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Mike Johnson with Donald Trump

Johnson faces Ukraine test on Israel

Speaker Mike Johnson has to balance global security, election-year politics and a desire to save his job.

After the first-ever direct attack on Israel by Iran, most of official Washington is calling on Johnson to immediately put the $95 billion Senate-passed foreign aid bill on the House floor. But to do so could cost Johnson the speaker’s gavel because the measure includes tens of billions of dollars for Ukraine.

For months, Johnson has put off consideration of aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a decision borne of political expediency, the need to tamp down intra-party fighting and to keep his speakership alive.

Yet reality has smacked the Louisiana Republican in the face, forcing him to make a series of extremely difficult decisions under intense pressure.

On Sunday, Johnson spoke to President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about the Iranian attack. All participants of the call aside from Johnson support the Senate’s foreign aid package, including Ukraine funding. And all of them, including McConnell, pointed to Iran’s strike — nearly two weeks after Israel attacked an Iranian consulate in Syria — as another reason for the House to take up the Senate bill.

In response, Johnson is putting 17 bills on the floor regarding Iran and Israel. Eleven of these will be on the suspension calendar, requiring a two-thirds majority for passage. Six will be under a rule, sources told us.

GOP leaders have also scheduled a House Republican Conference meeting for 5:30 p.m. to discuss “Iran’s recent attack on Israel and defense supplemental spending.”

But on the big issue — the fate of a foreign aid bill and Ukraine — Johnson effectively has two choices, according to aides and lawmakers we spoke to over the weekend:

1) Johnson can move the Senate bill. This would be the fastest way to get $14 billion in new funding to Israel. Ninety House Democrats have a new letter calling for it. And Johnson can do this with some token Republican “wins” that are pre-cooked with the White House and Schumer.

Remember: Schumer has shown a willingness to help Johnson out, especially to insulate him from far-right critics preventing Johnson from doing what Schumer feels is necessary.

It’s far from clear to us that two-thirds of the House would support the Senate bill — the threshold Johnson would need to reach to clear the package. Johnson cannot move this under a rule. It wouldn’t fly.

The House Republican leadership has considered moving the GOP wins in a separate bill, which would be the wrong play here. Republicans understand that the Senate will ignore any sidecar approved by the House. Biden will get the foreign aid package and sign it. Johnson has to find a way to embed some provisions that Biden and the Senate can accept into the base text of the package.

But let’s be clear about the stakes here. As we wrote last week, if Johnson brings up the Senate package — which includes $60 billion-plus for Ukraine — that would probably result in a motion to vacate against him and could end his speakership.

2) Johnson can move an Israel-only aid package. We’re told that this is where he’s leaning. Johnson can probably — not definitely, but probably — pass this through the House. But this could signal that any hope for Ukraine aid is dead.

Johnson has given assurances to donors, colleagues, the White House and world leaders that he’s supportive of Ukraine. Former President Donald Trump has also signaled he’d be comfortable with a Ukraine aid package structured as a “loan.” Trump reiterated this on Friday at Mar-a-Lago while standing next to Johnson.

But Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has threatened a motion to vacate if Johnson does.

Trump also faces the start of his hush money criminal trial in New York City today, so he has his own challenges.

There’s no easy decision here. Johnson is going to have a tough time getting any bill through the Rules Committee. But both he and the House GOP leadership will have an easier time with the Israel-only option.

We don’t expect Johnson to act today on a supplemental spending bill or tip his hand on what he’ll ultimately do. Johnson is extremely deliberative, to put it mildly. He thinks through every move thoroughly, socializes it and then makes a decision.

Impeachment and FISA: As of now, House GOP leaders are planning to formally present the articles of impeachment against DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the Senate on Tuesday.

Assuming this happens, the Senate could vote to dismiss or table the trial as soon as Wednesday. GOP conservatives have threatened to force votes to drag out this process. They want a full impeachment trial, although Democrats can head this off if they stick together.

The Senate also needs to pass the House’s FISA reauthorization bill by Friday’s deadline. The votes will be there in the end, but the process could be painful. Opponents of the bill like Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are promising to raise hell.

We expect Schumer to take the initial procedural steps for the House-passed FISA bill later today. There’s no guarantee that the Senate will be able to pass it before the usual Thursday afternoon fly-out.

Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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