Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Speaker Johnson’s in hot water over Ukraine has finally come to a head

Samantha Parker By Samantha Parker May10,2024

After months of delay, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is poised to step formally into the perilous debate over Ukraine aid — an explosive topic that carries high stakes for both the future of Kyiv’s sovereignty and the fate of Johnson’s Speakership.

Since taking the gavel in October, Johnson has vowed to move another round of military help for Ukraine’s beleaguered forces in their fight against Russia. But the issue has taken a back seat to domestic concerns with hard deadlines, including efforts to fund the government and renew Washington’s foreign surveillance powers.

With those priorities in the rearview mirror, Johnson is now shifting gears to tackle a package of emergency foreign aid — including new assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific allies — that’s expected to hit the floor next week, according to sources in both parties.

“I know there is a commitment from the Speaker to do something on Ukraine next week,” said Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. 

The legislation is widely supported by lawmakers in both parties, but it comes with workplace hazards for the Speaker, who has infuriated conservatives in his GOP conference by cutting a number of deals with President Biden and risks an even fiercer revolt if he does it again on Ukraine.

One firebrand, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), has already filed a motion to remove his gavel and is dangling it over the debate. 

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats have their own demands: Namely, they want a vote on a $95 billion Senate bill — combining aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with humanitarian help for Gaza — which passed through the upper chamber in February with a 70-29 vote. 

“The only way we get aid to Ukraine is if the House takes up the Senate bill,” Smith said. “There may be other things, but the Senate bill needs to get a vote if Ukraine is going to get support.”

How Johnson intends to thread the needle — securing his favored policies without suffering a job-ending backlash — is a mystery that’s swirled for months in Washington.

Some Republicans are offering their quiet advice, saying the only way to get a bill passed through the divided House is to realize that, whatever you do, not everyone will be happy. 

“The problem is, he’s trying to thread this needle and you can’t thread the needle. The conference is too divided,” a House Republican told The Hill. “You got to pick a path and sell that… he honestly and genuinely is trying to do the right thing.”

The Speaker is vowing to plow ahead with the politically prickly debate as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Biden administration officials and leaders around the globe sound the alarm about Ukraine’s immediate need for more military assistance.

But how, exactly, he plans to alter the Senate bill — and whether he intends to move it as a single package or split it into pieces — remains an open question.

Johnson has kept Washington guessing about his strategy for months, and that dynamic hasn’t changed in the final days heading into the high-stakes debate. 

“We’re gonna get FISA done today, and then we’ll move to the next priority,” Johnson said Friday when asked about Ukraine aid.

Complicating his task is the question of whether to include policies in the foreign aid bill to address the migrant crisis at the southern border.

Democrats, who are crucial to passing a Ukraine package, opposed to any changes to the Senate bill, which has no border language in it.

“To me there’s no question what it’s got to look like: The Senate bill. That’s what it’s going to look like,” said Rep. Greg Meeks (N.Y.), senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. “Time is of the essence and that’s the only bill that will get right to the president’s desk.”

Asked what happens if border language is added, Meeks didn’t hesitate. 

“No deal,” he said.

But Johnson has vowed not to move any Ukraine aid that doesn’t include border reforms and removing the issue from the debate would spark a revolt from conservatives in his conference.

“That’s not gonna go well over here,” said Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.). “Funding Ukraine without securing our nation is just untenable, as far as I’m concerned and frankly as far as a lot of my colleagues are concerned. I would argue that it’s close to a majority of our conference.”

A second House Republican, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic, predicted that omitting border security from the foreign aid package would trigger an ouster effort against Johnson.

“Throw Ukraine down on the floor with no border security and… I think it’ll be called,” the GOP lawmaker said.

As the Speaker approaches the legislative minefield, he is on as thin of ice as ever with hardline conservatives, who are already furious with Johnson for his willingness to cut deals with Democrats.

Johnson on Friday oversaw the passage of bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the U.S.’s warrantless surveillance authority, a topic that has sparked intense — and highly public — disagreements within the House GOP conference.

The bill — which would extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — cleared the House in a 273-147 vote and, notably, did not include a controversial warrant requirement amendment that many conservative privacy hawks had been pushing for.

The chamber narrowly rejected that provision in a 212-212 vote — in the House, a tie fails — with the help of Johnson, who voted against the controversial amendment.

Hardline Republican privacy hawks — many of whom are also Ukraine opponents — are now aiming their fire at the Speaker, blaming him for the failed amendment vote and, in those statements, airing ominous signs that they may be ready for a new face at the top of the GOP conference.

“A Republican Speaker voting against warrant requirements for American citizens after this very process was blatantly abused to spy on @realDonaldTrump and his campaign is beyond the pale,” Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) wrote on X.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) blamed Johnson for the failed amendment vote, writing on X that he was “the tie breaker” for the controversial provision.

A spokesperson for Johnson, however, told The Hill that the Speaker voted early in the vote, and was not one of the final lawmakers to weigh in on the matter.

Greene also piled on Johnson after the FISA vote, telling reporters that the Speaker “was the one that caused the warrant amendment to fail.”

“I think that’s gonna tell a lot of people what I’ve been saying is true,” Greene said, “what’s the difference between Speaker Pelosi and Speaker Johnson?”

Greene, for her part, has not yet disclosed when she plans to trigger her motion to vacate — the same tool used to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — but she has urged Johnson in no uncertain terms not to put any Ukraine aid on the floor, and suggested that her timing will hinge on the Speaker’s handling of FISA and assistance for Kyiv.

“Right now he does not have my support and I’m watching what happens with FISA and Ukraine,” Greene said after meeting with the Speaker on Wednesday.

Despite that warning, Johnson could send aid to Ukraine and save his job all at once — if he approaches the foreign aid puzzle a certain way.

A handful of Democrats have publicly declared that they will protect Johnson from a GOP coup if he puts the Senate-passed legislation on the floor, which would more than likely pass in a widespread bipartisan vote.

The move would incense hardline conservatives, but also be met with cheers from Ukraine supporters on both sides of the aisle — especially Democrats — a dynamic that is thrusting Johnson into a tenuous tug-of-war between keeping his job and helping the embattled U.S. ally.

“I’m one of those that’d be willing to save him,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas.) said Friday.

Samantha Parker

By Samantha Parker

Samantha is a seasoned journalist with a passion for uncovering the truth behind the headlines. With years of experience in investigative reporting, she has covered a wide range of topics including politics, crime, and entertainment. Her in-depth analysis and commitment to factual accuracy make her a respected voice in the field of journalism.

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2 thoughts on “Speaker Johnson’s in hot water over Ukraine has finally come to a head”
  1. It’s about time Speaker Johnson addressed the issue of Ukraine aid. His delay has put Kyiv’s sovereignty at risk. Let’s hope he follows through on his commitment and doesn’t cave to pressure from conservatives.

  2. Speaker Johnson seems to be facing a tough decision regarding Ukraine aid. It’s crucial for him to balance the interests of both parties while upholding Kyiv’s sovereignty. All eyes are on him as he navigates this politically sensitive issue.

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