9 min read

How the speakership has changed Mike Johnson

Plus, breaking down the details of the four foreign aid bills.
How the speakership has changed Mike Johnson
Photo from Speaker Johnson’s office

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House Speaker Mike Johnson has released the four bills that could provide billions of dollars in long-sought aid to Israel and Ukraine, force a sale of the popular app TikTok, implement sanctions against Iran, and lose him his job.

In other words: it’s going to be a consequential few days on Capitol Hill. I’ll explain all the political dynamics lower down, but first: let’s take a look at the policy. Here’s a quick snapshot of what each of these bills actually does:

1. The Ukraine Security Supplemental Appropriations Act includes $60.8 billion in total funding. That includes $13.8 billion to fund weapons, training, logistical support, and other assistance for the Ukrainian military; $9.5 billion in forgivable loans for economic aid to Ukraine; $13.4 billion to replenish U.S. stocks of equipment already sent to Ukraine; and $20.5 billion to boost the U.S. military presence in the region. (Bill text)

2. The Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act includes $26.4 billion in total funding. That includes $5.2 billion to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Iron Beam defense systems that helped repel Iran’s attack last weekend; $3.6 billion in military aid for Israel and other Middle Eastern partners; $4.4 billion to replenish U.S. stocks of equipment already sent to Israel; $9.2 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gazans and other vulnerable populations; $2.4 billion to boost the U.S. military presence in the region. (Bill text)

3. The Indo-Pacific Security Supplemental Appropriations Act includes $8.1 billion in total funding. That includes $2 billion in military aid for Taiwan and other allies in the region; $3.3 billion to fund U.S. submarine capabilities; $1.9 billion to replenish weapons already provided to Taiwan; and $542 million to boost the U.S. military presence in the region. (Bill text)

4. The 21st Century Peace through Strength Act combines several pieces of legislation, including bills that would force a sale of TikTok; liquidate seized Russian assets to use as aid for Ukraine; implement sanctions against Hamas, other Iranian proxies, and parts of the Iranian economy; prohibit data brokers from selling sensitive data on Americans to Russia or China; take steps to combat fentanyl, including declaring a national emergency and initiating sanctions against criminal organizations involved in international fentanyl trafficking. (Bill text)

It would be an understatement to say that Johnson’s right flank is furious with him for moving forward with these bills, especially the Ukraine funding.

“It is surrender, it is disappointing,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a leader of the push to remove Johnson’s predecessor, Kevin McCarthy. “I won’t support it.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has threatened to use the bills as a pretext to trigger a vote on Johnson’s ouster — but the speaker has held firm.

“My philosophy is you do the right thing and you let the chips fall where they may,” Johnson told reporters Wednesday. “If I operated out of fear of a motion to vacate, I would never be able to do my job... I could make a selfish decision and do something that’s different. But I’m doing here what I believe to be the right thing.” (Watch a full clip of Johnson’s comments here)

As I wrote yesterday morning, both sides are claiming the mantle of “true” Republicanism, in a pitched battle for the party’s future.

“Every true conservative America First patriot in the House should vote against the rule for this borrowed foreign aid bill with no border security!” House Freedom Caucus chair Bob Good (R-VA) wrote on social media Wednesday.

“I’m a child of the ’80s,” Johnson told CNN. “I regard myself as a Reagan Republican. I understand the concept of maintaining peace through strength.”

Johnson’s evolution is a fascinating case study in how people can be changed by leadership. As I have noted, Johnson — who was the fourth-ranked House GOP leader before catapulting to the speakership — began the Ukraine war as a staunch supporter of Kyiv, calling the conflict a “national security threat to the entire West.”

But, within a few months, he had pivoted along with many of his Republican colleagues, and proudly voted against every direct Ukraine aid package that arrived on the House floor. Now, the pressures of leadership appear to have shifted his stance back — both because of the increased access to information he receives (“I really do believe the intel and the briefings that we’ve gotten,” he said Wednesday) and the added consideration of crafting a historical legacy, something that is more likely to be top-of-mind for a speaker than a member of the rank-and-file.

“History judges us for what we do,” he told reporters yesterday. “This is a critical time right now — a critical time on the world stage.” On CNN, he added: “We are going to stand for freedom and make sure that Vladimir Putin doesn’t march through Europe... The responsibility for the free world has been shifted onto our shoulders. And we accept that role.”

Here’s how the next few days will go.

At 10 a.m. ET this morning, the House Rules Committee will meet to vote on a single “special rule” for all four bills — a resolution that will allow for their consideration on the House floor.

The Rules Committee is traditionally the one House committee most stacked in the speaker’s favor: majority party members outnumber minority party members on the panel more than two-to-one, and the majority party members are usually loyalists handpicked by the speaker.

But Johnson’s Rules Committee is a holdover from the McCarthy era — and even McCarthy held unusually little sway over the panel, after agreeing to give three of the majority spots to Freedom Caucus members during the drawn-out negotiations that made him speaker.

Last night, the Rules Committee met to try to approve a rule on a border bill, the End the Border Catastrophe Act, which Johnson teed up as a sop to conservatives. (The measure is similar to the already-passed H.R. 2 and would sharply limit asylum, require construction of a border wall, and revive other Trump-era immigration policies.)

The three Freedom Caucus members of the panel — Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Ralph Norman (R-SC), and Chip Roy (R-TX) — refused to support the measure, out of anger towards Johnson, and the meeting ended in a standstill.

