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What is Johnson Thinking?

Johnson’s foreign aid will cost the American taxpayer $95 billion. Conservatives are at their breaking point.

President Biden Delivers State Of The Union Address

House Speaker Mike Johnson has finally unveiled his foreign aid package. His plan to get it across the finish line, however, remains less clear.

There are three main bills in Johnson’s package that will provide aid to Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific respectively. Although the supposed urgency for this aid package stems from Iran’s strikes on Israel, the bulk of the package’s funding, just over $60 billion worth, is aimed towards Ukraine. Israel receives quite the chunk of change, however: $26 billion courtesy of the American taxpayer. The Indo-Pacific region gets just over $8 billion. This brings the total price tag of Johnson’s foreign aid bonanza to $95 billion. Sound familiar?


The resounding answer for conservatives in the House is yes. Johnson’s future hangs in the balance, and his conservative wing is nearly out of patience.

“This latest ‘America last’ package is just another failure of leadership,” Rep. Bob Good (R-VA), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told The American Conservative in a phone interview. “We're going to borrow nearly $100 billion that we don't have to further exacerbate our debt situation to defend Ukraine's border, along with other countries, to pass this with predominantly Democrat votes.”

The package, Good said, “[does] not to do anything for America, not to do anything to keep us more safe and secure, not to keep our promise to fight for border security.”

The first bill, the Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, provides Israel “$26.38 billion to support Israel in its effort to defend itself against Iran and its proxies,” per a readout from House GOP appropriators. The U.S. will provide $4 billion to replenish the Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defense systems, $1.2 billion for the Iron Bram defense system, $3.5 billion for procurement of more advanced weapons systems, $1 billion for artillery and munitions production, $2.4 billion for U.S. operations in the region, and $4.4 billion to replace weapons provided to Israel from U.S. stockpiles. Finally, a sweetener for Democrats: $9 billion is directed towards humanitarian relief.


The second is titled the Ukraine Security Supplemental Appropriations Act. GOP appropriators claim that $13.8 billion will be directed towards “the procurement of advanced weapons systems, defense articles, and defense services”; another $26 million will be for oversight of U.S. aid to Ukraine.

Then there is $11.3 billion for current U.S. military operations in the region. But what are those operations? Have the nature of these operations been made clear to members of Congress? If so, why haven’t legislators talked about them? This fraught question might have something to do with it: What kind of U.S. personnel are involved?

The Ukraine supplemental also provides for $23.2 billion to replenish U.S. stockpiles, which is far short of the investment necessary to bring U.S. stockpiles back to pre-war levels. A large amount of the money appropriated for U.S. weapons procurement, however, is transferable to other limited purposes should the executive branch deem fit. To make matters worse, the alleged replenishment of U.S. stockpiles is predicated on providing even more aid to Ukraine. The Ukraine supplemental increases the presidential drawdown authority from $100 million to nearly $8 billion for fiscal year 2024.

Johnson seems eager to give Biden the unilateral authority to continue America’s involvement in two foreign wars. Both Ukraine and Israel supplementals include identical increases to the presidential drawdown authority.

The Ukraine supplemental also provides nearly $500 million for refugee entrance and assistance.

Furthermore, most of these appropriations creep well into 2025, potentially limiting a future Trump administration’s diplomatic options, just as Sen. J.D. Vance warned in this magazine’s pages.

“We ought to not be passing legislation that impacts past early in the year once the Trump administration gets the opportunity to get their team in place and their appointees confirmed and on the job and running,” Good told TAC. “President Trump obviously has a very different view of Ukraine than President Biden or even half of the Republicans in the House.”

Sadly, from Good’s point of view, “apparently Speaker Johnson seems to want Ukraine [aid] as much as Democrats do”—even if that means handcuffing a future Trump administration.

Trump, trying to avoid literal handcuffs in a New York courtroom over the next few weeks, posted on Truth Social,

Why isn’t Europe giving more money to help Ukraine? Why is it that the United States is over $100 Billion Dollars into the Ukraine War more than Europe, and we have an Ocean between us as separation! Why can’t Europe equalize or match the money put in by the United States of America in order to help a Country in desperate need? As everyone agrees, Ukrainian Survival and Strength should be much more important to Europe than to us, but it is also important to us! GET MOVING EUROPE! In addition, I am the only one who speaks for ‘ME’ and, while it is a total mess caused by Crooked Joe Biden and the Incompetent Democrats, if I were President, this War would have never started!

Finally, the Indo-Pacific Security Supplemental Appropriations Act would provide $3.3 billion for submarine infrastructure, $2 billion for Taiwan and other regional partners, $542 million to strengthen U.S. capabilities in the region, and $1.9 billion to replenish U.S. stockpiles.

