Adam Smith predicts Democrats would rescue Johnson from revolt over Ukraine

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee is predicting that members of his party would swoop in to rescue Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) if he faces an internal GOP revolt over Ukraine aid.

“Democrats would support Johnson,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said this week.

Johnson, since taking over the Speakership last year, has said he supports another round of funding for the beleaguered Ukrainian military. But some conservatives in the Republican conference are fervently opposed to any such proposal.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has suggested she would launch an effort to oust Johnson if he brings a Ukraine bill to the floor.

Amid the GOP squabbling, Smith forecast that Democrats would help Johnson remain in power if the Speaker works to ensure that Congress’s top priorities get passed through the House, including bills to fund the federal government and a foreign aid supplemental package, featuring Ukraine assistance, which is expected to move through the Senate in the coming days.

No Democrats voted to save former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) when he was the target of a motion to vacate in October.

“If we get a vote on the appropriations bills and we get a vote on the supplemental, there’ll be enough Democrats that Johnson will not be removed as Speaker,” Smith said. “That’s just my view.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.)
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.)

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) leaves the House Chamber following the last votes of the week on Wednesday, February 7, 2024. (Greg Nash)

In that pledge, Smith joins a handful of other Democrats who have also been open to the idea of crossing the aisle to help Johnson survive a potential coup attempt — if he agreed to give Democrats more influence over House business.

Johnson, so far, has been noncommittal about his plans for the legislation.

“We’re allowing the process to play out, and we’ll handle it as it is sent over,” he told reporters this week.

A bipartisan Senate security package had initially combined a series of foreign aid provisions — including assistance for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and Gaza — with tougher security measures on the U.S.-Mexico border. But the border components were rejected by Republicans in both chambers who deemed them too lenient, forcing Senate Democratic leaders to strip out the border language and move the foreign aid pieces as a separate package.

That legislation is expected to pass through the Senate in the coming days, but some House conservatives are already warning that they won’t vote to fund a dollar of new foreign aid as long as the migrant crisis at the southern border persists.

Many of those conservatives are pressing President Biden to take executive action on the border — including the installation of “remain in Mexico” policies adopted under former President Trump — while warning that there’s no chance the lower chamber will pass Ukraine aid until the southern border is secure.

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Fueling that opposition is Trump himself, who says the issue is better left to him as he races to return to the White House.

“If the president secured the southern border — which he could do by executive order today — if he did that, you would have room to figure out how to get money for Ukraine. Many members on Capitol Hill would go for it,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) said this week. “But without a secure southern border, it’s not going to happen.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), another sharp critic of more Ukraine funding, had led the effort to topple Johnson’s predecessor and is now warning Johnson against bringing the Senate bill to the floor.

“There’s a celebratory mood about killing that bad Senate amnesty-war bill, and we may have to kill a few more,” Gaetz said.

“I strongly encourage the Speaker to have some pay-for in any aid to any foreign country,” he added.

The most explicit threat has come from Greene, a frequent critic of Johnson’s leadership tactics, who has warned she would file a motion to vacate the Speakership if he brings Ukraine aid to the floor.

“If he funds $60 billion to fund a war in Ukraine to continue killing a whole generation of Ukrainian men — to continue a war that is a losing war, that [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky’s ready for peace talks — yeah, I would introduce the motion to vacate myself,” Greene told reporters last month.

The Georgia firebrand has more recently toned down that threat. But Democrats have taken notice, accusing Johnson and other GOP leaders of caving to the most rebellious voices in the GOP conference at the expense of helping an embattled ally repel Russia’s invasion.

“You can look at the battlefield and ports now, with Russians pouring into towns in Eastern Ukraine — incredibly vulnerable,” Smith said. “But Ukrainians don’t have the ammunition to take ‘em out. And that’s what we’re letting happen.”

Smith noted that Johnson staged a vote this week on a stand-alone Israel aid bill — which was supported by all but 14 Republicans but fell short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass — without any conditions related to the southern border.

“We can’t vote on Ukraine because we can’t say that their border is more important than ours. But Israel’s border is more important than ours? You want to explain that?” Smith said.

“So it seems to me that the will of the House majority — and a majority of House Republicans, for that matter — who support defending Ukraine should at least be given the opportunity to have a vote.”

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