Democrats float a trade: Ukraine-border deal for protecting Speaker Johnson

Reply Mon 22 Jan, 2024 12:32 am
Dems float a trade: Ukraine-border deal for protecting Johnson

Published January 19, 2024

With Senate negotiators expected to unveil their elusive bipartisan border deal any day now — and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer floating a vote on the White House’s $106 billion supplemental as soon as next week — the watercooler chatter on Capitol Hill has turned to one elephant-sized question: How the hell do you get this thing past the Republican House?

Speaker Mike Johnson is under tremendous pressure from former President Donald Trump and other conservatives not to give President Joe Biden a win on border security — an issue that has plagued him in the polls — ahead of the 2024 election. And members including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) are openly threatening to oust the Louisiana Republican if he allows a new tranche of Ukraine aid through the House.

But given the stakes in Ukraine and the political fallout from the migrant crisis, some Democrats are considering a once almost unthinkable idea to land the plane: trading a border deal for protecting Johnson’s gavel.

Several Democrats — including House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and border Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) — said yesterday that if Johnson puts the Senate deal on the floor, some in their party would likely step in to make sure he holds on as speaker.

“Our job is not to save Johnson, but I think it would be a mighty pity, if he did the right thing … for us not to support him,” Thompson said. “Up to this point, he’s been a fairly honest broker.”

First off, let’s be clear: There are a million reasons why this idea will probably never come to pass. For one, Johnson is very unlikely to ever go there. He’d utterly ruin his relationship with Trump — not to mention alienate large swaths of his own conference by relying on Democrats to keep his job.

But the fact that some Democrats are even talking about the idea shows how desperate they are to find a solution. The party knows that time is running out to help Ukraine. And they’re getting pummeled on the border issue politically and need to do something to alleviate the situation.

It might seem like a major change in thinking from just a few months ago, when Democrats refused to lift a finger to help Kevin McCarthy keep his speakership. But more than half-dozen senior Democratic aides and lawmakers told us that there is a huge difference between the two men.

For one, Democrats largely viewed McCarthy as a bad-faith actor who lied to them and was instrumental in resurrecting Trump after Jan. 6. Johnson, they note, hasn’t shown himself to be untrustworthy, even if he’s even more conservative than McCarthy.

“People really underestimate the degree to which people really didn’t like Kevin McCarthy,” said Smith, who has personally implored Johnson to find a way to yes on a border deal. “The argument I've made to Mike is: You're going to make an enormous amount of progress on the border however this comes out — and you’ve still got your political issue because you think there's more that needs to be done.”

Not all Democrats agree. Some told us that Johnson would likely be asked to pay some sort of political ransom in the form of a power-sharing agreement, more committee seats or other rules changes. But, realistically, Johnson wouldn’t need all Democrats— only a few to counter the Republicans who vote to oust him. (Note: For McCarthy, that was eight.)

Democrats aren’t the only ones desperate to find a path through the House for the supplemental agreement. Some Republicans truly want to see Ukraine aid pass, while others are eager to provide relief to constituents in overrun and exhausted border towns. Already, a host of Republicans are hitting TV airwaves to counter the pressure from the right to hold off on border legislation till after the election.

“I am looking for solutions now, not a year from now,” Texas border Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican, told us.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) was even more blunt, arguing that delaying progress for political purposes is, essentially, gross.

“My question to those Republicans … is: How many hundreds of thousands of illegals would you allow in the country just because it might help your chances of the election?” he said. “I ran for Congress literally on getting the border secure. So if I have a chance to do that, and I don't do that, I'm a traitor.”

Yet there isn’t much these members can do if Johnson either (1) refuses to take up the Senate deal or (2) brings it up but attaches H.R. 2 provisions that will never pass the Senate, effectively killing it. There isn’t an easy way to make an end-run around the speaker.

Lawmakers in both parties told us yesterday that there’s no hope for a discharge petition to force a vote on a Senate deal. Republicans are too skittish to go against Trump and their own leadership. And Democrats readily admit that dozens of progressives and Hispanic Caucus members won’t support the deal at all because of the policy changes it's likely to include and a process that did not include their input.

“I think it's dead on arrival in the House,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a skeptic of the deal.

Some Republicans say it wouldn’t come to that, however. Crenshaw, for example, was adamant that even if Johnson is staying in touch with Trump and other border-deal opponents — and despite Greene’s threat of a motion to vacate — that the speaker wants to get to yes.

“I know how Johnson actually thinks, and he’s of the same opinion I am here,” Crenshaw told us.

Democrats? They’re not so sure.

“He's got to decide if he’s going to do what’s right — or he’s going to do what’s politically expedient to just keep himself there for another — er, I don't know how long,” Vicente Gonzalez said.

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Real Music
Reply Mon 22 Jan, 2024 12:43 am
The 'Freedom Caucus doesn't understand they have a majority in name only': Rep. Becca Balint.

Rep. Becca Balint joins Jonathan Capehart to discuss Congress kicking the can down the road by extending government funding deadlines until March and the Freedom Caucus members opposing cooperation with Democrats and threatening to oust Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson.