But that’s not all—there are two other bills the House might take up.

The fourth bill, titled the 21st Century Peace through Strength Act, is a grab-bag of middle-of-the-road GOP foreign policy items. This bill includes REPO provisions for the seizure and use of Russian assets to fund America’s involvement in Ukraine, the TikTok sale or ban, and a litany of sanctions targeting Iranian leaders, Iranian industries, and proxies throughout the region.

The fifth bill is a watered-down version of HR 2, the border security bill passed out of the House earlier this Congress.

At first glance, it might appear that Johnson is attaching real border security to Ukraine aid. While Johnson wishes the GOP base to believe that, the facts are less compelling.

“The fifth bill, that’s the pretend, weakened, border Security, so to speak, but it’s not going to have any leverage attached to it,” Good said. “The Senate will just ignore that fifth bill of course and not take it up. It’s showmanship, it’s theater. I think this further diminishes the speaker before the Republicans across the country.”

Much remains up in the air on Capitol Hill, but Johnson seems to be pursuing a procedural maneuver that leaves border security on the outside looking in, as Good suggests. Johnson’s idea is to pass two rules. One will govern the House’s consideration of the border security bill. The other rule will lump together the first four bills—Ukraine aid, Israel aid, Indo-Pacific aid, and the 21st Century Peace through Strength Act. That rule will govern how the GOP considers these pieces of legislation and will probably result in whichever of these four bills that pass on the House floor getting bundled together and presented as one bill to the Senate, a procedural maneuver known as a MIRV (for “Multiple-Impact Reentry Vehicle,” a type of multi-warhead missile payload—this is what passes for humor among parliamentarians).

“The MIRV process is just completely ridiculous,” Rachel Bovard of the Conservative Partnership Institute told TAC.

That is why House conservatives seem to be trolling the amendment process. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has offered an amendment to Israel aid that would fund “space laser technology on the southern border.” Greene is also toying with an amendment that would “conscript in the Ukrainian military” any member of the House who votes for Ukraine aid.

Democrats are having fun, too. Rep. Jared Moskowitz proposed an amendment to name Greene, “Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress.”

“[The MIRV] is an interpretive dance, basically, because it allows different coalitions within the House to pass each section. Ukraine can’t get enough votes by itself; Israel, because the Democrats probably can’t get enough votes, doesn’t pass by itself,” Bovard told TAC. “Different components of the legislation pass with different factions. But nobody votes for the final bill.” This Frankensteinian piece of legislation will then be handed over to the Senate.

“This is worse than John Boehner. If you consider John Boehner the peak level of violence against conservatives, Mike Johnson is about to leap that hurdle,” Bovard claimed.

“This is new for me,” Good said of the MIRV. “In my first three years here, I’ve not seen this before. Now I have learned that it’s been used sparingly a few times in recent history over the last 20 years or so. The bills will come under the same rule as separate votes, but then they’re packaged together, the four of them go to the Senate. And so you’ve got Ukraine picking up the lion’s share at $60 billion.”

Border security is unlikely to be attached to one of the foreign aid bills or covered in the MIRV.  It looks as if GOP voters’ number one priority will again take a backseat to the border security of a foreign nation.

“It’s the same song, second verse, isn’t it?” Good said, likening Johnson’s foreign aid package to the Senate’s $95 billion package passed in February.

The text of the rule that will govern this process is not publicly available yet. Currently, the House Rules Committee is deadlocked. The conservative contingent of the Rules Committee, Reps. Chip Roy and Thomas Massie, refused Wednesday evening to go along with passing a rule for the border security bill because it would not be attached to the foreign aid package.

The event revealed the true priorities of some GOP House members.

“The three members who refuse to support the Speaker’s agenda should resign from the Rules Committee immediately,” Rep. Mike Lawler tweeted. “If they refuse, they should be removed immediately. They are there on behalf of the conference, not themselves.”

“Sorry, not sorry, for opposing a crappy rule that is a show vote / cover vote for funding Ukraine instead of border security,” Roy replied.

Getting rid of Roy and company on the Rules Committee is easier said than done. “Because the House approves committee assignments, changing them also requires a vote of House,” Bovard told TAC. “Johnson could try. He’s made his alliance with hawks and appropriators, so maybe they help him.”

On the other hand, getting rid of Johnson might prove relatively easy. 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has a motion to vacate primed in the hopper. All the Georgia Republican has to do is ask for privilege to trigger the motion, and leadership has a 48 hour window to give Greene’s motion a vote. Greene has courted a key ally in Massie, who previously announced he’d cosponsor the motion after Johnson caved on warrant requirements in FISA reauthorization.

