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Ukraine Aid Vote Ramps Up Tension Within the GOP
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Ukraine Aid Vote Ramps Up Tension Within the GOP

Mike Johnson could yet face a challenge to his speakership.

Happy Monday! Just as Taylor Swift brought new fans to the NFL by dating Travis Kelce, we hope she will also turn her followers on to classical philosophy with a mention on her new album of Aristotle, who called politics a “master art.”

Up to Speed

  • President Joe Biden is stepping up its outreach to Hispanic voters. Biden is appearing on Univision and his campaign is placing ads on other Spanish-language outlets such as ESPN Deportes and LaLiga broadcasts, Politico reported Sunday. The efforts come amid Democratic polling that indicates Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could take votes from Biden if he gets on the ballot in swing states with heavy Latino populations, such as Nevada and Arizona. In Nevada, while the Republican National Committee closed minority outreach centers in the wake of the midterm elections, the Biden campaign has opened more offices to reach minority voters.
  • Former President Donald Trump’s meetings with foreign leaders have irked some in the Biden administration, Axios reported Monday. After Trump met with Argentinian President Javier Milei at CPAC in February, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Marc Stanley told the country’s foreign minister it was not appropriate for others to involve themselves in America’s elections. The former president also has spoken recently with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Polish President Andrzej Duda at Trump properties. This is not the first time a presidential candidate has met with foreign leaders while campaigning for the office—former President Barack Obama did so in 2008.
  • On the domestic front, Trump’s Save America leadership PAC, which has been footing his legal bills, spent almost $3.7 million for that purpose in the month of March, per a Saturday FEC filing, bringing its total legal spending to $59.5 million. Save America received a $5 million transfer from Make America Great Again Inc., the super PAC backing the former president, allowing it to stay above a break-even point. The $3.7 million Save America spent on legal representation equaled the amount Trump’s campaign committee spent on electoral purposes such as travel expenses and payroll. The former president’s legal expenses could exacerbate Biden’s advantage in fundraising.
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence blasted his former running mate in a New York Times op-ed Saturday for the former president’s “retreating” from previously declared endorsements of federal abortion restrictions. Pence also charged Trump with leading other Republican candidates away from the pro-life cause, citing Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake’s newly restated opposition to a federal restriction on abortion.
  • Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a surrogate for the Biden campaign, is seizing on the abortion issue across the country. His Campaign for Democracy PAC will run an ad in Alabama for the next two weeks that depicts a woman attempting to flee the state to receive an abortion before a police officer pulls her over and arrests her. “Trump Republicans want to criminalize young Alabama women who travel for reproductive care,” a narrator says. Newsom is also taking action on the legislative front, telling MSNBC’s Jen Psaki Sunday that legislators in his state will introduce a bill this week that would allow Arizona abortionists to become approved to do their work in the Golden State as a response to the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling that put in place a near-total abortion ban earlier this month.

Johnson Hangs On—For Now

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks to the press outside the Capitol after the House of Representatives passed aid to Ukraine and Israel on April 20, 2024. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu by Getty Images)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks to the press outside the Capitol after the House of Representatives passed aid to Ukraine and Israel on April 20, 2024. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu by Getty Images)

Speaker Mike Johnson has earned at least a temporary stay of execution. 

A combination of hard-nosed leadership and crafty strategy effectively convinced enough House Republicans to support U.S. military aid to Ukraine, even as a small number in Johnson’s conference threaten to strip the gavel from the Louisianan for pursuing it.

The House of Representatives passed a set of bills Saturday, worth a total of $95 billion, to fund military assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, an achievement for Johnson as he sits precariously atop a shaky, and thin, Republican majority. Passage came and went without the trio of Republican members who are vowing to oust him forcing a vote on a motion to vacate.

The three GOP malcontents backing the procedural motion to boot Johnson—Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Paul Gosar of Arizona—will have to wait until after House members return from a week of work back home in their districts to get their chance to push for their motion on the floor.

A majority of Republicans were joined by a sizable number of Democrats to pass most of Saturday’s aid package, which also included a bill targeting the Chinese ownership of TikTok and approving new sanctions on Iran. But slightly more than half of Republicans voted against the funding for Ukraine, which Johnson himself had been publicly pushing hard for in spite of vocal opposition from the populist wing of the conference.

Rep. Tom Cole, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said on Face the Nation Sunday that support for Ukraine aid within the Republican conference is larger than the vote would suggest.*

“This is politics. There is such a thing as a ‘vote no, hope yes’ crowd in every caucus,” Cole told anchor Margaret Brennan. “I can go down that list and tell you the member [who] just said, ‘OK, you got the votes, you don’t need me.’”

