wouldn’t interrupt the process on the aid package by bringing up the move to oust Johnson. But she also refused to commit to doing so afterwards.

At a Wednesday evening news conference, Johnson was visibly emotional when asked about why he had opted to try to pass the foreign aid package at this moment.

“Listen, 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,” he said. “This is a critical time right now. … I can make a selfish decision and do something that’s different. But I’m doing here what I believe to be the right thing.”

The stakes are indeed high for the speaker as he works to navigate a bitterly divided Republican conference. Some members are loudly opposed to Ukraine aid without first securing the U.S. border, while others believe that aid, along with money for Israel, is a critical national security priority; in addition, some Republicans question the speaker’s leadership style. For Johnson, it’s a Catch-22: Consider aid to Ukraine, and a move to wrest his gavel is bound to follow.

Demoralized Republicans exited a four-hour meeting of Johnson and his allies Tuesday night, before the release of the latest proposal, having failed to chart a path on foreign aid that would be carried by Republicans instead of reliant on Democrats. Multiple people familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics, said the session enlightened them and Johnson about the consequences of moving the foreign aid package: It could all lead to his ouster from the job.

“The battle lines were very clear at the end,” one Republican said. “It was very clear [the motion to vacate] will be brought if the speaker’s plan proceeds.”

Even so, Johnson acted, telling Republicans in atext to colleagues Wednesday morning that after “significant Member feedback and discussion” this week, the House would move ahead with his plan, with some significant changes. He released the text of legislation on aid for UkraineIsraelIndo-Pacific alliesborder security, and other foreign policy priorities Wednesday.

But in signs of trouble late Wednesday, the House Rules Committee failed to approve the border security bill because three Republicans on the panel — Reps. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) — refused to support it, meaning the panel adjourned without action. Democrats have no interest in backing the GOP border proposal.

The three separate bills that fund military aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan largely mirror the $95 billion Senate-passed national security supplemental. The House legislation turns a portion of the aid, the money sent directly to Ukraine, into a loan and is endorsed by former president Donald Trump. It also includes just over $9 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza, the West Bank, Ukraine and other places in need,which Democrats have demanded as a condition of any support from them.

AP (“House’s Ukraine, Israel aid package gains Biden’s support as Speaker Johnson fights to keep his job“) adds:

President Joe Biden said Wednesday he strongly supports a proposal from Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, sending crucial bipartisan support to the precarious effort to approve $95 billion in funding for the U.S. allies this week.

Before potential weekend voting, Johnson was facing a choice between potentially losing his job and aiding Ukraine. He notified lawmakers earlier Wednesday that he would forge ahead despite growing anger from his right flank. Shortly after Johnson released the aid proposals, the Democratic president offered his emphatic support for the package.

“The House must pass the package this week, and the Senate should quickly follow,” Biden said. “I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed.”

[…]

The bulk of the money for Ukraine would go to purchasing weapons and ammunitions from U.S. defense manufacturers. Johnson is also proposing that $9 billion of economic assistance for Kyiv be structured as forgivable loans, along with greater oversight on military aid, but the decision to support Ukraine at all has angered populist conservatives in the House and given new energy to a threat to remove him from the speaker’s office.

Casting himself as a “Reagan Republican,” Johnson told reporters: “Look, history judges us for what we do. This is a critical time right now.”

Why anyone would take the Speaker job under current circumstances is hard to fathom. I guess it looks good on one’s CV.

Regardless, Johnson is doing about as well as possible here. At this point, he’s practically daring the crazies to oust him. But the GOP margin is incredibly thin and it’s not at all clear who would succeed him. Further, he seems to be doing much better than his predecessor in working with the Democratic leadership whose votes he needs to get anything done.

UPDATE: Taegan Goddard (“GOP Mulls Changes to Make It Harder to Boot Johnson“):

“Top House Republican leaders and aides are privately discussing using the debate over the $95 billion foreign aid package to make it harder to oust Speaker Mike Johnson. This comes as Johnson faces another uprising from his right,” Punchbowl News reports.

“Right now, any member can file a motion to vacate the chair, which triggers a potential snap referendum on the speaker. This was how hardliners ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy in October. And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has filed such a motion against Johnson, although she hasn’t sought a vote yet.”

