House Democrats Help Mike Johnson Tee Up Ukraine Aid for a Vote

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From the Dispatch Politics on The Dispatch

Happy Friday! Rep. Morgan McGarvey of Kentucky introduced an adorable new Capitol Hill reporter Thursday. The competition for scoops just got a little tougher.

Up to Speed

  • Former President Donald Trump’s campaign this week requested that down-ballot candidates give at least 5 percent of their earnings from fundraising appeals that use his name, image, or likeness to Trump’s joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee, Politico reported Wednesday. “Any split that is higher than 5 percent will be seen favorably by the RNC and President Trump’s campaign and is routinely reported to the highest levels of leadership within both organizations,” Trump campaign senior advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles added in a letter dated Monday. Notably, candidates would send the money to the joint fundraising committee, which Dispatch Politics has previously reported is not likely a major source of payment for Trump’s legal fees.

  • Robert F. Kennedy Jr. qualified for the ballot in Michigan after the Natural Law Party named him its candidate for the November election. Michigan is the eighth state in which Kennedy has gained ballot access, the Detroit Free Press reported Thursday. Some Democrats fear Kennedy could siphon votes away from President Joe Biden in the key swing state and make it easier for Trump to win there. Biden, meanwhile, attended an event in Philadelphia Thursday where members of the Kennedy family—including Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s sister Kerry—endorsed the president.

  • The Democrat-controlled Senate on Wednesday dismissed articles of impeachment against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that the Republican majority in the House passed in February on the grounds that the secretary failed to enforce immigration law and undermined public trust. Democrats contended that Republicans impeached Mayorkas simply because of a policy disagreement, while GOP senators railed against Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s choice to hold a vote to dismiss the charges without conducting a trial.

  • Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Republican of Kansas, announced Thursday that he will not seek reelection in November after serving two terms in Congress, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. He will serve out the rest of his time in the House. LaTurner joins a significant number of Republicans who have resigned or retired this term. As Dispatch Politics observed last month, the number is not quite record-breaking compared to other Congresses, but the number of resigning and retiring Republicans who were seen as rising stars in the party is notable.

  • Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin will likely stay past his scheduled resignation date to help pass aid to Taiwan, Israel, and Ukraine this weekend, representing a much needed vote for Speaker Mike Johnson’s agenda. Gallagher had initially planned to resign today, further shrinking the GOP majority until one of two Republicans vying to replace former Speaker Kevin McCarthy wins the runoff for the special election next month.

Mike Johnson’s Unusual Coalition Takes Shape 

House Speaker Mike Johnson arrives for a news conference in the U.S. Capitol after the House passed the foreign aid package rule on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
House Speaker Mike Johnson arrives for a news conference in the U.S. Capitol after the House passed the foreign aid package rule on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

This week, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson came out forcefully in favor of U.S. aid to help Ukrainians fight the Russian invasion of their country—a move that could cost Johnson his speakership without the support of House Democrats.

“I’m doing here what I believe to be the right thing. I think providing lethal aid to Ukraine right now is critically important,” Johnson said at a press conference on Wednesday. “I really do believe the intel and the briefings that we’ve gotten. I believe Xi [Jinping] and Vladimir Putin and Iran really are an axis of evil. I think they’re in coordination on this. I think that Vladimir Putin would continue to march through Europe if he were allowed. I think he might go to the Balkans next. I think he might have a showdown with Poland or one of our [other] NATO allies. To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys.”

After months of dragging his feet on Ukraine aid, Johnson’s rhetoric was surprising to some political observers. From the earliest days of his speakership, Johnson had warned Putin would push beyond Ukraine if not stopped there, but he also insisted any Ukraine aid package be paired with legislation to beef up security at the U.S. southern border.

On Thursday, Johnson finally stated the obvious about immigration politics: “We want the border to be a part of every single thing we do here, but it’s just a matter of math. I just don’t have the votes. If I put Ukraine in any package, it can’t also be with [the] border because I lose Republican votes on that rule” to bring the legislation up for a floor vote. “My friends don’t get that.”