Other Republican operatives around Washington have echoed the idea. These GOP members may theoretically support the idea of arming Ukraine but are dealing with either pressure from constituents or the sense that former President Donald Trump’s soft resistance to the bill could make it a litmus test within the party. 

To be sure, Johnson’s gambit may keep his Republican critics at bay only for the short term. The idea has emerged within some Republican circles that Johnson delivered a win on Ukraine aid for President Joe Biden and a majority of Democrats—highlighted by a number of House Democrats waving Ukraine’s flag on the House floor after the funding bill passed. This violation of the “Hastert rule,” an unofficial policy by which a speaker does not schedule a vote on a bill that does not have a majority of support from the majority party, risks exacerbating the tension within the GOP conference. The recent vote to reauthorize parts of the FISA surveillance law and the lack of border-security measures in the weekend’s bill is giving Johnson’s Republican enemies plenty of fodder.

“The speaker created a bad situation for himself by having these two tough votes collide. Never should have had [a] situation where you had FISA and Ukraine back to back, which has now put him in a really tough spot,” one Republican lobbyist told Dispatch Politics.

And while most House Republicans remain loyal to Johnson, if Greene can grow her coterie of disaffected members, the speaker could find himself in the same situation as Kevin McCarthy before his ouster: enough Republican opposition.

“I miss the old Mike,” GOP Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio told Lindsey McPherson for The Dispatch. “In January, Mike said, ‘My position is clear. Any bill that does not solve the problem and secure the border is not acceptable to the House.’ What happened to Mike Johnson?”

On the other hand, Johnson can take some comfort in this weekend’s win. By breaking up a security funding supplemental bill passed by the Senate earlier this year into individual, modified bills, the speaker could rely on separate but mostly overlapping coalitions to get each tranche of foreign aid passed. And those modifications changed the policy of the Senate’s bill, inserting provisions to render some of the Ukraine aid as loans and provide “accountability” on the disbursement of money. Johnson has touted this as an improvement from the “blank check” passed by the Senate. 

Some Hill Republicans loyal to Johnson insisted to The Dispatch that Democrats would have had the votes to pass the Senate bill via a discharge petition—a rarely used procedural measure by which a House member can circumvent the majority leader’s schedule to hold a vote on a bill that has been sitting in committee for at least 30 days. Ukraine aid was going to get through the House somehow, but Johnson allowed for House Republicans to move the bill in their direction.

All of this may have strengthened his position within the bulk of the Republican conference, where the rank-and-file have grown increasingly frustrated with a tiny minority of Republicans holding the rest of the team and its leadership hostage. It may also have earned Johnson the grudging respect of enough Democrats to help him if the motion to vacate moves forward.

What could happen, one Republican source on Capitol Hill speculated, is that Greene and her crew could allow the cross-party unity over the foreign-aid funding to dissipate over the next few weeks before trying to kick Johnson out. The speaker will likely resume normal, partisan leadership of the House, an expected function of his role as the top Republican but the sort of activity that could erode his respect from House Democrats, some of whom have said they would be willing to help Johnson keep his job. A few weeks of “red meat” votes and interviews with GOP-friendly outlets by Johnson could make these Democrats think twice about saving a Republican speaker.

Greene, for her part, has said that Johnson could not win a vote for speaker right now but that she is trying to “let the process play out” before moving forward on her motion.

“Mike Johnson is a lame duck,” she told reporters Saturday. “He’s done. He’s done.”

Notable and Quotable

“It’s my absolute honor to be in Congress but I serve with some real scumbags. Look, Matt Gaetz—he paid minors to have sex with him at drug parties. Bob Good endorsed my opponent, a known neo-Nazi. These people used to walk around with white hoods at night. Now they’re walking around with white hoods in the daytime.”

—GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas on CNN’s State of the Union, April 21, 2024

Correction, April 23, 2024: This newsletter originally referred to GOP Rep. Tom Cole as chairman of the House Rules Committee. He relinquished that post earlier this month to take over as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Charles Hilu is a reporter for The Dispatch based in Virginia. Before joining the company in 2024, he was the Collegiate Network Fellow at the Washington Free Beacon and interned at both National Review and the Washington Examiner. When he is not writing and reporting, he is probably listening to show tunes or following the premier sports teams of the University of Michigan and city of Detroit.