“With Johnson getting hefty opposition from the House Freedom Caucus and other conservatives over the foreign aid package, the GOP leadership is discussing embedding language in the rule for debating the legislation that would raise the threshold needed to file motions to vacate.”

Interesting. And certainly long overdue. The rule is nuts.

UPDATE 2: Johnson will not pursue rule change at the moment:

Via the Speaker’s Xtter account:

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    Perhaps there’s a level of groveling and humiliation that is not worth having the “Speaker” shingle on your door? And perhaps Johnson is the guy to recognize that again?*

    Getting the aid packages through is a huge accomplishment, but I hope his working with the Democrats ends up being even more significant. It seems ages since Republicans tried to do anything that required even one Democratic vote, but in reality that was the norm up until when Boehner took the gavel back for the Repubs. The mindless and nihilistic partisanship of the Republicans since then is not the way the country is meant to function and does the US great harm. If this were to signal an end to that era, I’d hold Johnson up as a hero, despite my abhorrence of his policies.

    *”again”, because Boehner and Ryan certainly saw the humiliation was not worth the speakership.

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  2. DK says:

    but the decision to support Ukraine at all has angered populist conservatives in the House

    Ha. Populist conservatives pfft. The AP spelled “Putin-puppet traitors” wrong.

    Were Chamberlain and Lindbergh populist? This is nothing but misguided, malevolent, Nazi-sympathizer appeasement and “America First” isolationism updated for the 21st century. Wrong then, and doubly-wrong now since Ukraine and Europe are not asking for troops, but for material and moral support.

    House Intel Chair Mike Turner and House Foreign Affairs Chair Mike McCaul are right: there is a Putin caucus in their party, addled on Russian propaganda.

    Ukraine aid is ~3-5% of our total defense spending. That the discourse is about whether to keep sending it, not whether to double or triple it, is a testament to MAGA stupidity — and an indictment of the failure of Biden, Democrats, and mainstream Republicans to explain the stakes to the American people.

    We don’t have to do any of the fighting or sacrificing here. We just have to send a fraction of what we already spend, till our European friends decide they no longer want to fight. And we can’t even do that? Really?

    Can you imagine the current generation of soft, weak, decadent Americans trying to prosecute WW2? We’d all end up speaking Deutsch and writing Kanji.

    From Moscow, to Tehran, to Beijing, to Pyongyang, the enemies of democracy are uniting in concert. Yet we dither, allowing friends and allies to suffer. I can hardly think of a moment that has made me more embarrassed to be an American. And I’m including Trump’s election and our post-9/11 militaristic overreach. This is a new level of pathetic.

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  3. Cheryl Rofer says:

    I have nothing but contempt for Johnson. He is a pathetic bible-beater. The only reason I can accommodate this package of bills is that President Biden has said it should pass. So the Democrats have something planned.

    There is no reason to praise any Republican until they reject Donald Trump AND say they will vote for Biden to preserve the Republic.

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  4. JohnSF says:

    (Was) Chamberlain … populist?

    To be fair to the sorry old stick, he was the man who both extended a British guarantee to Poland, and ended up leading the UK to a declaration of war on Germany.
    As Churchill said: “when … all that he had worked for was shattered, there was no man more resolved to pursue the unsought quarrel to the death.”

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  5. Charley in Cleveland says:

    Kudos @Marked Man and @DK for laying out the situation perfectly. The GOP, in addition to surrendering its dignity to Trump, has allowed its dumbest and loudest members to make the House of Representatives a bastion of dysfunction and bad faith – a national and international embarrassment.

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  6. Kevin says:

    I’ll possibly have some kind words to say if/when Ukraine aid passes; the rest is for show. And/or if someone can explain why he doesn’t just bring the already passed Senate bill to the floor, which would save time.

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  7. Matt Bernius says:

    I’m going to take a different position than the rest of the commenters on this. If–and it’s still a big if–Johnson is able to get these bills passed AND undo the McCarthy rules concession to secure his speakership, then I think many people will need to revise their opinions of him.

    So far Johnson has been presented as a deer in the headlights and essentially Trump’s hand-puppet in the House. If he manages to do the above and outflank the MAGA wing of the party (as he did with the FISA vote–which again was supported by the majority of his caucus, despite what right wing media will tell you), he will have demonstrated impressive political skills in actually making something out of less than nothing. He also will have demonstrated himself being independent from Trump when he wants to be and an important leader in the party.

