The war inside former President Donald Trump’s Republican Party is playing out in real-time on Capitol Hill — and it continued on the Senate floor while you were sleeping.
The Senate is on the brink of passing a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The effort has bitterly divided Republicans for months as they fought over conservatives’ demands to link any aid package to border security before eventually killing a bipartisan border bill intended to unlock support for both.
Despite those obstacles, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will ultimately help push a national security supplemental through the chamber — thanks to overwhelming Democratic support.
Trump is opposed to this bill. And Speaker Mike Johnson released a statement Monday night saying, in effect, he’ll kill the legislation in its current form because it’s “silent” on border security.
Here’s the key graf from Johnson’s statement, which we scooped Monday night:
Here’s how to understand the political dynamics in the House Republican Conference right now: There are very few strong supporters of Ukraine aid while support for Trump is growing. Even if Johnson backs sending money to Kyiv — which the speaker claims he’s open to — the House GOP leadership believes it can’t bring this bill to the floor if the Louisiana Republican wants to remain speaker. It’s that simple.
Johnson says the House will have to “work its own will.” One way for the House to do that is to put this bill on the floor and allow lawmakers to amend it. But Johnson is almost certainly not going to do that. What Johnson really means is that he wants the House GOP Conference — which hasn’t agreed on anything for months — to figure out what it wants and then try to pass it.
That could ultimately lead to a bill that’s markedly different from the current Senate bipartisan product. Or it could lead to more stalemate.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) told us he’s had conversations with House defense hawks whom he says are eager to “shape” the Senate bill. Ultimately, Sullivan said, “the speaker needs to answer history’s call.”
Many Republicans support axing nearly $8 billion in Ukrainian economic support from the bill while maintaining lethal aid, for example. Sullivan crafted an amendment to do just that, but a handful of GOP senators thwarted amendment votes.
“We had no cooperation from our side,” Sullivan said. “You’ve got senators bitching about no amendments, and then they block all amendments.”
Already, several GOP senators are entertaining Trump’s idea of turning the foreign aid into a “loan” — though, it should be noted, the vast majority of the $95 billion isn’t actually sent overseas. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the Senate’s most outspoken defense hawks, embraced Trump’s “loan” idea and is now opposed to the package.
Let’s be clear: A pressure campaign from President Joe Biden or the Senate will do nothing to get this bill moving. In fact, it might hurt this package’s prospects. Supporters of the Senate bill understand that.
“Sometimes public pressure and public arguments are effective in this town. There are other times where that just inflames passions and undermines your ability to move legislation forward,” Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) told us.
Let’s review a few more dynamics here:
1) It’s pretty wild to see how Johnson and McConnell are in completely different universes. Aides to both emphasize that the two leaders regularly talk, as do their advisers. But it’s clear that they represent two separate camps of the Republican Party. One of these is the pro-Trump camp. The other is everyone else.
The last three GOP leaders — Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and John Boehner — took pains to move in sync with McConnell. Johnson either isn’t able to or doesn’t want to. And McConnell increasingly finds himself in a minority in the Senate.
2) House Republican leadership aides have told us they have a few options here. They can try to split up the bill and have separate votes on Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. That would be perilous. House Republicans can also try to rally around border security provisions to attach to this bill. The House would then be back talking about H.R. 2, a bill that doesn’t stand a chance in the Senate.
Indecisiveness is a mark of Johnson’s speakership. The leadership is exceedingly clunky these days. It’s slow to make decisions. And occasionally, when it makes decisions, it makes really bad decisions.
Johnson is going to have to move quickly here. Because there will undoubtedly be Ukraine and Israel supporters in the House who will consider joining Democrats on a discharge petition. The way Johnson could head this off is to show that he has a plan.
— Jake Sherman and Andrew Desiderio