Source: CNN

House Speaker Mike Johnson is pledging to act on Ukraine aid when lawmakers return to Washington next week, but behind the scenes the Louisiana Republican is still undecided on the best path forward and keenly aware of his narrow majority and the threat to his speakership that looms.

It’s a confluence of issues that sources say has left Johnson entertaining a series of options as the speaker has continued his outreach to members about how to proceed during the two-week recess.

“He’s got a gun to his head right now,” Rep. Don Bacon, a swing-district Republican, said of the speaker. “But we need to have a Churchill, not a Chamberlain right now. He could be on the right side of history.”

Johnson is under intense pressure to thread the needle. A significant number of conservatives oppose any further aid to Ukraine, while other prominent Republicans, such as Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, continue to stress the importance of assistance to the country as it fights Russia.

In interviews over the last several days, Johnson has said he’s not looking to simply pass the Senate’s $95 billion aid package that funds Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan in one bill. Instead, Johnson has said his conference is looking to include a series of other provisions as well as including a bill – originally sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike McCaul – known as the REPO act that would seize Russian assets and use the money to get assistance to Ukraine to rebuild and recover. Another option he’s floated is to structure aid to Ukraine as a kind of loan, similar to what was done in 2022 to expedite the transfer of weapons to the country.

“We are putting that product together and we will be moving it right after this work period,” Johnson said on Fox News Sunday.

But even those options, which remain light on details, could come with significant challenges for the speaker.

“My counsel to Mike is start with the American people here at home and work from there. Don’t start from Ukraine and work that way,” Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, said in a CNN interview last week.

Some conservatives have suggested they could be comfortable with aid flowing to Ukraine if it were offset or structured as a loan.

“I think we have to look at what incarnation that would take,” GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz said. “When I’ve talked to the speaker, he’s talked about liquidating some of the Russian assets that have been seized to support the war effort. You know, that is more palatable than deficit spending to do so.”

Others have said they’d never vote for such a plan and that Johnson’s decision to merely bring it to the floor could end his speakership.

Before the Easter recess, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced a resolution to oust Johnson, which she said was meant to be a warning to him going forward. Greene and Johnson are expected to talk later this week, but the Georgia Republican has remained steadfast in her opposition to Ukraine aid.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous and laughable to even try to tell the American people that Ukraine will ever pay us back!,” Greene posted to X on Tuesday.

The other challenge for Johnson is finding a bill that can get the votes in his chamber. Given fierce conservative opposition and a narrow margin, it’s possible Johnson could need to bring any Ukraine aid bill to the floor under a suspension of the rules. That would require a two-thirds majority, a high bar to clear. In any scenario, Johnson is expected to need a significant number of Democrats to vote for the package. But some progressives have signaled they’ll vote against additional aid to Israel.

Sources close to the process say one of the options that has been floated to overcome that hurdle is to break the aid package up so that aid to Israel and Ukraine would be voted on separately. That strategy would help drive up the Democratic vote total on Ukraine in order to overcome conservative resistance and would allow Republicans to vote for additional aid to Israel.

When Johnson returns, he will also face increasing pressure from defense hawks who have given the speaker time over the last several months to get through a crush of spending deadlines and now expect to see action.

“There just hasn’t been any clarity on No. 1, what the product is and No. 2, what the strategy is to pass it,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

Fitzpatrick has sponsored his own foreign assistance package using what is known as a discharge petition, a rarely deployed tactic that can force a bill to the floor if 218 House members sign on. So far that petition has just over than a dozen signatures.

While leadership has thrown cold water on using the discharge petition to get Ukraine aid across the finish line, Fitzpatrick’s bill does allow for a one-time substitution, meaning that leadership could include whatever bill they wanted and get it passed by a 218-vote threshold instead of a vote that would likely require a two-thirds majority.

In recent days, Johnson has also floated the idea of easing natural gas exports, but it’s not clear that would do much to assuage conservative backlash against Ukraine aid. It’s also possible the maneuver could crater some support from Democrats.

Democrats weigh strategy

For their part, Democrats remain committed to passing additional aid for Ukraine but are reticent to commit until the speaker has outlined a clear plan.

Still, Democrats are waiting in the wings and haven’t outright rejected some of the ideas Johnson has floated. Last week, the White House left the door slightly open to structuring additional aid in a loan if that is how the House proceeded.

“We are still urging Congress, particularly the House, obviously, to move on the national security supplemental request that the president submitted. We believe that is the best way to provide the support that Ukraine needs over the coming months,” said White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby last week when asked whether the White House was open to structuring Ukraine aid as a loan.

He continued: “We would, of course, rather, than a new package that would have to also pass the Senate, that the House would just pass the supplemental, and we know that it would pass if speaker Johnson put it up on the floor.”

Another key issue for many Democrats will be making sure that humanitarian aid to Gaza is included. Those provisions were included in the Senate’s bill.

CNN’s Haley Talbot and Manu Raju contributed.

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