Mike Johnson’s make-or-break moment: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, senior national political reporter Sahil Kapur looks at a make-or-break week for House Speaker Mike Johnson. Plus, on day 2 of Donald Trump's hush money trial, national political correspondent Steve Kornacki breaks down how the site of the proceedings, Manhattan, has become a voter gold mine for Democrats.

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Mike Johnson faces his most perilous moment yet as House speaker

By Sahil Kapur

House Speaker Mike Johnson faces the biggest threat to his gavel nearly six months into the job, with the walls closing in from both sides of his divided Republican Party on providing aid to U.S. allies.

After wavering for months and exhausting his timeouts, he’s finally calling the play: a trigger for separate votes on four bills — assistance for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and a hodgepodge of other national security priorities important to Republicans.

Each one will have a unique coalition, and that’s the point.

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In theory, Israel aid can pass with mostly Republicans, over progressive opposition. Ukraine aid — structured as a loan — can pass with mostly Democrats, over conservative opposition. The GOP opponents of assisting Ukraine can vote against it, and the GOP proponents of giving the country weapons to fend off Russian aggression finally get off Johnson’s back.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s public Republican opposition just doubled: Rep. Thomas Massie announced Tuesday that he would co-sponsor Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s motion to remove him as speaker. Massie said he’s “pretty certain” Johnson has more GOP opponents today than the eight who ousted Kevin McCarthy as speaker in October, though he didn’t name names.

“Mike Johnson is going for the Triple Crown here against our base. He has voted for an omnibus that spends more than Pelosi. He’s put his finger on the scales to pass FISA without warrants. And now he’s about to do Ukraine without protecting our own border,” Massie said. “This will get called and he will lose the vote.”

Two votes may not seem like much, but after this Friday, Johnson will have a staggering one-vote majority. Two defections and Johnson loses — unless Democrats step in to rescue him and vote against a motion to vacate. That would be extremely unusual, but some centrist Democrats say they’d do it, especially if Johnson brings up Ukraine aid.

“He’s got to manage his politics. And if they try and kick him out as speaker, I’m going to vote to keep him,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y.

Massie said a Democratic rescue would ultimately do more harm than good to Johnson.

“Then he goes further in the hole with Republicans,” Massie said. “He becomes toxic to the conference. For every Democrat who comes to his aid he’ll lose 2-3 more Republicans. … There’s no sustainable solution where Democrats save him.”

And that sums up Johnson’s dilemma: He can’t govern with his far-right rebels, but he can’t hold on to his job without them. The same dynamic became too much for McCarthy to navigate. Today, Johnson has an even slimmer majority.

Still, he recognizes that he can’t be cowed by such threats or he becomes fully captured by the agitators. And this could be the last major piece of business until the 2024 election, when voters will redetermine the makeup of Congress.

“I am not resigning. And it is in my view an absurd notion that someone would bring a vacate motion when we are simply here trying to do our jobs,” Johnson told reporters. “I am not concerned about this. I am going to do my job.”

First jurors are seated in Trump’s hush money trial

Donald Trump attends jury selection (Curtis Means / Getty Images pool)
Donald Trump attends jury selection (Curtis Means / Getty Images pool)

By Adam Reiss, Dareh Gregorian, Jonathan Allen and Lisa Rubin

The first seven jurors were selected Tuesday in Trump’s hush money trial amid a battle over prospective jurors’ old Facebook posts and calls to “lock him up” and a warning from the judge that the former president should not try to intimidate the panelists who will be deciding his fate.

“I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom. I want to make this crystal clear,” Judge Juan Merchan told Trump and his lawyer Todd Blanche. The judge told Blanche that Trump had “audibly” said something in the direction of a juror while she was “12 feet away from your client.”

Merchan said he didn’t know what Trump said, but that he’d been “muttering” and “gesturing” at the juror, and directed Blanche to talk to his client about his behavior. Blanche then whispered something into Trump’s ear.

The incident underscores Trump’s penchant for acting up in court and the problems his lawyers might have keeping him in check.

The drama came on the second day of jury selection. The jury is anonymous so their names weren’t used in open court, but the panelists include a salesman, an oncology nurse, an IT consultant, a teacher and a software engineer.

Overall, the quest to find a jury of 12 people and six alternates who could be “fair and impartial” when it comes to the polarizing New York native and former commander-in-chief moved at a brisker pace compared to Monday.

The trial doesn’t sit on Wednesdays, so the process will resume on Thursday.

Read more on the second day of the Trump trial here →

Trump needs a different type of swing voter in Manhattan

Analysis by Steve Kornacki

Trump’s legal team argues that the former president faces “real potential prejudice” in his hush money trial because of its venue: Manhattan, the bluest borough in one of the bluest big cities in America.

Whether this could actually have any bearing on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s ability to receive a fair trial is a matter of debate. But simply in terms of its political leanings, Manhattan’s partisan bent is stark.

As a whole, New York City backed Joe Biden over Trump by a 76-23% margin in 2020. But of the five boroughs that comprise the Big Apple, it was Manhattan that produced Biden’s most lopsided margins:

Each of these boroughs features its own particular demographic and political mix. The lone red redoubt of Staten Island, for instance, has by far the smallest population and is more suburban in character, with considerable local support for secession from the rest of the city.

The other four boroughs are densely populated Democratic bastions. But even among these four, Manhattan stands out. Why is it a shade or two bluer than the others? A comparison of its demographics to those of the city as a whole reveals an explanation:

Simply put, compared to New York City overall, Manhattan is whiter and wealthier and contains a much deeper concentration of white residents with college degrees. That’s a demographic mix that, especially in the Trump era, has been political gold for Democrats.

Registered voters in Manhattan (one of the sources from which potential jurors are drawn) are more than 10 times more likely to be Democrats (72%) than Republicans (7%). Political engagement runs higher in Manhattan as well: While it accounts for 19.2% of the city’s population, it represented 22.9% of all New York City votes cast in 2020.

The combination of its size, turnout level and partisan tendencies makes Manhattan one of the biggest single sources of Democratic votes anywhere in the country. To put this in perspective, the 603,040 votes Biden received in Manhattan in 2020 was larger than his total in 20 states.

When it comes to his legal fate in Manhattan, Trump is going to need a very different kind of swing voter.

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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This article was originally published on NBCNews.com