Speaker Mike Johnson feeling pressure from all sides as Ukraine, border measure debate continues

 January 19, 2024

Amid ongoing negotiations on legislation combining aid to Ukraine and action on the southern border crisis, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) is attempting to strike a balance among the White House, Senate Republicans, and congressional conservatives, with some in the latter group threatening to leave him out in the cold if things don't go their way, as The Hill reports.

The emerging deal on an emergency supplemental measure has garnered support from some Republican senators who believe that the inclusion of Ukraine aid affords them a rare chance to achieve critical border security objectives via concessions from the White House.

Almost certainly weighing on Johnson's mind, however, is criticism from current 2024 Republican front-runner and former President Donald Trump, who has cautioned the speaker to say no to deals that he believes are less than perfect.

Trump's stance, along with criticism from hardline conservative members in the lower chamber have put Johnson in a difficult position, particularly given that some in those ranks have spoken of a potential motion to vacate the speaker's chair if he proceeds with the agreement under its current contours.

As The Hill noted separately, a meeting took place at the White House on Wednesday in which Johnson and other key leaders received a briefing from security experts on the current situation in Ukraine.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) later opined that the event was meant primarily to “strong-arm” Johnson into capitulating to the upper chamber's version of the measure, and he also noted that if it included some of the provisions that have been rumored in recent days, it would be dead on arrival in the House anyway.

Johnson, for his part, said during an appearance on Fox News, “No one is strong-arming me.”

Even so, there is no denying the pressure being applied to Johnson from seemingly all corners, with Freedom Caucus member Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) explaining, “The worst thing we could do is give the appearance that we've done something on border security, to give the American people false hope and a false impression that we've done something that will make a difference.”

Trump added his take on his Truth Social platform, saying that Johnson must “only make a deal that is PERFECT ON THE BORDER,” and that Biden has a duty to take executive action on the crisis regardless of the status of aid to Ukraine or anything else.

Perhaps making matters all the more stressful for Johnson are comments from some on the conservative flank of his party suggesting that he could meet the same fate as ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was the target of a successful motion to vacate mere months ago.

Firebrand Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is among the most outspoken of those vowing to impose consequences on Johnson in the event he signs on to a deal she finds unsatisfactory.

The conservative lawmaker promised to “introduce the motion to vacate” herself if a spending package involving aid to Ukraine is passed on Johnson's watch.

Arizona Republican Rep. Eli Crane declared the motion process “a good tool” and said, “If things continue to go the way that they're going, do I think that's a possible outcome? Absolutely.”

Johnson, for his part, is working to project confidence, saying last week, “I don't think I'm in any jeopardy of being vacated. It's not something I walk around and think about,” and given that there is a fairly substantial number of Democrats who may be willing to help him keep the gavel in the event of a challenge, he may be proven correct.