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Donald Trump arrives in Atlanta

The Trump Show redux

Speaker Mike Johnson is heading to Mar-a-Lago Friday for a joint news conference with former President Donald Trump that’s billed as being on the topic of “election integrity.”

The buddy-buddy act that you’ll see belies the stark reality on Capitol Hill that Trump has already scuttled a significant part of what Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have tried to accomplish.

Trump said Wednesday that Republicans should “kill FISA.” In doing so, Trump was echoing misinformation about Section 702 of the surveillance law. Johnson tried to push through a bill to reauthorize FISA with some reforms. McConnell supports it. Yet Trump’s Truth Social post helped provide cover to 19 House Republicans who brought down the rule for the FISA bill. Now these conservatives face the possibility of a FISA reauthorization floor vote without any of the reforms they’re seeking.

Trump is against any additional U.S. aid to Ukraine. Johnson is trying to find a way to get a Ukraine aid package onto the House floor without losing his job. McConnell has made Ukraine his top legislative priority. Right now, the Trump viewpoint is winning. Congress hasn’t passed new Ukraine aid since before Republicans took control of the House.

Trump helped undermine two months of intense bipartisan Senate negotiations over a border security and immigration package. McConnell blessed the talks. Johnson sided with Trump in killing it. This served Trump’s goals, but it was a huge blow to Ukraine backers like McConnell. It threw Democrats a political lifeline on the border, a tough issue for them. And ironically enough, Johnson now is paying the price for this on Ukraine.

Trump has called for getting rid of Obamacare during campaign events. This isn’t something on the radar screen for either McConnell or Johnson, and it would be a political mistake for Republicans to push during this year’s elections.

Trump has threatened to pull the United States out of NATO. He even seemed to invite a Russian incursion into NATO territory. McConnell criticized those remarks as “extremely unhelpful.”

This is the reality of Trump. Trump will say or do what he wants at any time. It’s all Trump’s show, and he’ll run it as he sees fit. Trump doesn’t get bogged down over what his actions or comments mean for other Republicans. This was the story of Trump’s presidency, and it’ll be the same if he’s elected again.

We can’t help but recall that the longest (partial) government shutdown in U.S. history occurred on Trump’s watch. He undercut GOP leadership — including McConnell — at the behest of rank-and-file conservatives who appealed to him personally over border wall funding. In the end, Trump and Republicans got nothing from the impasse. Wednesday was basically a replay of that 2018-2019 episode.

In some cases, Trump is undermining things he actually supports. Take FISA Section 702 for instance. Trump has long called for the exact reforms included in the House package, such as narrowing the group of officials who can seek information on Americans swept in surveillance by U.S. national security agencies. The proposal would also impose penalties for FISA abuses.

“This actually addresses that,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said of the measure Trump helped kill. “If we’re not going to spy on terrorists and foreign spies, then we’re out of the intelligence business.”

With Ukraine, Johnson made the case in an interview with CBN News on Wednesday that re-arming Ukraine now would actually help Trump if he becomes president again. Holding the Russians back in Ukraine “puts President Trump in a good position” to eventually broker a peace agreement if he’s in the White House next year, Johnson asserted. Trump obviously doesn’t see it that way.

In regards to Johnson’s appearance with Trump Friday in Palm Beach, Fla., election integrity hasn’t been a huge issue for the Louisiana Republican during his 169 days of being speaker. Johnson has said his goal has been to try to keep steady hands on the wheel and steer the House toward getting things done. You can be the judge of how he’s done with that.

But we do see the benefit for Johnson of standing with Trump. Johnson is at risk of being booted from the speakership, especially if he advances a clean FISA bill and Ukraine aid. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and other Johnson critics are talking to Trump on a regular basis. Johnson saw what Trump did to House Majority Whip Tom Emmer during the scramble to replace Kevin McCarthy. Johnson knows he needs to play the Trump card too.

But there’s a potentially significant downside here as well. Trump is prone to pressuring Republicans into positions they may not want to take when they’re in front of the camera with him.

— John Bresnahan, Andrew Desiderio and Jake Sherman

Presented by The Coalition to Project American Jobs

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