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Johnson showcases ties to Trump amid Greene threat

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is scheduled to appear alongside former President Trump on Friday as they find themselves on opposite ends of a pair of contentious debates on Capitol Hill.

The gathering at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is being billed as a press conference to tout legislation that would prevent noncitizens from voting, something that is already illegal.

But politically, the joint appearance will give Johnson an opportunity to showcase his close ties to Trump — and afford Trump a chance to flex his tight grip on the House GOP conference — even as the former president tries to undercut the Speaker on the reauthorization of the U.S.’s warrantless surveillance powers and sending additional aid to Ukraine, two issues that have divided Republicans in the lower chamber.

And hanging over the meetup is a looming threat by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — one of Trump’s closest congressional allies — to force a vote on ousting Johnson as Speaker, a move that could thrust the House GOP conference into a state of chaos as Trump plows ahead with his reelection bid.

Those dynamics are set to converge in Palm Beach, Fla., on Friday, with Johnson looking to make a show of solidarity with the presumptive GOP nominee as he faces a tough legislative road ahead on extending the U.S.’s spying powers and approving more assistance for Ukraine — paths that have become rockier because of Trump’s involvement.

“It’s very clear that Johnson is showing up to Mar-a-Lago to use Trump as a shield to help himself with his own difficulties in the House,” one Trump ally told The Hill.

Some Republicans, however, see the meeting as typical engagement between two GOP leaders — Johnson, the head of the House, and Trump, a main figure in the Republican Party.

“We’ve got the gavel, he’s got the gavel, and you’ll have a lot more of these,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), who endorsed Nikki Haley in the 2024 presidential race before backing Trump. “He is our nominee, Trump, and we got to get him in office to save this country, and Mike plays a big part of that.”

But the huddle comes amid a strained stretch for the two Republicans.

Earlier this week, Trump helped fuel a GOP revolt against Johnson’s bill to reauthorize the U.S.’s warrantless surveillance powers — as contained in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — when he urged lawmakers to “KILL FISA” hours before the vote.

Nineteen Republicans heeded the request and tanked a procedural vote on the floor — dealing Johnson an embarrassing blow and forcing GOP leadership back to the drawing board as Congress faces an April 19 deadline to extend the spying powers.

The conservatives — and some Democrats — had voiced concerns that the underlying legislation did not include a provision that would require a warrant requirement, even though approving the procedural vote would have allowed for a vote on a warrant requirement amendment.

Johnson told GOP lawmakers in a closed-door meeting Wednesday that he spoke to Trump the day before, according to members, but he specified that the two did not discuss FISA.

Trump has similarly and relentlessly tried to influence the debate over Ukraine aid, voicing his long-standing opposition to sending additional aid to Kyiv as Johnson vows to move forward with the politically prickly issue.

Trump’s resistance was made known as recently as March, when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, after meeting with the former president, told state television that Trump “will not give a penny into the Ukraine-Russia war.” A growing contingent of the House GOP conference — especially those who subscribe to Trump’s “America First” mantra — have expressed opposition to more aid for Ukraine, creating a political minefield for Johnson as he looks to help Kyiv’s beleaguered forces.

The two, however, have seen eye to eye on the idea of sending additional aid to Ukraine in the form of a loan, which was first proposed by Trump and has since been floated by Johnson as a potential detail of the foreign aid package that is in the works.

“Even President Trump has talked about the loan concept where we set up, we’re not just giving foreign aid, we are setting up in our relationship where they can provide it back to us when the time is right,” Johnson said on Fox News late last month.

Aside from his relationship with Trump, Johnson’s moves on FISA and Ukraine aid could have far-reaching implications for his job security.

Greene, a leading Ukraine opponent who is opposed to the FISA bill, told reporters after meeting with Johnson on Wednesday that she is closely observing how the Speaker moves forward with the spying legislation and aid for Kyiv as she dangles her ouster effort against Johnson.

The Georgia Republican filed a motion to vacate — the same mechanism used to remove former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — against Johnson late last month, but she has not yet said when she plans to force a vote on the resolution.

“Right now he does not have my support, and I’m watching what happens with FISA and Ukraine,” Greene said.

Norman, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said Johnson’s public appearance with Trump on Friday could bolster the Speaker as he faces Greene’s ouster threat.

“If Trump came out and gave him his full support, yes, it would help,” he said Thursday.

Greene, for her part, brushed aside the looming event.

“President Trump meets with people all the time. I’m not involved in his meetings, and it’s natural for our top presidential candidate to meet with our Republican Speaker,” Greene said Thursday.

Friday’s gathering will mark the third time Johnson has made the trip down to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump since the Louisiana congressman became Speaker in late October. Johnson attended a fundraiser for another congressman at Trump’s Florida estate last November, and the Speaker met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago over President’s Day weekend.

It will also be the latest instance of Trump bending the House GOP to his preferred agenda.

The former president was an active player in GOP efforts to find a replacement for McCarthy as Speaker last October, initially backing Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), then coming out against House Majority Whip Tom Emmer’s (R-Minn.) bid before ultimately supporting Johnson’s nomination.

Trump earlier this year also helped sink a border security bill crafted by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), arguing it would hurt Republicans politically as he sought to make the surge of migrants at the southern border a major line of attack against the Biden administration.

For as often as Trump has posed problems for House leaders trying to keep a fractious conference in line, the former president has remained publicly supportive of Johnson as Speaker.

Trump told reporters in February he had “great confidence” in Johnson and called him a “very good man” following a difficult week that saw multiple failed votes in the House.

Johnson in 2020 was central to an effort among some lawmakers to push a legal theory to reject President Biden’s election victory. That effort was eventually thrown out by the Supreme Court. But Trump has continued to push the false claim that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen, and Johnson’s appearance on Friday reflects how embracing that view is something of a litmus test for Trump.

John Bolton, who previously served as Trump’s national security adviser, said on CNN that Johnson needs to be willing to prioritize his principles on issues like FISA reform and Ukraine over appeasing the likes of Trump and Greene.

“I don’t know what’s going through his mind, but I think a real Speaker of the House is an independent political force,” Bolton said. “And I think House Republicans, generally for their own safety’s sake in the election, if nothing else, need to show that they have integrity, and it’s separate and distinct from Donald Trump.”

“Everybody goes through testing,” he added. “Speaker Johnson is going through it now.”

Mike Lillis contributed.

Source: The Hill

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