Some House Republicans need this reminder that Russia is not their friend

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There is a major disconnect between two CNN stories on Wednesday about Russia and the US.

► First, read this report from CNN’s Sean Lyngaas about a hacking group with ties to the Russian government that may be responsible for a cyberattack on a Texas water facility, one of several possible attacks on US water facilities about which the federal government has warned.

Key line: “…if it is confirmed that the (Russian intelligence service) GRU or one of its proxies was involved, this would mark an escalation in targeting US critical infrastructure for a Russian group often known for focusing on Ukraine.”

► Then, read the latest from CNN’s Capitol Hill team on the long-stalled effort to provide additional military aid to Ukraine in its war to repel Russia’s invasion. GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson may finally be primed to defy the right wing of his party and allow a bipartisan majority to bless the aid six months after it was requested by the White House.

Key line: “Conservative hardliners were quickly fuming at Johnson for his decision to move ahead with billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine and loudly warning him it could cost him his job.”

What’s clear from the water facility hack is that Russia continues to meddle in the US, either by attacking infrastructure or meddling in elections.

What’s clear from the Ukraine funding story is that a very small minority of lawmakers, with help from right-wing media, does not view Russia as much of a threat.

While it is mostly Republicans who oppose additional funding for Ukraine, they are still a minority, even within their own party. In February, 22 Republicans in the Senate joined all but three Democrats to form a 70-vote majority in favor of the funding. It’s fair to think a similar bipartisan majority would support Ukraine funding in the House’s latest foreign aid package unveiled on Wednesday.

“We’re the greatest nation on the planet and we have to act like it,” Johnson told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview on “The Lead” on Wednesday. He defended his plan, promised a future bill would address the Republican priority of border security and argued that the vast majority of $60 billion in Ukraine aid would go to US defense contractors.

“The responsibility for the free world has been shifted onto our shoulders,” he said, adding US troops would not be committed in Ukraine. “We’re not the world’s policeman.”

Not all Republicans are buying the pitch, and the divide within the GOP over Ukraine is getting more heated, which is jeopardizing Johnson’s ability to lead. CNN’s Capitol Hill team reports that some potential Johnson rivals are quietly positioning themselves in case there is yet another ousted speaker.

Johnson’s Republican critics, meanwhile, are getting louder.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz described Johnson’s strategy, a complicated four-part parliamentary gambit to tie aid for Ukraine with aid for Israel, Taiwan and the US border, as “surrender.”

Texas Rep. Chip Roy didn’t commit to voting to oust Johnson but said he’s “past the point of giving grace” to the still-new speaker.

And they aren’t even the two Republicans who have already said they would soon vote to end Johnson’s speakership, although it’s not clear when.

The first who’s already on the record is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who described Ukraine as “the only country that for some weird, sick and evil reason that they care about.” She was referring to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who has raised the alarm about the threat of Russia to the rest of the world if Ukraine falls.

The other Republican already publicly in favor of ousting Johnson is Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky. He praised Tucker Carlson for that softball interview the former Fox News host conducted with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year. That’s the interview CNN’s media team described as a “propaganda victory” for Putin.

From left, Reps. Ralph Norman, Thomas Massie and Chip Roy are seen in US Capitol office of House Speaker Mike Johnson on April 17. - Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
From left, Reps. Ralph Norman, Thomas Massie and Chip Roy are seen in US Capitol office of House Speaker Mike Johnson on April 17. - Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images

Johnson may need help from moderate Democrats to fend off the effort to oust him, and a few Democrats have said they would break tradition and cross party lines to support him. It’s not clear if Johnson would want the help, since party loyalty is prized in the GOP.

The Russia divide is clearly testing that loyalty. Former Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican from Wyoming, who was ousted for her opposition to former President Donald Trump, has referred to the “Putin wing” of the GOP as a threat to the US.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Puck News this month that Russian propaganda has “infected a good chunk of my party’s base,” threatening the Ukraine aid.

Asked about that propaganda comment by Tapper earlier this month, Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, agreed.

“Oh, it is absolutely true,” he said.

“To the extent that this propaganda takes hold, it makes it more difficult for us to really see this as an authoritarian-versus-democracy battle, which is what it is,” Turner said.

Greene, who former Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado described as “Moscow Marjorie” during one recent CNN interview, has said on conservative media outlets that she is not concerned that Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will spread.

In a post on X this past weekend, she suggested US military funding would go to “Ukrainian Nazis,” repeating a false claim about Ukraine pushed by Putin.

Johnson still has the key support of Trump. The two appeared together at Mar-a-Lago last week, and Johnson has bought into Trump’s proposal to structure some Ukraine aid as a loan rather than direct aid. While Democrats have long complained that Trump shows deference to Putin, Johnson made the argument to Tapper that Trump could negotiate a peace deal in Ukraine.

Johnson said he’s not going to be consumed by thinking about efforts within his own party to oust him. “Right now I gotta do my job,” he said, although he refused to comment on what would happen if Democrats ultimately vote to keep him as speaker. “When you do the right thing, you let the chips fall where they may,” he said.

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