Those friends, of course, are the populist wing of the House GOP, including many members of the Freedom Caucus. Late Thursday night, three hard-right House Republicans—Chip Roy of Texas, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky—were so outraged by Johnson’s move that they voted in the Rules Committee against bringing legislation to the floor that would allow separate votes on aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Under the rule, a fourth bill requiring TikTok to be sold by its Chinese owner also would come up for a vote, and the four bills would then be joined together for a vote on final passage. A separate vote on border security, not tied to foreign aid bills, also will be held.

In an incredibly rare move, House Democrats provided the votes to pass the bill out of committee late Thursday night. On Friday, the House approved the rule 316-94—with a coalition of 151 Republicans and 165 Democrats voting yes—setting up final passage of the legislation this weekend in the House.

Johnson’s wheeling and dealing to get Ukraine aid over the finish line has exposed the fissures within the House GOP over the issue—and how he will likely need the support of Democrats to remain in his job.

At the very fringe of the House GOP caucus are members adamantly opposed to any military aid to Ukraine. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Paul Gosar of Arizona have threatened to bring a “motion to vacate”—the procedure that eight House Republicans and all House Democrats used to oust Kevin McCarthy from the speakership in October 2023. But House Democrats are signaling they’d have Johnson’s back—at least for now.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California told The Dispatch on Thursday: “I have to think that if the speaker does the right thing and brings up Ukraine funding, there are going to be a lot of members of our caucus that don’t want him punished for that. But that’s a conversation we’ll have as a caucus before we make any decisions.”

Would House Democrats be willing to protect Johnson from a motion to vacate for the rest of the year? “We want a governing and governable House and so, you know, our actions will be taken consistent with wanting to deliver for people,” Schiff replied.

A much larger faction of Republicans opposes the foreign aid bill—because, they say, they still want to use Ukraine aid as leverage to get something done on the U.S. border—while also opposing the motion to vacate. New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew—who told The Dispatch on Thursday he was sympathetic to Ukraine but wanted the bill tied to U.S. border security and focused solely on military aid to Ukraine—said he nevertheless opposes ousting Johnson. “I don’t agree with a lot of what [Johnson] is doing but he was dealt a bad hand,” Van Drew said.

“I think the prudent thing to do would be to have that contest [for speaker] in November after the election,” Virginia Rep. Bob Good, who supported the motion to oust McCarthy, told reporters on Thursday. Good urged Johnson to bring up H.R. 2—the House GOP’s border bill passed on a party-line vote in 2023—tied to a smaller Ukraine package that included only military aid.

“I think the right thing to do is pass Israel [aid] alone and tie Ukraine to something positive on the border,” GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio told The Dispatch on Thursday. Why should the House hold Ukraine aid hostage to border security but not Israel aid? “Because everyone’s for Israel—we need to help our dearest and closest friend,” Jordan replied.

When Freedom Caucus members in January 2023 were negotiating with McCarthy on what it would take for them to vote to make him speaker, one key demand was that there would be an open amendment process that would allow the House to work its will. So why are so many Freedom Caucus members so strongly opposed to letting a majority of the House hold separate votes on Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan?

“The majority should be able to work its will if you’re going to follow actual regular order, which this is not,” Roy told The Dispatch. “If you want to put Ukraine on the floor right now with a straight up-or-down vote—offer amendments, open rule—OK, let’s have at it. I don’t think we should without securing the border first. I think there are political consequences of that. … But for me if you’re going to put a package together, which this is—make no mistake about it, this is a package—then you should include the border in it because that was your promise to the American people.”

When Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz was asked why the majority of the House shouldn’t be able to vote on Ukraine aid, he replied: “A majority of Republicans didn’t [support Ukraine aid] last time we voted on it, including Mike Johnson.”

It’s important to remember, of course, that the loudest voices opposing Ukraine aid are not representative of the party as a whole. In a Truth Social post on Thursday, Trump grumbled that Europe was not providing more aid to Ukraine while still acknowledging the U.S. has an interest in the conflict: “As everyone agrees, Ukrainian Survival and Strength should be much more important to Europe than to us, but it is also important to us!”

