House Speaker Mike Johnson Is Negotiating With White House To Advance Ukraine Aid

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Speaker Mike Johnson is negotiating with the White House as he prepares for the treacherous task of advancing wartime funding for Ukraine and Israel through the House, a top House Republican said Thursday.

House Republican Leader Steve Scalise told reporters that Johnson had been talking with White House officials about a package that would deviate from the Senate's $95 billion foreign security package and include several Republican demands. It comes after Johnson has delayed for months on advancing aid that would provide desperately needed ammunition and weaponry for Kyiv, trying to find the right time to advance a package that will be a painful political lift.

"There's been no agreement reached," Scalise said. "Obviously there would have to an agreement reached not just with the White House, but with our own members."

Johnson, R-La., is being stretched between a Republican conference deeply divided in its support for Ukraine, as well as two presidential contenders at odds over the U.S.'s posture towards the rest of the world. President Joe Biden has repeatedly chastised Republicans for not helping Ukraine, saying they are doing the bidding of Russian President Vladimir Putin and hurting U.S. security. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate, has said he would negotiate an end to the conflict as he tries to push the U.S. to a more isolationist stance.

The Republican speaker is set to travel to the former president's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Friday to meet with Trump and has been consulting him in recent weeks on the Ukraine funding to gain his support -- or at least prevent him from openly opposing the package.

Sen. Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma Republican who often works closely with House lawmakers, said this week he and Trump have spoken with Johnson "in depth" about how to advance Ukraine aid. It is not clear whether Trump would lend any political support, but Mullin said he was hoping to get the former president behind the package, especially now that Johnson's job is at stake.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, has threatened to try to oust Johnson as speaker and warned that advancing funding for Ukraine would help build her case that GOP lawmakers should select a new speaker.

Meanwhile, Johnson has been in conversations with the White House about legislation that would structure some of the funding for Kyiv as loans, pave the way for the U.S. to tap frozen Russian central bank assets and include other policy changes.

Johnson has also been pushing for the Biden administration to lift a pause on approvals for Liquefied Natural Gas exports. At times, he has also demanded policy changes at the U.S. border with Mexico.

"This becomes a more dangerous world with Russia in Kyiv," said Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican who supports aiding Ukraine. "So we're just got to find a the smart way to get a bill passed that we can get out and back to the Senate."

Still, Johnson is facing a practically open rebellion from a group of hardline House conservatives who are dissatisfied with the way he has led the House. With a narrow and divided majority, Johnson has been forced to work with Democrats to advance practically any major legislation.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Thursday that the "only path forward" for the House was a vote on the Senate's national security package. He also suggested that Democrats would help Johnson hold onto the speaker's gavel if he did so.

While Democrats have pressured Johnson to put the Senate package to a vote, they also may be divided on a vote as a growing number oppose sending Israel offensive weaponry while it engages in a campaign in Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians.

The Biden administration, which would administer any military funding, has issued stern warnings to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that future U.S. support depends on the swift implementation of new steps to protect civilians and aid workers.

"If we want to prevent handing Putin a victory in Europe, the House should do the right thing for democracy and pass the Senate's aid package now," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday in a floor speech.