Democrat eyes effort to protect Speaker Johnson in exchange for vote on Ukraine aid

A centrist Democrat is floating a proposal to shield Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) from an internal GOP coup — if the Speaker agrees to move a stalled package of foreign aid.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) is circulating a resolution that would change House rules to make it more difficult for Republican hard-liners to oust Johnson from the top job. But he is making the measure contingent on the chamber holding a vote on legislation providing billions of dollars for Ukraine, Israel and other overseas allies.

The potential rules change, which would require support from a majority of the chamber, arrives as the debate over foreign assistance — particularly Ukraine aid — heats up on Capitol Hill, where some conservatives are warning that they will try to remove Johnson’s gavel if he brings it to the floor for a vote.

Gottheimer’s resolution is designed to get the aid package to the floor as soon as possible by shielding Johnson from that threat. It is unclear, however, if the resolution would garner enough support in the chamber.

Under current House rules, a single lawmaker can launch the process of removing the Speaker — a condition adopted last year by then-Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), under pressure from conservatives, in his quest for the gavel.

That rule, however, ultimately led to McCarthy’s demise: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) triggered a vote on his ouster as Speaker in October, which was successful after seven Republicans and all Democrats joined him in toppling the GOP leader.

Gottheimer’s resolution, which was obtained by The Hill, would make that process tougher.

Under his proposal, a lawmaker could force a vote on ousting the Speaker — which is known as a motion to vacate — only if they are authorized to do so by party leadership, or if the caucus or conference votes and decides that should be the direction of the party, reverting to the rules in place under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Axios first reported on the resolution, which was an early draft, a source familiar with the matter told The Hill.

Gottheimer, however, is hinging the resolution on foreign aid receiving a vote in the House, a detail first reported by The Hill.

Johnson would have to stage a vote on the Senate foreign aid bill — which cleared the chamber in a bipartisan vote last week — or another version of the legislation that members are comfortable with in order for Gottheimer to move ahead with his resolution, the source familiar said.

The Senate cleared the $95 billion foreign aid package in a 70-29 vote last week, approving assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific allies after a months-long standoff about sending aid overseas.

Johnson and House conservatives, however, quickly threw cold water on that proposal, criticizing it for excluding border security policy — even after Republicans a week before rejected a bipartisan border agreement negotiated in the Senate. Republicans have consistently said that any aid for Ukraine must be paired with border security.

Pressure, though, is mounting on Johnson and the House to move on Ukraine aid, as administration officials and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle sound the alarm about Kyiv’s standing in its war against Russia. Messages about the need to send assistance to Ukraine have only intensified following the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

But holding a vote on assistance for Kyiv could have serious implications for Johnson and his standing in the GOP conference. A contingent of conservatives has become opposed to sending additional aid to Ukraine, citing deficit spending concerns, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has threatened to bring a motion to vacate against Johnson if he puts assistance for Kyiv on the floor.

Johnson has sought a one-on-one meeting with President Biden to discuss efforts to break the impasse — an idea Biden seemed receptive to this week. It’s unclear, however, if or when that meeting will take place.

Mike Lillis contributed.

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