Mike Johnson Hints Vote on Ukraine Aid Is Up Next Despite Threat to Speakership

Richard Luscombe / Guardian UK
Mike Johnson Hints Vote on Ukraine Aid Is Up Next Despite Threat to Speakership House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., delivers remarks at the U.S. Capitol. (photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Republican touts ‘important innovations’ to Ukraine package and suggests vote on bill could be imminent in Congress after recess

The US House speaker, Mike Johnson, has raised expectations that a vote on funding for Ukraine could be imminent in the chamber, even at the risk of the Republican losing his leadership position.

Johnson touted “important innovations” to a possible Ukraine package during an interview on Fox News’s Sunday Night in America with Trey Gowdy, and he suggested a vote on a standalone bill could come soon after Congress returns from Easter recess on 9 April.

But the Louisiana Republican acknowledged forces in his party were trying to unseat him over his efforts to find a bipartisan solution to stalled US funding for Ukraine’s efforts to repel Russia’s military invasion, which began in February 2022. The far-right extremist Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene filed a motion to remove Johnson in March, but she stopped short of calling it for a floor vote.

The White House, meanwhile, has warned that delays are costing Ukraine lives and territory because Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, “gains every day” Congress does not pass a funding measure.

“What we have to do in an era of divided government, historically, as we are, you got to build consensus. If we want to move a partisan measure, I got to have every single member, literally. And some things need to be bipartisan,” Johnson said, acknowledging the shrinking Republican majority in the House.

“We’ve been talking to all the members especially now over the district work period. When we return after this work period, we’ll be moving a product, but it’s going to, I think, have some important innovations.”

Those innovations include efforts to placate Republican hardliners, who have cooled on continuing to support Ukraine financially with the war there now in its third year. They include a loan instead of a grant, or harnessing Russian assets confiscated in the US under the Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity (Repo) for Ukrainians Act.

“If we can use the seized assets of Russian oligarchs to allow the Ukrainians to fight them, that’s just pure poetry,” Johnson said. “Even [former president Donald] Trump has talked about the loan concept, where we’re not just giving foreign aid, we’re setting it up in a relationship where they can provide it back to us when the time is right.”

The specter of Trump, the prospective Republican nominee for November’s presidential election, has loomed large over the wrangling for a Ukraine deal. He was instrumental in Johnson’s refusal to call a House vote on a $95bn wartime funding bill that passed the Democratic-led Senate in February, which also included aid for Israel in its war in Gaza.

Trump has also demanded Republicans reject any Ukraine funding measure that ties in money for US border security in order to deny the Joe Biden White House a “win” on immigration ahead of November’s election, hence Johnson’s pursuit of a standalone solution.

The friction has led to rightwingers, such as Greene, threatening Johnson’s position. Other Republican colleagues, however, have leapt to the speaker’s defense. The New York congressman Mike Lawler blasted Greene’s motion to vacate as “idiotic” on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “It’s not actually going to help advance the cause she believes in, and in fact it undermines our House Republican majority,” he said.

Some Democrats have indicated they would support Johnson if a vote to remove him were called, though other Republicans have acknowledged his precarious position.

“I’m not going to deny it. It’s a very narrow majority, and one or two people can make us a minority,” the Nebraska congressman Don Bacon told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.

Without identifying Greene by name, he added: “We have one or two people that are not team players. They’d rather enjoy the limelight, the social media.”

Bacon is one of several Republicans who have worked across the aisle to craft a Ukraine aid proposal. “We put a bill together that focuses on military aid, a $66bn bill that provides military aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. There’s enough support in the House to get this done,” he said.

Of Johnson’s plans to bring a House vote next week, Bacon added: “He’s doing the right thing.”

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