“If [the motion to vacate] is triggered, after everything has just gone on, there's going to be conservatives who will have a hard time not supporting it if the vote is put in front of them,” Bovard said.

“The battle lines were very clear at the end,” an unnamed GOP lawmaker told the Washington Post. “It was very clear [the motion to vacate] will be brought if the speaker’s plan proceeds.”

Yet Johnson might use the MIRV process to change the rules on the motion to vacate. As it stands now, a single member can file a motion to vacate the speaker, a concession conservatives squeezed out of the ill-fated Kevin McCarthy in the speakership fight at the beginning of the current Congress. Johnson and some of his allies are reportedly considering using the rules that govern the foreign aid package to change the number of members needed to trigger a motion to vacate. Alternatively, Johnson might also consider changes that limit the motion to vacate to members in leadership. Then there’s what Bovard described as “completely nuclear”: “It’s possible that they turn off the privilege [for the motion to vacate] in the rule.”

“Speaker Johnson plans also to kill the motion to vacate procedural device, with Democrat votes, IN THE PENDING RULE,” Rep. Dan Bishop tweeted. “No Republican who is not an avowed double agent will survive politically after voting for that rule.”

Yet Johnson announced on X, formerly Twitter, that he would not be changing the motion to vacate rules. “Since the beginning of the 118th Congress, the House rule allowing a Motion to Vacate from a single member has harmed this office and our House majority,” the speaker’s tweet read. “Recently, many members have encouraged me to endorse a new rule to raise this threshold. While I understand the importance of that idea, any rule change requires a majority of the full House, which we do not have. We will continue to govern under the existing rules.”

If the speaker changes his mind, don’t expect House conservatives to be surprised. They’ve come to regard Johnson as a flip-flopper. “Previously, the speaker was for paying for supplementals. Now he's against paying for them. He was for using the Ukraine supplemental to leverage border security. Now, he does not want to do that. He was for paying for Israel aid as a standalone. Now, he does not want to do that. So here we are, again, letting down the American people,” Good told TAC. “We said the border was the hill we would die on. Now we’re just dying politically for the Democrat priorities.”

If Johnson does stick to his promise, don’t expect conservatives to thank him either. Johnson will need to do a lot more to assuage their concerns with his leadership.

Where does that leave Johnson, then?

Johnson could decide to side with his own conference to pass the rules and the bills that fall under them. If he does that, he will have to attach border security to Ukraine aid, separate the foreign aid bills out, and be willing to let the legislation die in the Senate (adding border security to Ukraine aid would effectively kill the legislation). 

The other option, siding with Democrats, is more likely. It won’t be the speaker’s first time doing so. So far, Johnson has denied courting Democratic support. “I have not asked a single Democrat to get involved in that at all. I do not spend time walking around thinking about the motion,” Johnson said, according to POLITICO.

Siding with Democrats would almost guarantee the motion to vacate would be triggered. “I don’t think that’s a sustainable position,” Good said of Democrats saving the Republican speaker, POLITICO reported. Massie agrees: “They will doom him.… They won’t save him. How is that sustainable?” 

“If his speakership depends on Democrats it becomes harder for [Republicans] to vote for him in subsequent motions to vacate,” the Kentucky Republican added. 

Despite Johnson’s assurances, Good told TAC he expects Democrats to get this legislation over the line. “I think the Democrats will provide as many votes as are needed to pass the rule. They will overwhelmingly vote for the ultimate supplemental package,” Good said. This process “represents the worst of Washington.”

“It's one thing for a rule to pass with Democrat support on the House floor. But it's a different thing to force it out of Rules with minority votes. I don’t think that’s ever happened,” Bovard claimed.

“The Rules Committee is an incredibly partisan committee—the minority always votes against the rule, the majority always supports it,” Bovard explained. “Now, we’re in a situation where the majority doesn’t support it. How Johnson handles this, I don’t know. If he forces a rule out of Rules Committee on the backs of Democrats to fund a war that his conference doesn’t want to fund—”

Bovard paused. “Nobody’s in charge at that point. You don’t have a majority party at that point.”

In Bovard’s estimation, it’s nearing “Joe Cannon levels of tyranny.”

“The Joe Cannon parallels here are creepy,” Bovard explained. “Joe Cannon was the most tyrannical Speaker the House has ever seen. They called him ‘The Czar Speaker.’ In 1910, he basically ran the Rules Committee, ran the house, members had no rights, and the only thing that saved the House from Joe Cannon was a revolt of the members.”

If Johnson doesn’t change course, Bovard told TAC he’s headed for “utter destruction of House practice and tradition.”