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Mike Johnson

Washington and the world wait on Mike Johnson’s move

If you’re looking for the House Republicans’ foreign aid bill, you’re not alone.

The GOP leadership hasn’t yet released the package to send tens of billions of dollars to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. As of late Tuesday evening, the House Appropriations Committee was still working on finishing the text.

But more importantly, Speaker Mike Johnson still doesn’t have a deal on the rule to bring the legislation to the floor, according to senior aides.

If Republicans release the bill at some point today and want to stay true to their 72-hour rule, the GOP leadership won’t be able to hold a floor vote until Saturday. Then the Senate would have to act.

This is a problem. There are congressional delegations scheduled to leave town this weekend for the scheduled congressional recess. Lawmakers also want to head back home to campaign. House leadership aides say they worry about attendance beginning to drop as the days go by.

Yet what’s going on behind the scenes is even more problematic.

What’s taking so long: As we’ve been warning for a while, hardline Republicans may attempt to strip the gavel from Johnson if he tries to pass Ukraine aid. Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) have now both said they want Johnson to resign or they’ll seek to remove him from the job. Other hardliners are grumbling about the speaker but haven’t signed onto a motion to vacate yet.

When Johnson first floated his plan for a GOP foreign aid bill on Monday, the Louisiana Republican’s aides understood that they’d need votes from Democrats to get it across the finish line. Republican leaders presented Johnson’s decision as the responsible move to get much-needed funding to embattled U.S. allies at a critical moment.

The theory of the case in both parties’ leadership was that Johnson would be able to remain speaker after Republicans and Democrats joined together to table a motion to vacate. It’s not terribly sustainable politically, but GOP leadership aides appeared comfortable with the odd arrangement.

Yet Johnson now finds himself slipping into an old habit that infuriates his leadership colleagues and senior Republicans. He’s taking meetings with all comers in the GOP conference, mulling different pathways to change his proposed plan in order to mollify the hardliners. To some inside the Republican leadership, Johnson started with a solid offer and now is undermining his own position by negotiating with conservatives who’ll never vote for the proposal no matter what’s in it.

The House Freedom Caucus has floated adding H.R. 2, the hardline GOP border security bill, to the aid package. They also want Israel or Ukraine funding offset with spending cuts or some other budgetary gimmicks. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has told lawmakers that Johnson should simply put a clean Israel bill on the House floor — no Ukraine funding — and send it to the Senate.

Of course, none of this will work. Democratic leaders and the White House won’t support it, making it very unlikely Johnson can pass a rule or the bill. If a Republican is pressing to add H.R. 2 to the measure, they’re trying to kill it.

The question for Johnson is whether he’ll mirror his strategy from the government funding fight. In that squabble, he listened to hardliners about cutting spending and then reverted to the obvious solution of relying on a bipartisan coalition to pass the bills. Or will Johnson cave here in order to save his speakership?

Top Democrats want Johnson to release the bill, not worry about the 72-hour rule and move as quickly as possible to a floor vote.

Johnson is also getting renewed pledges of support from more centrist and moderate members in his own party. Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) — who chair the Appropriations, Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence panels respectively — joined with other senior GOP lawmakers in publicly urging Johnson to “pass the full national security supplemental.”

“We don’t have time to spare when it comes to our national security. We need to pass this aid package this week,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

There’s one other option worth watching — some Republicans, including conservatives, have told House GOP leaders that they should cut GOP members loose to join with Democrats in a discharge petition to force the $95 billion Senate foreign aid package to the floor.

This is another risky move since Johnson would be ceding control of the floor to Democrats, at least on this vote. But it would also allow Johnson to say the majority of the House is working his will even if he personally is opposed to Ukraine funding.

But it would also give some conservative Republicans what they really want — a chance to fight it out internally with moderates, even if that lands the House GOP in the minority. To some of these hardliners, they’d rather be pure than govern.

— Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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