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Mike Johnson in Capitol

Johnson is seeking a path on Ukraine funding. Will it work?

Speaker Mike Johnson has been giving clues recently about how he plans to push a Ukraine aid bill through the House. It’s an open question whether it will work.

In a series of public statements and interviews, Johnson — a Ukraine skeptic — has laid out a possible pathway for new Ukraine aid. Congress hasn’t approved any real funding for the embattled U.S. ally since December 2022. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say the battlefield outlook is growing bleak as Russia steps up its attacks.

For starters, Johnson wants to convert the tens of billions of dollars the United States may send to Ukraine into a loan. This is the approach that former President Donald Trump, another Ukraine skeptic, has suggested.

Johnson will also seek to attach the REPO Act to any Ukraine funding legislation. Under this proposal, President Joe Biden would be authorized to confiscate and sell off Russian assets, with those proceeds going to help rebuild Ukraine. The total amounts to roughly $6 billion to $7 billion here in the United States. The really big Russian asset play is in Belgium, where more than $225 billion has been frozen since the start of the war.

Plus, Johnson is pressing the Biden administration to relent on its ban on new liquified natural gas export applications. The White House has denied that it’s willing to make this tradeoff for Ukraine funding, however.

We understand Johnson’s thinking here. The REPO Act has bipartisan support. Trump likes the loan idea and it has gained traction with GOP senators who support Ukraine funding, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.). And the energy play is a typical Republican tactic — highlight an administration policy that they think is wrong and try to reverse it in a bill the White House desperately wants.

We’re going to explain this morning why Johnson’s current plan — which isn’t finalized — is iffy at best and will almost certainly have to change.

1) The majority of the majority. One dynamic the House Republican leadership is focused on is cobbling together a package that would have the support of the majority of the GOP conference. Johnson didn’t get there with the second government funding bill last month, and it will be far trickier here.

Johnson clearly wants to pass something, but he has a major problem with conservative hardliners. They’d see it as a betrayal of Trump’s “America First” approach and it could lead to an attempt to oust Johnson. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has already filed a motion to vacate the chair against Johnson, yet it’s still uncertain whether she’ll go through with it. But even if MTG doesn’t, some other conservative Republican may, and that could tip the House into another crisis.

2) Rules troubles. This is a huge problem for Johnson. If the speaker intends to pass this proposal with a simple majority, he’ll need to get it through the Rules Committee, which is effectively controlled by Reps. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). That trio has been skeptical about Ukraine aid, to put it lightly, especially if that legislation doesn’t include border security provisions.

Remember: On April 9, the House Republican Steering Committee will convene to elect the next Appropriations Committee chair. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who currently chairs the Rules Committee, is the leading contender to be the next Appropriations chair.

3) Suspension. If Johnson puts the Ukraine bill on the floor under suspension of the rules, he has a lot of dynamics to consider. First, is converting the aid to a loan enough to quell dissent inside the House Republican Conference? Probably not. Consider that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy only got 107 Republicans to vote for $300 million in new Ukraine aid back in September. So you’d have to assume that Johnson will attract roughly 100 votes for a foreign aid package — even if it includes the goodies he’s floating and aid for Israel.

That would mean that Johnson would need 190 Democrats to vote with him. The speaker could only afford to lose 23 members of the minority party. With all that’s going on in Israel and the huge chasm between Democrats and Republicans on how Israel is conducting its war with Hamas, we anticipate that Democrats will lose far more than that on any foreign aid vote.

In sum, it’s clear Johnson wants to do something here. But his best option may simply be the Senate’s $95 billion foreign aid bill, which passed the chamber with 70 votes.

Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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