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Speaker Johnson moves on foreign aid, possibly triggering vote to oust him

House Speaker Mike Johnson is plowing ahead on a foreign aid plan that has roiled his conference and prompted two Republicans to push an effort to oust him from the chamber’s top job.

But instead of the complex four-part plan he floated this week, Johnson now intends to try to pass five bills — one each for aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Indo-Pacific allies, as well as a GOP wish list of foreign policy priorities and a fifth stand-alone bill to address widespread Republican demands to strengthen the southern U.S. border. GOP leadership announced that the House would stay in session until Saturday to consider the bills.

The new approach is risky and could blow up on the speaker, whose six-month-old hold on the gavel is being threatened by a promise by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to invoke a “motion to vacate” to topple Johnson (R-La.) if he puts Ukraine aid on the floor, something to which many hard-right Republicans object.

At a Wednesday evening news conference, Johnson was visibly emotional when asked about why he had opted to try to pass the foreign aid package at this moment.

“Listen, my philosophy is you do the right thing and you let the chips fall where they may. … If I operated out of fear over a motion to vacate, I would never be able to do my job,” he said. “This is a critical time right now. … I can make a selfish decision and do something that’s different. But I’m doing here what I believe to be the right thing.”

The stakes are indeed high for the speaker as he works to navigate a bitterly divided Republican conference. Some members are loudly opposed to Ukraine aid without first securing the U.S. border, while others believe that aid, along with money for Israel, is a critical national security priority; in addition, some Republicans question the speaker’s leadership style. For Johnson, it’s a Catch-22: Consider aid to Ukraine, and a move to wrest his gavel is bound to follow.

Demoralized Republicans exited a four-hour meeting of Johnson and his allies Tuesday night, before the release of the latest proposal, having failed to chart a path on foreign aid that would be carried by Republicans instead of reliant on Democrats. Multiple people familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics, said the session enlightened them and Johnson about the consequences of moving the foreign aid package: It could all lead to his ouster from the job.

“The battle lines were very clear at the end,” one Republican said. “It was very clear [the motion to vacate] will be brought if the speaker’s plan proceeds.”

Even so, Johnson acted, telling Republicans in a text to colleagues Wednesday morning that after “significant Member feedback and discussion” this week, the House would move ahead with his plan, with some significant changes. He released the text of legislation on aid for Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific allies earlier Wednesday; language for the GOP wish list and the border is expected later.

The three separate bills that fund military aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan largely mirror the $95 billion Senate-passed national security supplemental. The House legislation turns a portion of the aid, the money sent directly to Ukraine, into a loan and is endorsed by former president Donald Trump. It also includes just over $9 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza, the West Bank, Ukraine and other places in need, which Democrats have demanded as a condition of any support from them.

Johnson signaled Wednesday evening that there would probably be an amendment to the package to strip the humanitarian aid, which he said he has “concerns” with.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) called Wednesday evening for Republicans to put the foreign aid package on the floor but didn’t commit Democratic support for the measures.

“The time has come for the House of Representatives to act and act decisively,” Jeffries said. “We can either confront Russian aggression in defense of democracy or we can allow the pro-Putin extreme MAGA Republicans to appease” the Russian leader.

Jeffries said Democrats will “evaluate” the process and the final product, including amendments, before making a determination about how to move forward.

Nonetheless, the speaker’s proposal received a major boost from President Biden on Wednesday afternoon. Biden said he “strongly” supports the proposal and encouraged the House and the Senate to swiftly send it his way.

“I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed,” he said in a statement that is likely to influence Democrats to back the plan and amplify GOP outrage against it.

Even if the House manages to pass the foreign aid package, any changes would trigger another Senate vote that is already stirring controversy.

Some GOP senators are staunchly opposed to Ukraine aid, too. At a closed-door meeting of the conservative House Republican Study Committee on Tuesday, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Stephen Miller, a former Trump adviser, riled up the anti-Ukraine faction to use every hurdle possible to block consideration of Johnson’s plan.

Leaving the meeting, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) said she is “very frustrated” with Johnson and recently expressed that sentiment with him. She echoed many hard-line Republicans who have encouraged Johnson to tie the border security bill to the other four national security items to force Democrats’ hand on the issue.

