US House Speaker Johnson risks fellow Republicans' wrath with Ukraine vote

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[April 19, 2024]  By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson looks set to push forward this weekend on a $95 billion aid bill for Kyiv, Israel and other allies, despite a firestorm of protest from hardline Republicans that could lead to an attempt to oust him.

The aid legislation is the latest in a series of must-pass bipartisan measures that Johnson has helped shepherd through Congress, including two massive spending bills and a controversial reauthorization of federal surveillance programs.

His performance, six months after the 52-year-old Louisiana Republican acquired the speaker's gavel, has won him accolades from centrist Republicans who worry that party infighting could erode U.S. status on the world stage.

Johnson was elected speaker after a small band of hardline Republicans ousted his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, a move that brought the House of Representatives to a halt for weeks.

"He's shown tremendous courage," Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick told Reuters. "He's not allowing the noise to get to him."

The House is expected to vote as early as Saturday on the aid legislation that provides $61 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish U.S. weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific.

Republicans hold a narrow House 218-213 majority, a margin so scant that Republican Representative Mike Gallagher is postponing his mid-session retirement, originally set for Friday, so he can be present to vote for the bill.

Johnson has routinely relied on Democratic votes to pass legislation since becoming speaker, and he is expected to do so again on Saturday.

Republican Representative Max Miller, an early critic of Johnson's speakership, now credits him for quickly adopting the national perspective necessary for the top Republican in Congress.

"He's now seen the light, when it comes to representing not just your district in Louisiana but the entire country," the Ohio Republican said.

"He got a crash course on what the majority of Americans really feel."

'COURAGEOUS,' SAYS PELOSI

Johnson's performance has even led to positive reviews from some senior Democrats.

Former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- who led her party in the chamber for two decades -- described him as "courageous" for defying hardline opposition to pass legislation that averted two government shutdowns, safeguarded U.S. efforts to combat terrorism, and would now support Ukraine in its struggle against Russian invasion.

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Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks to the media after the Senate dismissed the House Republican impeachment charges against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 17, 2024. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

The speaker got vital support last week from former President Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, who said it was "unfortunate" that members would seek Johnson's ouster "because right now we have much bigger problems."

Many House Republicans fear that ouster would mean unnecessary chaos months before the Nov. 5 election that will determine control of the White House, the Senate and the House.

But despite Trump's support, Johnson faces a growing ouster threat from hardline Republicans, including members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, who oppose aid to Ukraine, favor border restrictions and deep spending cuts and want to curb the federal government's surveillance powers to protect U.S. citizens.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who filed a motion to vacate Johnson's seat as speaker, won a co-sponsor this week in fellow hardliner Representative Thomas Massie. And more hardliners seem poised to join in.

Even if Greene does not attempt to oust Johnson soon, she predicted he would not hold onto his leadership role in the long run.

"The reality for Mike Johnson is that he's not going to be speaker. But it's just a matter of when that's going to happen," Greene said on Wednesday.

Hardline frustrations surged on Thursday after word spread that House Republican leaders were considering a plan to raise the threshold for bringing an ouster motion from a single lawmaker to a majority of the party. Johnson later vowed not to make such a move.

For their part, some Democrats have indicated they could consider providing votes to defend Johnson's leadership if he succeeds in moving Ukraine aid.

"I certainly don't want to do anything personally that would in any way aid and abet Marjorie Taylor Greene's destructive path," said Democratic Representative Brendan Boyle.

Johnson himself has dismissed the ouster threat, saying he would never be able to do his job if he operated out of fear for his own political future.

"History judges us for what we do," Johnson told reporters this week. "I'm doing here what I believe to be the right thing. I think providing lethal aid to Ukraine right now is critically important. I really do."

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)

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