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Mike Johnson Ukraine gamble

Johnson’s big Ukraine gamble

Speaker Mike Johnson’s foreign aid plan is one gigantic gamble.

On paper, the plan makes sense. Johnson is holding separate votes on what’s expected to be tens of billions of dollars in proposed aid for Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel. And he’s loading up a separate portion of the package with GOP sweeteners — the REPO Act, a TikTok ban, and economic and humanitarian loans to Ukraine. This will come after a series of votes this week on bills and resolutions buttressing Israel in any faceoff with Iran.

House GOP leaders hope to release text on the aid package today. Then, in theory, the House will vote on the aid package by Friday evening, before members are scheduled to leave for a weeklong recess. This is the ideal timetable. It’s far from certain it can come together at this point.

We’re going to walk you through, step by step, all of the potential problems we see over the next few days.

Immediate. It’s in the House GOP leadership’s interest to get the text of this bill out quickly. Otherwise, opposition can begin to balloon. We’re already seeing some trouble spots for Johnson on the right.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told us Monday night that he’s opposed to the construction of the package. Jordan is a heavyweight with conservatives, so his views get a lot of attention.

The House Freedom Caucus — of course — is already against the proposal. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) went from a yes to a possible no in a couple of hours. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) wants to add H.R. 2, the House GOP’s harsh border security measure.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer and his whip team are going to have quite the job of neutralizing conservative opposition. Johnson, Emmer and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise only have 72 hours to assemble a coalition to pass the rule and underlying bill — perhaps even using different groups of GOP lawmakers to do so.

Democrats. There’s no way around this — Democrats are going to be key in getting the foreign aid package out of the House. And Johnson needs to keep this in mind throughout the process.

White House officials and Hill Democrats were taken aback when we reported that Johnson told House Republicans that he’d allow amendment votes on the measure. This wasn’t part of the conversation that Johnson had with President Joe Biden on Monday, according to multiple sources.

The challenges here for Johnson are multifaceted. He has to structure an amendment process that assuages Republicans who want to change the bill. But Johnson needs Democrats to support the rule in both the Rules Committee and on the floor. Thus Johnson has to make sure that any amendments are germane and don’t present Democrats with a series of politically dicey votes.

On the floor. Once Johnson gets this bill to the floor, GOP leadership is going to have to manage the process very carefully. Not only do they have to pass the rule with Democratic votes — a rarely used tactic — but they also have to work to defeat poison-pill amendments that would sink the legislation in the Senate. This isn’t something GOP leaders have been adept at during this Congress, to say the least.

What if Johnson loses? We’re not making a prediction here, but Johnson’s plan can blow up in his face. If the vote count starts to flag or hardliners rise up in opposition, there might be a movement to force Johnson to back away from this plan. Yet for Johnson, this scheme is the best of a lot of bad options.

If the plan falls apart, Johnson will have to try to move these aid bills on suspension, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage. We think he’d be hard-pressed to get that level of support at this point.

Motion to vacate. There’s one thing that’s out of Johnson’s control: Whether GOP hardliners look to oust him for passing a Ukraine aid bill with no offsets and few legislative wins. Johnson said Monday “I don’t spend my time worrying about the motion to vacate.”

The GOP leadership seems to think that the governing dynamics have changed so appreciably in recent months that Johnson can keep his defections down to single digits if Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) or another Republican moves to oust him. Of course, he’d need Democratic help to stay in the job. And that’s not a terribly sustainable proposition at this point. But with Johnson’s soon-to-be one-seat cushion, all bets are off.

Johnson’s press conference with former President Donald Trump on Friday definitely helped him, but it won’t be enough to save him. Trump is in a New York City criminal court this week for his hush money criminal trial, so he has his own issues.

— Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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