    I’m not suggesting that is either a good or a bad thing–simply calling out that we *might* have been underestimating him.

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  8. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    They’re just following the example of St. Ronald of the Mighty Deficit, who famously said “I’d rather go down with my flag flying that get 99.999% of what I want.”

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  9. Mikey says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Perhaps there’s a level of groveling and humiliation that is not worth having the “Speaker” shingle on your door?

    You know who never had to find this out? Nancy Pelosi.

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  10. Andy says:

    A super thin margin gives the craziest members a lot of leverage. At some point, you’ve got to call their bluff/bullshit.

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    I have no problem condemning people for being spineless reptiles, but the larger question is: are they doing what I want them to do? MAGA Mike is doing what I want him to do. Sometimes a reptile gives you what you want.

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  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    I wish more people could figure this out before they grovel and toady and humiliate themselves. The instant someone pulls a power play on you, game over. You stop it right there, right then, before the part where you suck their dick hoping they won’t make you swallow.

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  13. Kingdaddy says:

    Unsurprisingly, the firehose of contempt from MAGA World against Johnson is on full blast. The chance of a vote is also inspiring the typically ignorant and nihilistic responses you’d expect. Consider, for example, this cunning plan proposed by Sean Davis of The Federalist on Xitter:

    If four Republicans were to resign from Congress in protest of Mike Johnson’s indefensible betrayal of the country and her borders, it would deadlock the House 213-213, lead to Mike Johnson’s ouster, prevent the election of a new Speaker, prevent new members from being sworn in following special elections, and also prevent any more Biden priorities from being enacted this Congress, including Ukraine.

    It would be the ultimate nuclear option in response to Johnson’s threats to punish Republicans who refuse to bless his border betrayal.

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  14. JohnSF says:

    The question is WHY?
    Why has Speaker Johnson, after months of pandering to the ultra-MAGA faction, decided to confront them?
    What are the dynamics in the DC Republicans that would do this?
    A threatened revolt of the “moderates”? Very pissed-off Senators?
    The GoP national security establishment? Sheer personal embarrasment?

    Can someone help a puzzled Brit figure out what is going on?

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  15. Kingdaddy says:

    @JohnSF: My guess would be that the donors are fed up.

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  16. wr says:

    @Kingdaddy: The hilarious part of this scenario is that it depends on finding four MAGA congresspeople who care more about issues than their own careers.

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  17. TheRyGuy says:

    I think it’s pretty revealing that everybody is just skipping over Johnson openly admitting he flip-flopped on Ukraine funding because the CIA told him to. He directly pledged to not give in on Ukraine funding without getting something on the border in exchange. Then one classified briefing later and “Presto!” Johnson is not only willing to give up on the border, he’s willing to risk his Speakership and his political future to shovel more money into Ukraine.

    I wonder how long it will take after Trump is gone before the people who now genuflect before the national security state realize just how foolish they’ve been.

    0
  18. Matt Bernius says:

    @TheRyGuy:

    I think it’s pretty revealing that everybody is just skipping over Johnson openly admitting he flip-flopped on Ukraine funding because the CIA told him to.

    Could you share your source on that? I tried to find it, but couldn’t via Google.

    Then one classified briefing later and “Presto!” Johnson is not only willing to give up on the border, he’s willing to risk his Speakership and his political future to shovel more money into Ukraine.

    Oh, wait, are you suggesting that the issue was he got more facts and those facts apparently led him to change his position? And that’s… a bad thing?

    I wonder how long it will take after Trump is gone before the people who now genuflect before the national security state realize just how foolish they’ve been.

    Ok, so I think at this point it’s feeling safe to say that you agree with the majority of the right wing media/MAGA talking points about Johnson you posted on the other thread.

    Thanks, that’s helpful context. If I’m wrong about that, please correct me.

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  19. DK says:

    @TheRyGuy:

    Then one classified briefing later and “Presto!” Johnson is not only willing to give up on the border, he’s willing to risk his Speakership and his political future to shovel more money into Ukraine.

