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Johnson takes plunge on Ukraine aid in face of ouster threat

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is taking the plunge on a massive package of foreign aid that’s cleaved his conference and threatened his gavel, brushing off his detractors in a go-for-broke effort to help beleaguered allies overseas.

Johnson has won early Democratic support for his multipronged strategy to provide military assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, accompanied by a grab-all package of Republican national security priorities designed to appease wary conservatives within the House GOP. He’s vowing that all four components will get separate votes before the week is out.

But the plan drew an immediate backlash from hard-liners in his conference, including spending hawks who don’t want to pile billions more onto the national debt; isolationists who want to focus Washington’s resources on domestic problems; and a wide spectrum of rank-and-file Republicans who have demanded that the legislation include tougher security at the southern U.S. border — a notable exclusion from the Speaker’s policy blueprint.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a frequent critic of the Speaker, has already introduced a motion to remove him from power — a resolution that’s hanging over the coming Ukraine votes, lying in wait for Greene to force it to the floor. And that threat became more menacing Tuesday, when Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican with a libertarian streak, announced he’d support Johnson’s removal if Greene’s resolution is activated.  

“Mike Johnson’s going for the Triple Crown here against our base,” Massie said. “He’s voted for an omnibus that spends more than [Nancy] Pelosi. He’s put his finger on the scales to pass [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] without warrants. And now he’s about to do Ukraine without protecting the American border.

“Those are like three strikes.”

The heightened threat has called attention to the precarious grip Johnson has on the House GOP, where the various ideological factions have been warring throughout the 118th Congress. Rebellious conservatives have already toppled one Speaker for defying their demands, and a hairline majority gives GOP leaders little room for error.

Still, Johnson got a big boost last week when he appeared alongside former President Trump at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s residential resort, where the presumptive presidential nominee hailed the embattled Speaker for “doing a very good job.”

And Johnson himself has dismissed the ouster effort, calling it “absurd” and “not helpful.”

“I am not concerned about this. I am going to do my job, and I think that’s what the American people expect of us,” he said.

For all the rumblings, he may have little to fear — at least in the near-term. 

Massie has emphasized that he has no plans to force a motion-to-vacate resolution to the floor himself. And Greene, who had previously suggested that floor action on Ukraine would prompt her to force that vote, seemed to soften her tone this week.

While publicly denouncing Johnson for breaking his promises, particularly on the border, Greene also emphasized that she’s treading carefully as she considers whether to force her ouster resolution to the floor — a decision that’s been complicated by Trump’s glowing review of the Speaker.

“We’re discussing it. We’ll see what happens. But I think a motion to vacate is extremely serious, so I’m trying to be very responsible with it,” Greene said.

The hesitancy has given Johnson some breathing room as he seeks to usher the foreign aid bills through the House this week. And he’s getting early help from Democrats, who appear ready to embrace the four-vote strategy — as long as the policy provisions don’t stray too far from the Senate’s $95 billion aid package, which combined aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with humanitarian assistance for Gaza and other global hot spots.

“If it’s just simply chopping them all up, I think it’ll all pass — as long as they don’t put any poison pills in it,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.). 

“If it gets us unstuck, it’s a good thing,” echoed Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.). 

The GOP reaction to the foreign aid plan has been multifaceted — and more complicated. On one hand, conservatives are praising Johnson’s decision to hold an amendment process and separate the priorities into four bills, which will give them a chance to support the proposals they like and oppose those they don’t.

But in the same breath, those hard-liners have lambasted the exclusion of border security and the inclusion of a provision that will combine the four measures into one package before being sent to the Senate — a pair of negatives that are poised to outweigh the positives.

Stoking the conservative frustrations, Johnson is also not allowing any amendments related to the border.

“I’m fine with putting individual subjects as a matter of course on the floor. But when it’s all sort of predetermined and it’s gonna leave border off, then you’ve given up the entire point of the fight. Which, I reminded the Speaker — and this is public information — like, multiple times over the last six months where he said border first before Ukraine,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday.

“He’s not gonna allow border security to be part of the package,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), chair of the Freedom Caucus. “That’s a big, big problem.”

Despite the growing frustration, no other Republicans have emerged from the woodwork to join Greene and Massie on the motion-to-vacate push, though several are keeping their cards close to their chests.

Asked about the ouster effort, Roy told reporters he’s “not gonna talk about that.” And Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), a former Freedom Caucus chair, did not rule it out, saying “we’re not anywhere close to that” when pressed on the gambit.

A large number of Republicans, meanwhile, have come out swinging against the ouster effort. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, called the push “a total waste of time and absolute ridiculous concept,” and Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) predicted the gambit would fail.

Massie, for his part, said he thinks the effort to boot Johnson will garner more support than McCarthy’s ouster, which had eight Republicans and all Democrats on board.

“If it were called today … he would lose the vote, and I think he would lose more than Kevin McCarthy lost,” the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday.

“It’s not just like the right flank of the conference that is upset with him — we’ve devolved into ‘Lord of the Flies,’” he added. “There’s no order. Like, the rules are going down. Like, there’s no repercussions for disorder.

“I don’t think his life experiences have equipped him for this job.”

Miranda Nazzaro contributed.

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