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On security aid, Dems eye an offer Speaker Johnson shouldn’t refuse

In exchange for a vote on a security aid package, Democrats are willing to rescue Speaker Johnson from any far-right efforts to oust him. It's a good deal.


When President Joe Biden hosted meetings with congressional leaders at the White House this week, the point was to work on preventing a government shutdown. By all appearances, those efforts were successful.

But as it turns out, that wasn’t the only topic of conversation.

While there is no publicly available recording of the Oval Office chats, participants have acknowledged the fact that they also discussed a U.S. security aid package, which has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support, and which Speaker Mike Johnson has said he doesn’t intend to bring to the House floor for a vote.

Asked about reports that Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries ganged up on him, Johnson conceded on Fox News last night that that the reports were “pretty accurate.”

But that’s hardly the only pressure the GOP’s House leader is facing. Politico reported this week that the leaders of 23 European parliaments are also imploring the Republican House speaker to take up the Senate bill in order to help prevent Russia from taking Ukraine by force.

To be sure, the larger political dynamic isn’t mysterious. Johnson knows, just as we all know, that if he brought the Senate’s aid package to the House floor, it would pass with relative ease and Ukraine would benefit. By all appearances, the speaker isn’t allowing that vote to happen because he’s afraid of his right-wing members — some of whom have already floated the idea of ousting Johnson from his leadership post.

But what if the House speaker could govern responsibly without fear?

Axios reported last week that Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, one of Congress’ most moderate Democrats, had begun circulating a resolution that effectively offered Johnson a deal: If the speaker agreed to hold a vote on the bipartisan security aid package, Democrats would offer enough votes to defeat any far-right efforts to strip Johnson of his gavel.

When Republican members went after then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy with a motion to vacate the chair, the Democratic minority refused to throw McCarthy a political life-preserver. Five months later, Gottheimer effectively told Johnson, “We didn’t save McCarthy, but for a small price, we would save you.”

As The New York Times reported, the New Jersey Democrat isn’t the only one talking about this possibility.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader, said on Wednesday that he believed “a reasonable number” of lawmakers in his party would protect Speaker Mike Johnson from removal from his post if he allowed a vote on a foreign aid bill that includes money for Ukraine and faced a Republican mutiny as a result.

“It does seem to me,” Jeffries told the Times, “based on informal conversations, that were Speaker Johnson to do the right thing relative to meeting the significant national security needs of the American people by putting it on the floor for an up-or-down vote, there will be a reasonable number of people in the House Democratic Caucus who will take the position that he should not fall as a result.”

The message to the Louisiana Republican couldn’t be much clearer: He could govern responsibly on this issue without losing his job.

The question then becomes whether Johnson actually wants to govern responsibly on this issue.