    Is this supposed to be a criticism? If true, it’s to Johnson’s credit he would place the security of America and its allies over his political career. Besides, who wants to go to a workplace replete with unlikeable loudmouths like Matt Gaetz and Moscow Marjorie? Johnson would not be the first Republican congressman to run away from the insane MAGA losers who’ve taken over the party.

    The Putin slaves who want the US to abandon Ukraine are the same frauds who demanded the bipartisan border bill that was then negotiated by a conservative Oklahoma senator and endorsed by Border Patrol.

    Republicans then killed the bill because Trump told them to, thinking the bill would help Biden. Trump spent his four years in power screaming about migrant caravans, but failed to pass any immigration legislation as he was too busy praising tiki torch Nazis, rage tweeting, and cutting taxes for billionaires.

    In short, we know the Trump right does not care about border security, except as a tool for racist fearmongering.

    But it is a tell that the Trumpers who genuflect before Putin think a political paycheck is more important than defending Western democracy. Not that we didn’t already know the modern right is mostly anti-American sellouts and traitors with misplaced priorities.

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  20. Mister Bluster says:

    @Matt Bernius:..
    @DK:..

    TheRyGuy is really the pool boy at Mar-a-Lago. What else could explain the accuracy and quality of his inside information?

    6
  21. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Normally, the Speaker is an extremely powerful position, able to dictate the agenda of the House with almost an iron fist. But right now, the Speaker is extremely weak because of three factors:

    – The GoP caucus is extremely divided. And since, unlike the UK, US parties are more like brands, there is no central party authority to make everyone play nice and sing the same tune.
    – The GoP leads the house by an extremely narrow majority. Since votes for Speaker are always partisan, this means that Johnson (or any GoP Speaker) needs the support of every GoP House member. This gives enormous power to the crazies in the party who can extract demands for their votes.
    The rules were changed to make it easier to vacate the Speaker (vote to fire the Speaker, essentially). This has made it easier for those same crazies to call for a vote of no confidence in the Speaker if they are not happy.

    Taken together, these factors mean that the Speaker is on a knife’s edge politically between factions and has to try to keep everyone in the GoP caucus happy to not only keep the job but to get anything done, which is just about impossible because there is so much disagreement. And again, unlike parties in the UK, there is no method to rein in the crazy members of the GoP. They are not beholden to the party in any way. They have independent funding and independent political support, and in the US, parties have zero control over who adopts the brand.

    It’s not just the crazies that can threaten Johnson’s position. I’m sure many are fed up and pressuring him to act.

    3
  22. JohnSF says:

    @Kingdaddy:
    @Andy:
    Thank you.

    Another question: In the somewhat longer term do electoral considerations affect what Johnson and/or those pressing him are calculating?
    Does capitulating to the MAGA poll out as endangering Republicans in marginal seats, given how close the House seats are?
    That would be a calculation in UK politics with a looming election.

    Aside:
    Actually is a factor in the current UK Tory internecine squabbles: play to the populists or try to hold the moderates. But with a likely opposite twist to US: the populist vote is the working class ex-Labour Brexity vote in the “Red Wall”marginals, the moderates are the the middle class suburbanites in the Home Counties “Blue Wall” former safe seats.

  23. Kathy says:

    You know, if we imposed a $0.05 hypocrisy fee on the GQP, we’d collect like ten times the national debt by November, just on comments on the lack of a border bill.

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  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF:

    In the somewhat longer term do electoral considerations affect what Johnson and/or those pressing him are calculating?

    Re Johnson, I have no strong feelings. For those who are pressing him, my take is that they are the same sort of hard to the core separatist idealogues that I am with the added feature of being willing to burn the system down (figuratively in most of their cases) in order to rule over the ashes.

    When I realized that I was never going to live in the nation I preferred–or anything even close to it–I decided to let all y’all decide what you wanted for yourselves whereas Johnson’s opponents are still on Capitol Hill playing “I’d rather the nation crumble into ruin than let the Demonrats have anything.”

  25. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    I recommend Occam’s Razor for this one. Mike’s ultimately a simple man. The RW nuts, specifically Massie, openly declared war on him yesterday. Mike decided that if those guys are really are running the show he doesn’t want the job so in crossing them there is nothing to be lost.

    Fanatics are typically their own worst enemy.

    1