Saturday’s vote will reveal just how large or small the pro-Ukraine faction of the House GOP remains two years after the start of the war. New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, who supports aid, told The Dispatch he thinks the conference is about evenly split. California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa said of aid to Ukrainians: “We need to pass it before they’re all dead.” Issa expressed frustration with his colleagues opposed to even holding a vote, telling The Dispatch: “I’ve never lobbied against having a vote. I’ve lobbied for amendments being allowed.”

Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas posted on X (formerly Twitter) on Thursday: “To be clear, [Johnson is] being threatened for even allowing a vote to come to the floor. For allowing the constitutional process to play out as intended by our Founders. That’s a wild thing to consider, especially when his enemies consider themselves ‘conservative.’ They are not conserving the constitutional process our Founders created, that’s for sure. Conserving Putin’s gains on the battlefield, is more like it.”

But there’s no doubt that in a very narrowly divided House, a critical mass of Republicans now oppose Johnson. Gaetz, who sponsored the motion to vacate the speakership in October, crowed at the time that he had made “MAGA Mike Johnson” speaker. Gaetz told The Dispatch on Thursday that Johnson was still “clearly” an improvement over McCarthy because he allowed an impeachment vote on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “Unfortunately, Mike Johnson did not provide an improvement over Speaker McCarthy on spending and foreign policy,” he added. Does Gaetz think the speaker is no longer “MAGA Mike” Johnson?

“It’s, uh, to be seen, I guess,” Gaetz said.

Later, outside the Capitol, Gaetz was asked who could do a better job than Johnson. “I don’t know,” Gaetz told reporters. “Miss [Lauren] Boebert could do better,” he quickly added, referring to the Colorado congresswoman standing by his side.

Trump on Trial: What to Expect Next Week

We’ve reached the end of the first week of Donald Trump’s Manhattan hush-money trial with the seating of 12 jurors. Now that the preliminary processes of the historic criminal trial are largely over (alternative jurors are still being selected), Judge Juan Merchan has said opening statements could begin as soon as Monday.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to payments he made to his former lawyer Michael Cohen. Cohen then paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 in October 2016— just before the presidential election—as part of an agreement that the adult-film actress would not discuss publicly an affair she alleged she had with Trump in 2006.

Over at The Collision this week, Sarah and Mike previewed what to look out for once the prosecution and defense get to the meat of their arguments:

Remember, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump in April 2023 with 34 counts of falsifying business records, all stemming from payments Trump made to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen. Trump recorded these payments in business records as legal retainers, but they were in fact reimbursements to Cohen for hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels—a porn star who claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006—and others. Because the statute of limitations for misdemeanor charges related to these payments had run out, Bragg indicted Trump on felony charges—meaning he will also need to prove that Trump made the false entries to cover up another crime.

To secure a conviction, therefore, Bragg will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump falsely classified the payments to Cohen as a legal retainer because he believed that recording the real reason for the payments could implicate him in possible election or tax crimes.

Trump has some paths to beating the rap here, and it may all stem from the unreliability of Cohen, now the prosecution’s key witness:

First, they can convince a juror—they only need one—that these really were routine legal payments to Cohen and not reimbursement for the hush money payments to Daniels. That’s going to be a hard row to hoe. Cohen is going to testify that there was no way he was paying Daniels $130,000 out of pocket and that he’s got plenty of receipts, as the kids say, but also literal receipts that he submitted for reimbursement.

But the prosecution does have one problem. Cohen is the star witness in the case—and he’s not the most reliable guy. Cohen has admitted to lying in court, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, and evaded taxes for years. The defense will also have endless examples of Cohen lying to the media and public. In short, Cohen is a crook’s crook.

Be sure to read the whole newsletter, and if you don’t already, subscribe to The Collision for reporting and analysis of this and all of Trump’s legal issues.

Notable and Quotable

“I want to commend Speaker Mike Johnson, who I consider a personal friend, for demonstrating moral courage in this moment, in a very difficult time.”

—Former Vice President Mike Pence, commenting on Speaker Mike Johnson’s travails to pass Ukraine aid, April 18, 2024

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