McConnell encourages Johnson amid growing divide among GOP leaders

During a closed-door meeting at the White House on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged House Speaker Mike Johnson to consider passing the Senate’s $95 billion foreign aid bill. This suggestion, however, comes with the potential risk of facing opposition from the more conservative members of the speaker’s party.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell’s stance on the chamber’s bill showed a significant change in his approach. Just a couple of weeks ago, McConnell stated that he had no advice for the speaker regarding President Joe Biden’s request for new Ukraine aid. However, on Tuesday, McConnell publicly and privately advocated for the bill. This shift in tactics is quite noteworthy, especially considering that McConnell had previously hinted at the possibility of negotiations to reconcile different aid bills from the House and Senate.

However, Johnson found himself isolated on the issue of Ukraine during his hour-long visit to the White House. In contrast, Biden and the other three top leaders were united in their stance on the matter.

Mitch McConnell expressed his hope that the House would take up the Senate bill and allow the House to proceed with their own process. He emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating that they didn’t want the Russians to succeed in Ukraine, and time was of the essence. McConnell believed that the most efficient way to swiftly move the bill forward and have it signed by the president was for the House to adopt the Senate bill and approve it.

According to two individuals familiar with the private meeting, he also expressed his support for the Senate’s legislation.

McConnell’s decision highlighted the contrasting approaches that both men are taking in response to the conservative pressure they are facing regarding Ukraine aid. Although McConnell understands Johnson’s challenging position, their relationship is not the same as McConnell’s previous partnership with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. During last year’s debt ceiling negotiations, McConnell gave McCarthy significant leeway.

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However, Tuesday’s meeting highlighted Johnson’s lack of support among congressional leaders. While it is not uncommon for House GOP members to have differing opinions, Johnson’s isolation poses challenges in leading the chamber during an important election year, as there are various policy, political, and tactical differences among congressional Republicans.

McConnell, who is 82 years old, considers the battle for Ukraine aid to be of utmost importance in his 40-year Senate career. On the other hand, Johnson, who has only been speaker for about five months, is already experiencing significant challenges from his own party members. Even Democrats understand the constant risk Johnson faces of being ousted if conservatives decide to initiate a vote of no confidence against him.

McConnell may receive criticism from his fellow Republicans, but he understands that his conservative opponents will have to wait until November’s leadership elections to express their grievances officially.

“I’m not sure how many political lives he has,” remarked Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) about the speaker. “However, it’s crucial that we prioritize getting [Ukraine] done.”

Senator Cornyn proposed that Johnson consider incorporating a stringent border security bill into the Ukraine legislation. Unlike McConnell, Cornyn did not explicitly advise Johnson to pass the Senate bill. Cornyn acknowledged that it is easier for senators to offer suggestions but expressed support for Johnson’s efforts and wished him success in finding a resolution.

During the meeting, Johnson found himself in a heated discussion with top Democrats, including President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. They all strongly advocated for focusing on Ukraine as well. Schumer even pointed out that McConnell had been the one to emphasize the importance of addressing Ukraine, making it one of the most intense discussions of the meeting.

Schumer also issued a warning in the meeting, stating that if the U.S. did not provide aid, it was the consensus among those present that Zelenskyy and Ukraine would lose the war.

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All four top leaders have now expressed their agreement on avoiding a government shutdown. However, Johnson has not committed to an emergency foreign aid bill. He emphasizes the need for lawmakers to prioritize securing the U.S. border before offering assistance to an ally overseas. Johnson is urging President Biden to take executive actions to enhance security on the southern border first, and he is not the only one who holds this viewpoint.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) expressed his thoughts on the possibility of the president taking executive actions regarding the border. According to Rubio, if such actions were to be taken, that would be the way it would work. He shares a common perspective with Johnson on this issue.

Johnson has made previous commitments to ensure the passage of aid to Ukraine. However, he has received strong opposition from conservatives like Reps. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). They have even gone as far as threatening to vote him out as speaker if he proceeds with providing aid to Ukraine.

In the end, Johnson witnessed his own group of centrists taking the initiative to solve the problem without his involvement. A number of Republicans are still willing to collaborate with Democrats in order to bypass the speaker’s restrictions and pass a distinct bill pertaining to the Ukraine-border issue.

Meanwhile, McConnell has faced criticism for his efforts to advance a border and foreign aid package that includes funding for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) even went so far as to call for McConnell’s resignation over the issue earlier this month, and conservatives expressed concern about McConnell’s support for Ukraine on Tuesday.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) expressed his concern about the lack of representation for American taxpayers and those affected by Biden’s open-border policies during the meeting.

The GOP’s funding strategy is causing a divide between Johnson and McConnell. McConnell recently expressed the need for “clean appropriations” without any controversial provisions, while Johnson and his House allies are pushing for conservative policy restrictions in spending bills. Democrats have made it clear that they will not accept these restrictions.

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There is a looming possibility of a partial shutdown this week as the funding deadline approaches on Friday. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who has a close relationship with Johnson, expressed uncertainty about Speaker’s ability to push a stopgap “continuing resolution” to prevent a funding lapse. However, it seems to be the only viable solution to avoid a shutdown.

According to Kennedy, there seems to be a lack of coordination among House and Senate Republicans. He suggests that instead of continuing with short-term continuing resolutions until the election, more effective strategies should be implemented.

Johnson has made a commitment to uphold the 72-hour rule, ensuring that his members have sufficient time to review any agreement that is reached. This leaves only a limited window to prevent a potential funding shortfall for government agencies by Saturday.

Johnson has made a commitment to continue his efforts in passing all 12 individual spending bills. This means that he will likely persist in implementing temporary spending measures, despite his previous promise to avoid them.

There is already a blame game going on between Schumer and Johnson about who would be responsible if a shutdown were to happen. However, it is worth noting that Republicans have been unsuccessful in using shutdowns as a means to obtain the concessions they want over the past thirty years.

In 1995, former Speaker Newt Gingrich attempted to use a partial shutdown as a means to secure cuts from then-President Bill Clinton, but his efforts proved unsuccessful. Similarly, in 2018, former President Donald Trump was unable to obtain funding for his border wall even after a prolonged shutdown lasting a record 35 days.

“It’s like a road leading to nowhere in the middle of the night,” expressed Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) when referring to a shutdown. “A journey filled with misery. No one comes out as a winner.”

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