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Speaker Mike Johnson, Congress returns

What to watch as Congress returns

Congress is back. The House is in today, the Senate returns tomorrow. President Joe Biden is in D.C.

The House is scheduled to be in session for four straight weeks, the start of a lengthy May-June-July run for members. Of course, the calendar can change depending on political developments. There’s already chatter about this happening if House Republican leaders don’t have anything to vote on.

Congress needs to act on the FAA bill by the May 10 expiration date — more on this below. House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) has promised a markup on a new five-year farm bill by Memorial Day. And moving forward on the FY2025 appropriations bills will be a focus for leaders in both chambers. But there probably won’t be any final agreement on these measures until after Election Day, especially if the House Freedom Caucus clogs up the process as expected.

Yet for the first time in months, there’s no big legislative crisis hanging over lawmakers’ heads — especially Speaker Mike Johnson and House Republicans (well, maybe). Federal agencies are funded through Sept. 30, with a continuing resolution certain to happen before lawmakers leave in the fall. FISA is reauthorized, and Congress passed the $95 billion foreign aid bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

We’re going to see a wave of messaging bills over the next few months. The House schedule this week includes bills that would delist gray wolves from the endangered species list and allow more oil drilling in Alaska. Another GOP resolution condemns Biden’s immigration policies. The Senate will keep confirming more of Biden’s judges, although Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hopes to cut some bipartisan deals.

So this morning, we’ll focus on two issues — Israel and Johnson’s future.

On Israel: Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in the Middle East for another round of talks on a possible ceasefire in Gaza. Blinken will first stop in Saudi Arabia for the World Economic Forum with Gaza talks on the side. He then heads to Israel and Jordan.

Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday and reaffirmed his strong opposition to any Israeli military operation in Rafah, according to a White House statement.

The president also pressed Netanyahu over “increases in the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Gaza including through preparations to open new northern crossings starting this week.”

The swirl of diplomatic maneuvering comes as protests over the war continue to roil U.S. college campuses. There were more than 200 arrests over the weekend at schools across the country. Locally, George Washington University has students camped out in the middle of one of the school’s quads. The GW administration said it was going to remove the protesters by Friday at 7 p.m. They haven’t done so. More from the GW Hatchet here.

With antisemitic incidents rising nationwide, House GOP leaders also are bringing up a bipartisan antisemitism bill drafted by Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.). The bill would require the Department of Education to use a broader definition of antisemitism when enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. Lawler said the bill “will help put a stop to the antisemitic intimidation of Jewish students on campus once and for all.”

On Johnson: Johnson made a huge decision to back the Ukraine funding package two weeks ago. Now we’ll see what conservative GOP hardliners do in response with a push to oust Johnson — and whether it has any legs.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has introduced a motion to vacate that’s backed by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.). Greene is seeking more support this week for her motion. “The only people that will save Johnson are the Democrats,” said a senior House aide close to the situation.

For his part, Johnson continues to throw his arms around former President Donald Trump as tightly as he can. Johnson will attend a “spring donor retreat” that Trump’s campaign is holding this week, per our friend Alex Isenstadt at Politico.

This comes after we reported that Johnson and the NRCC wanted Trump to attend an NRCC fundraiser in Dallas last week. Trump, of course, is on criminal trial in New York City and couldn’t make it. Johnson also was with Trump a few weeks ago in Mar-a-Lago.

On Friday, Trump said Johnson “is doing a very good job.”

Trump also said Greene “has a lot of respect for the speaker,” which isn’t close to being true.

If Greene forces a floor vote on the motion to vacate, all eyes will be on House Democrats. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has signaled that Democrats may help Johnson stay as speaker if conservatives try to oust Johnson, but where does that leave him internally?

If Republicans lose the House, Johnson won’t be speaker and will almost certainly face one or more challengers. If Republicans keep the House, conservatives could block Johnson from winning a floor vote for speaker, like they did with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy in January 2021. Trump could intervene if he’s president-elect. Yet that may be the only scenario in which Johnson can keep the gavel next Congress.

— John Bresnahan

Presented by AARP

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We’ve made it our business to know what matters to people 50 and over—like we know that protecting Social Security and supporting family caregivers are among their top priorities. Learn more from our polling in Pennsylvania.

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