This morning, the same trio has already signaled plans to oppose the rule for the four national security bills. That means Democrats on the Rules Committee will have to lend their support for the rule to advance — a situation without any modern precedent.

The rule is expected to be structured as a “MIRV” rule, which allows for multiple pieces of legislation to be voted on separately in the House and then packages them together as one bill when they are sent to the Senate. (The name comes from MIRV missiles, which “contain multiple warheads that can be independently targeted so as to maximize first strike capabilities,” according to the Congressional Research Service.)

Democratic support will again be needed for the rule to be approved on the House floor, and then for each bill to be passed as well. The four measures have already been endorsed by President Biden, and seem to have been structured specifically to receive bipartisan support in the House and Senate. The bills are almost identical to the Senate’s foreign aid package, which passed the upper chamber in a 70-29 vote. They include humanitarian aid for Gazans, which Democrats identified as a red line to win their support. Changes were also made to the TikTok bill to win over a key Senate Democratic holdout.

The measures will require fragile bipartisan coalitions to trust each other and vote together — four times. So it is possible that this could blow up at any stage, but that’s how things will work in theory.

Then, after the bills are voted on, Greene has signaled she may trigger a vote on ousting Johnson — which, again, would require an unprecedented Democratic rescue mission. According to Punchbowl News, Republicans are considering including changes to the motion to vacate in the “special rule” for the foreign aid bills, which would potentially cut Greene’s effort off at the root.

More news to know.

Senators being sworn in to consider the Mayorkas impeachment articles. (Photo by the Senate)

👎 The Senate voted Wednesday to declare both articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as unconstitutional, formally dismissing them and ending his impeachment trial before it began. The votes were along party lines, except for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voting “present” — effectively abstaining — in the vote on the first charge. She joined her party in voting against dismissal of the second charge.

🇮🇱 Israel reportedly considered striking Iran on Monday in retaliation for the country’s missile and drone attack, but decided to postpone the operation.

🛡️ Two former leaders of the D.C. National Guard testified on Wednesday that the National Guard could have at the Capitol earlier on January 6, 2021, if only Donald Trump had picked up the phone and called the Pentagon.

🇨🇳 The Chinese embassy lobbied congressional offices to oppose the bill forcing a sale of TikTok from its current Chinese owner, ByteDance.

🧠 Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed first-in-the-nation legislation Wednesday that protects the data found in a person’s brainwaves.

💵 The Trump campaign, facing a stark financial disadvantage, is asking down-ballot Republican candidates who use the former president’s name, image and likeness in fundraising solicitations to give them at least 5% of the proceeds from those appeals.

🚓 Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) is continuing to spend campaign money to pay her husband for work as a security guard, despite facing an ongoing federal investigation for such payments.

🔍 State-level investigations are accelerating into Republican officials who joined pro-Trump fake elector slates in several battleground states.

🏥 Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), 65, has been unconscious since suffering a heart attack 12 days ago.

President Biden suggested twice on Wednesday that his “Uncle Bosie” was eaten by cannibals, a claim that is contradicted by the U.S. military’s account of his death.

The day ahead.

President Biden visiting a Pennsylvania cafe on Wednesday. (WNEP screengrab)

President Biden will travel to his third Pennsylvania city of the week, holding two campaign events in Philadelphia.

Vice President Harris will hold an event on gun control ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, which is Saturday.

The Senate will hold a procedural vote on advancing the bipartisan Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, the House-passed bill that reauthorizes the Section 702 surveillance authority (which allows the government to obtain the electronic communications of non-Americans residing abroad) while adding new limits on the government’s ability to access information about American citizens that is swept up as part of that surveillance.

The House will vote on H.Res.1143, which condemns Iran’s attack against Israel last weekend and “fully supports Israel’s right to respond to this aggression through military, diplomatic, economic, and other necessary means.”

The Supreme Court has nothing on its schedule.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will return to the Manhattan courthouse as jury selection resumes in his first criminal trial.

Before I go...

gold ring on white paper
Photo by Joshua Hoehne / Unsplash

Here’s something fun: Instead of asking Americans which candidate would do better handling health care or immigration, the polling firm Echelon Insights surveyed 1,020 likely voters on the important stuff — whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump would perform better in tasks and contests like “Monopoly” or “Family Feud.”

The respondents answered Trump for almost every question:

  • A hot dog eating contest: Trump 58%, Biden 13%
  • The board game “Monopoly”: Trump 49%, Biden 27%
  • Fighting a medium sized dog: Trump 48%, Biden 17%
  • The TV show “Family Feud”: Trump 48%, Biden 28%
  • Having a poker face: Trump 47%, Biden 32%
  • Managing a fantasy football team: Trump 43%, Biden 26%
  • Solving an escape room: Trump 42%, Biden 28%
  • CPR: Trump 37%, Biden 33%
  • Karaoke: Trump 35%, Biden 26%
  • Building IKEA furniture: Trump 34%, Biden 31%
  • Creating a road trip playlist: Trump 33%, Biden 29%

Although Biden did manage to scrape out a win in these three categories:

  • Changing a baby’s diaper: Biden 44%, Trump 24%
  • House sitting for you over a long weekend: Biden 43%, Trump 30%,
  • Teaching a beginners cooking class: Biden 35%, Trump 26%,

Read the full poll here.

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