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Speaker Johnson moves on foreign aid, possibly triggering vote to oust him

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., is walking a tightrope, attempting to save his job while also funding foreign allies.  (Haiyun Jiang/FTWP)
By Marianna Sotomayor and Leigh Ann Caldwell Washington Post

Speaker Mike Johnson is moving ahead on a foreign aid plan that has roiled his conference and prompted two Republicans to push an effort to oust him from the chamber’s top job.

But instead of the complex four-part plan he floated earlier this week, Johnson now intends to try to pass five bills – one each for aid to Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific allies, as well as a GOP wish list of foreign policy priorities and a fifth stand-alone bill to address widespread Republican demands to strengthen the southern U.S. border.

The new approach is risky and could blow up on the speaker, whose six-month-old hold on the gavel is being threatened by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s promise to move a motion to topple Johnson, R-La., if he puts Ukraine aid on the floor, something many far-right Republicans object to.

Johnson told Republicans in a letter to colleagues Wednesday morning, “After significant Member feedback and discussion” this week, the House will move ahead with his plan, with some significant changes. He intends to release bill text on Ukraine, Israel and for Indo-Pacific allies earlier Wednesday, and language for the GOP wish list and border later Wednesday.

Success is anything but guaranteed, both on the foreign aid package and keeping his job. Timing on the votes, also, is up in the air – even as members were slated to head home for a one-week recess on Thursday.

This is all happening against the backdrop of an extremely slender House majority that Republicans argue should be expanded by voters in November to better their chances of advancing a conservative agenda. The GOP currently has a two-vote majority, meaning that if Democrats do not help keep Johnson in the speaker role, only three Republicans would be needed to wrest his gavel. But two Republicans suddenly become enough after Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., resigns. He was supposed to leave Friday, putting the GOP majority at just one vote, but now is expected to leave once the foreign aid bill passes.

“The congressman has the flexibility to stay and support the aid package on Saturday,” his office said on Wednesday.

It is clear Republicans are growing increasingly fed up with Johnson’s leadership, and members of the far-right flank had already signaled they would not support Johnson’s plan even before text of the legislation was released. It’s unclear how they will respond to the idea of moving a separate border package – which will, according to the speaker’s office – will include the “core components of HR 2,” a harsh immigration bill restricting migrants from entering the United States. Early signals were not good.

The House Freedom Caucus has already panned the proposal. Johnson is “surrendering” on the border, the far-right group tweeted in response to Johnson’s plan.

“This flies in the face of every promise Republicans have told you” and they care more about “funding Ukraine than they do securing our own borders.”

Yet Johnson is moving the separate border package in an attempt to appease his unruly conference, many of whom have demanded the border be secure before funding is sent to Ukraine and other allies. Republicans did have a chance to consider a tough bipartisan security bill earlier in the year, but declined to do so as Donald Trump vocally attacked it.

Keeping border security separate from the foreign aid package may give both pieces of legislation a greater chance of passing. The national security bill will probably need Democratic support because of the large number of Republicans who don’t want to fund Ukraine – while Johnson aims to pass the border security bill with just Republican support, hoping to satisfy demands from all corners of his conference and send all bills to the Senate.

But in an almost four-hour meeting between Johnson and his allies Tuesday night – before this latest plan was released – Republicans left demoralized after failing to concoct a plan that would ensure enough of them support sending the package to the floor without having to rely on Democrats. Multiple people familiar with the meeting, who were granted anonymity to discuss internal dynamics, said the meeting enlightened them and Johnson about what moving on his plan would mean for his future.

While Johnson is officially moving on his foreign aid plan, it could all lead to his ouster.

“The battle lines were very clear at the end,” one Republican said. “It was very clear [the motion to vacate] will be brought if the speaker’s plan proceeds.”

Greene and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) are supporting the motion to remove Johnson from the speakership after he relied on Democrats to pass several bills that failed to unite Republicans. If the motion were to be considered under special rules, the House would have 48 hours to vote on the question to oust the speaker.