Published Jan 21, 2024

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Real Music
Reply Mon 22 Jan, 2024 12:52 am
House Speaker Johnson, R-La., is facing pressure former President Trump and conservatives to reject a bipartisan border and Ukraine aid package, yet Senate Republicans and the White House are pushing for the deal. The Morning Joe panel discusses.

Published Jan 19, 2024

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Real Music
Reply Mon 22 Jan, 2024 01:27 am
Speaker Johnson feels heat from Trump, conservatives to reject Senate border deal

Published January 18, 2024

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is under pressure from conservatives and former President Trump to reject an emerging bipartisan border and Ukraine aid package even as he gets the squeeze from the Senate GOP and White House.

Republican senators in support of the deal argue that the leverage of Ukraine aid has given them a unique opportunity to secure key border reforms from a Democratic administration, but the former president, who Johnson says he has consulted, is urging him to reject any legislation that isn’t “perfect.”

The situation leaves little space to operate for the Speaker, who retains a historically slim House majority and is already dealing with rumblings about a move to oust him.

The Speaker emerged from a White House meeting with President Biden and congressional leaders Wednesday — which Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said appeared designed to “strong-arm” him into accepting the Senate deal — remaining highly critical of its reported contents and renewing his calls for Biden to take executive actions at the border.

“If the bill looks like some of the things that have been rumored, of course it’s dead in the House, because it wouldn’t solve the problem,” Johnson said Wednesday on CNN.

Yet Johnson did not completely shut the door on the deal, saying that he needs to wait to see the text of any bill and could not answer questions about a hypothetical.

As he faces pressure on multiple fronts, Johnson insisted on Fox News: “No one is strong-arming me.”

Many House Republicans are more than willing to rule out a border measure that does not go as far as their Secure the Border Act — a sweeping migration policy bill that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said would be dead on arrival in the upper chamber.

The Senate deal is expected to include changes to asylum policy, but negotiators have said that the issue of humanitarian parole is a major sticking point in the talks.

And in a presidential election year, some Republicans say a deal could neutralize a potent political issue for their party.

“The worst thing we could do is to 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,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), chair of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, said of the Senate border deal.

Democrats and the Biden administration, Good later added, “want to look like they care about the border then run out the clock and hope that he wins reelection so they never have to implement what they’re not going to implement anyway.”

The most important of the border deal critics is Trump, who posted late Wednesday on his Truth Social website that he expects Johnson to “only make a deal that is PERFECT ON THE BORDER.”

Fox News host Laura Ingraham said Wednesday night that the former president is “extremely adamant” that the Speaker should be against the deal and that the president can take executive action on the border without “some new bill.”

“President Trump is not wrong,” Johnson responded. “He and I have been talking about this pretty frequently.”

Republicans supportive of the deal in the Senate hope that Johnson will shift, and they point to other issues on which the Speaker has made a move.

He ushered through a second short-term stopgap Thursday after previously expressing opposition to doing so in November, and he backtracked on plans to put two competing reforms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on the House floor after conservatives expressed opposition.

Yet it is those changes, along with other legislative moves, that have caused subtle threats of a motion to vacate — a move to force a vote to oust the Speaker — to bubble up.

With several vacancies and expected absences, just a handful of GOP defections threatens not only any party-line legislation, but Johnson’s job.

“If things continue to go the way that they’re going, do I think that’s a possible outcome? Absolutely,” Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), one of the eight Republicans who joined with Democrats to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), said of a possible move to oust Johnson.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) also told reporters that she would make a motion to vacate Johnson herself if he pushed through Ukraine aid.

“If he funds $60 billion to fund a war in Ukraine to continue killing a whole generation of Ukrainian men, to continue a war that is a losing war … Yeah, I would introduce the motion to vacate myself,” Greene told reporters.

Johnson, for his part, said he is “not worried” about Greene’s threat to oust him.

But rejecting a Senate deal may be one of the few ways he has to build goodwill with the right flank.

In addition to rejecting calls from members of the Freedom Caucus last week to back out of a top-line spending deal with Democrats, Johnson also dismissed a last-minute pitch from the Freedom Caucus to bring up a vote on a border security amendment before passing a short-term stopgap funding bill Thursday.

The pitched amendment would have been a response, in part, to the Senate deal, but would have been a drastic change in plans just hours before the scheduled vote.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said that after Johnson’s rejection, he is worried that the Speaker might accept the Senate border deal.

“We wanted it part of the spending. He just didn’t do it,” Norman said.

Not all of those in the House GOP, however, are against what seems to be emerging in the Senate, and they also see opportunity to use the White House’s desire for Ukraine aide as a leverage point.

“That would be the fear — that just like the Democrats should have regretted the deal that they could have cut 15 years ago, and they walked away — likewise, the Republicans are in a similar position here,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.).

McHenry dismissed arguments that passing the Senate border deal would nullify Republicans’ ability to campaign on border issues in 2024.

“Frankly, Democrats are not going to vote for a border wall. And that’s what the American people want. And that’s the ripest, most fruitful politics for a Republican nominee for president to campaign on. That’s going to be available,” McHenry said.

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