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Mike Johnson

The buzzsaw awaiting Johnson

Speaker Mike Johnson is about to run into a legislative buzzsaw.

On every major issue Congress is currently considering, Johnson is not only out of step with Senate Democrats and the Biden administration — but he’s also out of step with Senate Republican leadership, which has its own unique set of challenges.

The Israel aid bill that passed through the House Thursday evening is dead on arrival in the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to completely ignore it.

The passage of the Israel bill was a victory for Johnson. But his decision to couple the aid with $14 billion in cuts to the IRS robbed Israel of the money it needs in the short term. And it robbed the Louisiana Republican of the opportunity to make law early on in his speakership.

Now the Senate could soon dump a bill that pairs aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan on Johnson’s lap — likely with provisions addressing the U.S.-Mexico border crisis.

By then, Israel will need the money urgently and Johnson will have to figure out how to muscle it — or some other bill — through his chamber. Johnson has already told Senate Republicans he won’t accept grouping aid to Israel and Ukraine.

With the government shutting down in 15 days, Johnson has said he wants to extend spending authority until Jan. 15. But on Thursday, the speaker floated a bizarre plan hatched by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) — a “laddered CR.” The scheme, which Johnson only described obliquely, would extend government funding agency by agency for different periods of time. This could effectively create a cascade of government shutdown threats over the next few months.

Even GOP leadership aides found the plan bizarre and were alarmed Johnson mentioned it. The Senate, of course, would not go for this.

Left unsaid is that whatever stopgap House Republicans push, Johnson seems certain to seek to pair it with policy changes or steep spending cuts. These will also be a tough lift in the Senate and with President Joe Biden.

And Johnson’s stated preference to tie a Ukraine package to a GOP-approved fix for the southern border essentially amounts to pairing an issue that has huge bipartisan support — helping Ukraine — with one of Congress’ most vexing policy challenges — immigration.

Republicans are now messaging it as a trade, of sorts: If we give Democrats more Ukraine money, they should give us some border policy changes in return. The problem with this argument is that a majority of Republicans still back Ukraine aid, too, so it’s not just Democrats asking for it.

A group of GOP senators, led by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), is crafting a border proposal that would include significant policy changes. Schumer has said policy changes are a non-starter in the supplemental.

But Lankford insists that the plan, which could be released as soon as next week, will be something that could conceivably attract some Democratic support.

“[Our border plan] actually has to be able to get a result with consequences that matter. We’re not talking about messaging here,” Senate GOP Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told us.

But let’s be real. The Senate hasn’t gotten 60 votes for anything major on immigration policy in a very long time. Immigration reform is the third rail of American politics. And House conservatives are already dismissing the Senate effort, which puts additional pressure on Johnson.

Lankford’s group is looking to overhaul asylum laws and address controversial policy matters like “catch and release” and “remain in Mexico,” according to multiple Republicans. This will almost certainly spark a call from Democrats to include protections for DREAMers.

These kinds of grand bargains have an abysmal track record. Remember the Senate’s big immigration debate in 2018? How about when the House ignored the Senate’s immigration bill in 2013?

This time around Senate Republicans have serious leverage to deny Democrats the votes for the supplemental without a GOP-approved border plan. Barrasso said the border portion is Republicans’ “red line.”

But don’t forget, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cares deeply about passing a robust Ukraine package. Making it contingent on a historically difficult issue like immigration is making the Ukraine hawks nervous. And Senate conservatives have been warning their leadership all week against taking actions that would undermine Johnson.

McConnell is undeterred. He once again spent the week hammering home his view that Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan are all interconnected and demanded a comprehensive U.S. response.

At the same time, McConnell blessed Lankford’s border effort and acknowledged that his conference won’t support anything resembling Biden’s supplemental request without “serious” border security.

If the latter doesn’t come together, McConnell will have to look to the middle of his conference to see if there are enough votes to put a foreign aid package over the finish line. And the window for Ukraine aid is quickly closing.

“If we walk away from Ukraine, the Europeans are going to say, ‘Why can we count on you? We were with you on ill-considered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,’” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. “‘Now, when we need your help, you’re going to walk away?’”

Also: House Republican leaders punted consideration of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bill to next week. The official reason was attendance issues today. The leadership is also having trouble with the bill due to stiff opposition from New York Republicans over cuts to rail and transit funding.

— Jake Sherman and Andrew Desiderio

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.