Why Speaker Mike Johnson’s stance on Ukraine aid has him on thin ice

Ukraine aid — a growing point of contention — is at the heart of the recent GOP drama.

Mike Johnson, in a navy suit and glasses, walks with a leather folder of papers under his arm, beside a woman in a burgundy dress.

House Speaker Mike Johnson is facing a tenuous balancing act over Ukraine aid. Bloomberg/Getty Images Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

House Speaker Mike Johnson could be facing the most perilous threat to his leadership yet as Congress once again debates Ukraine aid.

Johnson recently made clear he wants to hold a vote on sending more funding to Ukraine after the House returns from recess on Tuesday. That stance has infuriated far-right members like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has vocally opposed the provision of such funds. Greene’s dissent over Ukraine — along with far-right members’ dismay over bipartisan government funding deals — has prompted her to issue an open threat to Johnson’s job.

“Mike Johnson is not working for Republicans, he’s not helping Republicans, he’s not even listening to Republicans. Mike Johnson is doing the Deep State’s dirty work,” Greene said in an X statement last week. “We need a new Speaker of the House!”

Mike Johnson is not working for Republicans, he’s not helping Republicans, he’s not even listening to Republicans.

Mike Johnson is doing the Deep State’s dirty work.

We need a new Speaker of the House!

Watch my full segment on Steve Bannon’s War Room. pic.twitter.com/q5ac2OfIGg

— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (@RepMTG) April 2, 2024

For now, Greene’s threat is just talk. Although she has filed a resolution regarding Johnson’s removal, it isn’t an expedited measure, meaning it isn’t guaranteed an immediate floor vote just yet. Additionally, Democrats have signaled that they could well help Johnson if he supports Ukraine aid. Given the House GOP’s two-seat majority, any Democratic assistance would likely thwart an attempt at removal if enough members of both parties banded together to save Johnson.

Still, the threat adds to the competing pressures Johnson is facing on Ukraine — and spotlights the deep fracturing of the Republican conference and the dysfunction that’s plagued their tenure in the majority.

In practice, that’s meant they haven’t been able to get much done — even compared to prior Congresses with similar party breakdowns — leaving them with few achievements as they attempt to retain their hold on the House in November’s elections. And it’s also meant that Ukraine aid, support that could have a major impact on the country’s defenses against Russia, is far from guaranteed.

The far right is furious about Ukraine aid

In an interview with Fox News in early April, Johnson said that the House would “be moving [Ukraine aid] right after the district work period,” a two-week span that began on March 25. That statement spurred a renewed wave of anger from far-right members, who’ve called for these funds to be used domestically at the southern border instead. It’s a position that echoes isolationist stances held by former President Donald Trump, who’s similarly cautioned against more Ukraine funding given the national debt and an “America First” mentality. As of mid-January, the US has provided roughly $74 billion to Ukraine in security assistance, weapons, and humanitarian support.

Greene’s latest warning to Johnson only reiterates these sentiments.

The Republican members who are against Ukraine aid have also grown in number over the past few months: In May 2022, 57 House Republicans voted against an aid package for Ukraine. In September 2023, 117 did the same. “It’s absurd that overnighting more tax dollars to Ukraine is even a consideration. It should be totally off the table and replaced with a push for peace talks,” Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ) told Fox News in April.

To assuage some of these concerns, Johnson has said the Ukraine package that the House will consider contains “important innovations” that address conservatives’ concerns.

These include providing some aid to Ukraine via a loan, which the country would pay back to the US. (It’s not clear whether this loan would include interest, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) urging that such fees be waived.) That’s a measure that’s gained traction among Republicans because it means US funds would be returned as part of aid efforts. Johnson has also alluded to adding provisions from the REPO Act, which would allow the US government to transfer Russian assets it has seized to Ukraine for the country’s reconstruction.

“If we can use the seized assets of Russian oligarchs to allow Ukrainians to fight them, it’s just pure poetry,” Johnson said in his Fox News interview. Johnson has yet to detail exactly what the House Ukraine package will contain, but has made clear that it will differ from the $95 billion aid package the Senate approved in February, which includes $60 billion for Ukraine as well as funds for Israel and Taiwan. Johnson has also said that the package must include US-Mexico border security provisions, an idea Democrats have chafed against.

Despite these concessions, certain members on the right still aren’t pleased. “Funding Ukraine is probably one of the most egregious things that he can do,” Greene emphasized last week.

Their views aren’t indicative of the entire conference, however. Multiple centrist Republican leaders have stressed the importance of backing Ukraine as Russia’s invasion continues into its third year. “I am hopeful that the speaker will put the bill on the floor … so that we can once and for all ensure that our allies have the aid and support that they need,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) said in a CNN interview.

Conservative dysfunction has real consequences

The conflict over Ukraine aid and threats about Johnson’s leadership are just the latest chapter in Republican drama this term.

Internal clashes — like the one that cost Johnson’s predecessor his job — have impeded their ability to make progress on their priorities, and on Congress’s ability to govern. When they took power after the 2022 midterms, House Republicans had big plans on everything from bringing state-level battles over schools to the national stage to lowering the cost of prescription drugs. They made virtually no progress on any of those goals. And when it comes to must-pass legislation, far-right pushback on the debt ceiling, for example, pushed lawmakers down to the wire to get it done, rattling markets and leading to a downgrade of the country’s credit rating.

In the case of Ukraine aid, Republican infighting has already delayed funds, a hold-up that’s contributed to supply shortages and potential losses on the battlefield. The delay and uncertainty about this aid is also making it tougher for the US to coordinate with its allies when it comes to a cohesive strategy to support Ukraine, writes Dan Baer, a senior vice president of policy research at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

If Congress is unable to provide more aid, that could have even more serious consequences for the war, emboldening Russia and hurting Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. According to Max Boot, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ukraine could face shortages of ammunition if US aid stalls, likely increasing the casualties it experiences. And in the long term, the absence of this aid could have a decisive impact on its ability to fend off Russia completely.

“Make no mistake: without US aid, Ukraine is likely to lose the war,” Boot writes.

Sourse: vox.com

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