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Speaker Johnson moves forward with foreign aid package, even if it risks his job

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

House speaker Mike Johnson is moving forward with a foreign aid package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. But the conservative backlash to Speaker Johnson's support for Ukraine assistance could jeopardize his ability to keep his job.

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MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE: He's serving Ukraine first and America last.

KELLY: That's Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene. She is threatening to oust the speaker. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now. Hey there.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Let's start by explaining just what is in the foreign aid package or packages that might explain why the speaker is facing so much pushback from the far right.

WALSH: Well, these are a series of bills that mirror the $95 billion package that the Senate passed two months ago - separate measures for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. But the challenge for the speaker is a big chunk of the House Republican Conference - about half - strongly opposes any more money for Ukraine. The speaker admitted he just doesn't have the votes to pass this with just Republicans. A lot of the conservatives against are noting that before Johnson was elected speaker, he voted against more money for Ukraine. But last night the speaker defended sending another $60 billion in this package, said he believes the intelligence about the consequences if Ukraine doesn't get more U.S. support.

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MIKE JOHNSON: To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys.

WALSH: And Johnson said his own son is starting at the Naval Academy next year. The House package does structure some of the Ukraine aid as a loan, which is something that former President Trump has floated. And Johnson is quick to point that out as he's trying to get Republican votes.

KELLY: Well, and if he doesn't manage to scramble Republican votes, are Democrats going to help him move this forward?

WALSH: Looks that way. I mean, President Biden came out strongly in support of this package. So a lot of House Democrats I talked to today say it's important to do whatever they have to do to help Speaker Johnson get this through. Today the panel that sets the parameters for debate is meeting to prep for a weekend vote. Usually, the speaker's office dictates what comes out of this committee, but there are three Republican hardliners on the panel who oppose the bill. And in a really unusual move, Democrats on this committee are expected to vote with Republicans to try to get around any effort to block the bill. That virtually never happens up here.

KELLY: So let's go to the questions about his leadership and how long it may last. People will remember we saw the first speaker in U.S. history removed. That was in October. That was Kevin McCarthy. Could Johnson be next?

WALSH: I mean, he could be. Congresswoman Greene again told reporters she thinks Johnson has essentially become a Democratic speaker because time after time, he's had to pass most significant bills with help from Democrats. He's got such a tight majority. If Greene calls up this vote, it's very likely that Speaker Johnson is going to need votes from Democrats on the floor to keep his gavel.

KELLY: And just briefly, Deirdre, where does this leave Ukraine? Where does it leave Israel? Are they going to see money soon?

WALSH: Well, the House is on track to vote on these measures on Saturday. If they do approve the package this weekend, the Senate is going to need to take it up. Both chambers are supposed to be on recess next week. But given how much of a priority this is for the White House and for Ukraine, there's really going to be a big push to keep the Senate around to get this done quickly.

KELLY: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.