“He’s not listening to us,” she said.

Johnson needs every vote he can get. Republicans have an extremely slender House majority that they hope will be expanded by voters in November, improving their chances of advancing a conservative agenda. The GOP currently has a two-vote majority, meaning that if Democrats don’t back Johnson’s plan or support a challenge to his speakership, they would need only three Republicans to sink him on either front.

But that margin would narrow to two Republicans after Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) resigns. He was supposed to do so this Friday but now is expected to leave after the foreign aid bill comes to the floor.

“The congressman has the flexibility to stay and support the aid package on Saturday,” his office said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on Greene and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), the two public supporters of the move to eject Johnson. Once Greene decides to act, she could introduce the motion under special rules giving the House 48 hours to vote on it.

In some ways, it’s a no-win situation for Johnson.

Some of his members are becoming increasingly frustrated with Johnson’s leadership style, noting he has released plans and then seemed to reconsider them afterward — a turnabout that is deterring some of those initially rooting for his speakership to succeed.

Others want Johnson to be more aggressive in forcing the hand of Democrats, while still others who want to aid foreign allies wish the speaker would advance the Senate proposal because they don’t think Republicans will unite around anything.

Asked whether Johnson would put the Senate package on the floor if all else fails, one Republican ally turned critic of the speaker said, “He doesn’t have the guts to.”

Instead, Republicans who want to govern have grown more willing to sign on to a Democratic discharge petition that would force a vote on the Senate bill if the petition clinches 218 signatures. Currently, just one Republican and 194 Democrats have signed on. But some Republicans are waiting until Johnson’s plan fails before signing on to the motion.

A large number of Republicans are upset over how his foreign aid plan is structured — they may move to prevent the clearing of several procedural hurdles before the package can be sent to the floor. Democrats, who support the meat of the foreign aid bills, are still wary of throwing their weight behind the GOP package because they fear policies they oppose will be added through amendments.

The hard-right flank has signaled it will oppose the entirety of Johnson’s plan. The House Freedom Caucus quickly panned the proposal even though it includes, according to the speaker’s office, the “core components of H.R. 2,” a harsh immigration bill restricting migrants from entering the United States.

“Speaker Johnson is surrendering the last opportunity we have to combat the border crisis. This flies in the face of every promise Republicans have told you,” the group said.

In a Tuesday morning meeting with the speaker, the three hard-line Republicans who sit on the Rules Committee — Reps. Ralph Norman (S.C.), Chip Roy (Tex.) and Massie — told Johnson they will block his plan in committee, forcing Republicans to rely on the four Democrats on the panel to make up for their lost votes. It is possible that Democrats help approve the national security bills but not the border security measure.

Norman said that their meeting adjourned with an ask by Johnson: Please get briefed by intelligence officials to understand the urgent need to help defend Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

“We look at the situation in America with why we’re not defending our democracy and defending other countries,” he said. “In [Johnson’s] defense, he needs us to … hear the reports that he’s getting about Ukraine.”

In a meeting the night before, several chairs of national security committees tried to provide intelligence about the situation abroad, only to be challenged by members with a more isolationist worldview. Johnson has indicated his previous opposition to Ukraine aid as a rank-and-file member changed since he became speaker because he receives intelligence briefings more frequently.

Johnson isn’t getting much Republican support even for a border bill that appears to be crafted to win it — members have demanded that the U.S. border be secured before funding is sent to Ukraine and other allies. Republicans did have a chance to consider a tough bipartisan security bill earlier in the year, but declined to do so as Trump vocally attacked it.

The four national security bills probably will need Democratic support because of the large number of Republicans who don’t want to fund Ukraine aid. Those are expected to be considered together by the House Rules Committee, which structures how bills are considered on the House floor.

Johnson has instructed the Rules Committee to separately review the border security proposal in a way that will allow Republicans to amend it on the floor. This has greatly irritated many Republicans, inspiring dozens to protest the rule vote.

“To have a separate vote that has no leverage in it to once again show Republicans would like to secure the border wall … yeah, that’s a joke,” said Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good (R-Va.).

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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