HomePoliticsJohnson has a tough job. McCarthy's concessions make things more difficult.

Johnson has a tough job. McCarthy’s concessions make things more difficult.

WASHINGTON — Speaker Mike Johnson’s attempt to advance an aid package for Ukraine despite fierce opposition from his own party was never going to be easy.

But it has become even more politically dangerous due to a pair of concessions to the far right that he inherited from his predecessor: allowing one lawmaker to call a snap vote to oust the president, and giving ultraconservatives a bloc of seats in a crucial panel. that determines which legislation can reach the House of Representatives.

Both concessions, agreed by the former chairman Kevin McCarthy more than a year ago, now haunt Johnson as he tries to push through a $95 billion aid bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. They’ve pushed him to rely heavily on Democrats — not just to clear the way for the legislation and get it across the finish line, but possibly to save his job.

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Johnson’s predicament was on vivid display Thursday on the floor of the House of Representatives, as a group of ultra-conservatives huddled around him in a heated argument. One after another, they urged the speaker to tie the foreign aid package to tough anti-immigration measures, but Johnson pushed back, responding that he would not have enough Republican support to advance such a measure, people said who were involved in the private conversation.

Minutes after the clash, some far-right lawmakers who previously opposed joining the Republican effort to oust him became more open to the idea.

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“My hope was that the motion to evict would be an elixir that only needed one dose to be effective,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who led McCarthy’s ouster. “But sometimes there are therapies that require more than one dose. And I hope that’s not the case with the motion to vacate, but we will administer the elixir as often as it takes to save the country.”

Johnson has said he “didn’t ask any Democrat to get involved” in helping him fend off an effort to oust him.

“I don’t spend time walking around and thinking about the motion to vacate,” he told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday. “I have a job to do here, and I am going to do this job regardless of the personal consequences.”

At the same time, three ultraconservatives on the House Rules Committee signaled Thursday that they intended to block Johnson’s efforts to bring up the foreign aid bill, but late that evening the speaker took the extraordinary step of relying on Democratic votes in committee. to advance the measure.

On Wednesday night, those same Republicans — Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Thomas Massie of Kentucky — indicated they would also prevent a border security bill from coming up after Johnson suggested it be brought up separately. The measure was an attempt to calm hardliners who have demanded that the speaker not promote aid to Ukraine without winning sweeping concessions from Democrats on immigration policy.

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“I believe this is part of a larger effort to push something through for very politically expedient purposes that I don’t agree with,” Roy said, explaining his opposition to allowing the immigration measure to pass on its own.

The only acceptable solution, he argued, was to include this in the foreign aid package.

Johnson said that was simply not possible.

“I don’t have all my Republicans agreeing on that rule,” he told Fox News on Wednesday. “And that means the only way to get a rule on the table is it’s going to take some Democrats. Well, they’re not for border security. That is not their policy.”

The mutiny in the Rules Committee amounted to a great breach of custom. The panel has traditionally been a speaker’s body, and legislation is typically brought to the floor on a straight party-line vote. Until this Congress, it was considered an inviolable edict that lawmakers never vote against a rule proposed by their party in the House of Representatives — let alone in committee.

But the seeds of that rift were sown last January by McCarthy, who, while grasping for the votes to become chairman, agreed to give the ultraconservatives three seats on the committee — enough to undermine a rule.

The idea was that their bloc on the panel would mean that the far right would have a veto over what the House of Representatives could consider, but the result was that both McCarthy and Johnson bypassed the committee. They have put forward critical measures, such as bills to keep the government funded without any regulations.

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And in the case of the foreign aid bill — like the debt-limit deal McCarthy struck with President Joe Biden last year — they’ve turned to Democrats for the votes needed to advance measures that would help members of would not accept their own party.

Since winning their seats, the three ultraconservatives have largely voted to allow bills they disagreed with to come to a vote. At least one member, Massie, previously said he would not let his personal ideology dictate his vote on the committee.

But Johnson’s determination to advance the foreign aid package changed that.

“Speaker Johnson plans to pass the line for the $100 billion foreign aid package using Democrats on the Judiciary Committee,” Massie, who has now supported Johnson’s impeachment, wrote on social media. “Is he working for the Democrats or the Republicans now?”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has introduced a resolution to impeach Johnson, praised the blockade, citing it as evidence that “people are really done with Johnson’s BS.”

“I am very grateful that Kevin McCarthy has appointed these strong conservatives to the Rules Committee,” she said.

c.2024 The New York Times Company

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