Speaker Johnson Gets Lifeline From Trump Amid Threat to His Job

Speaker Mike Johnson had a difficult week. He is facing a revolt from one of the most conservative members of his caucus that could cost him his job. The prospect of providing additional aid to Ukraine continues to meet opposition. And it took three tries for the House to renew a warrantless surveillance bill.

Then, on Friday, he flew to Florida, where the man who has contributed to many of his challenges threw him a crucial lifeline in his hour of need.

“I stand with the speaker,” former President Donald J. Trump told reporters at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Palm Beach, Fla., as Mr. Johnson stood behind him and nodded along.

It was a message the speaker needed at a tenuous moment in his leadership, when he faces the threat from one of Mr. Trump’s most loyal allies, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, of a motion to oust him.

It is not clear how far Mr. Trump’s endorsement will go. The former president wields remarkable influence on House Republicans when it comes to stymieing legislation he opposes, but his support was not enough to keep Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, from a five-day, 15-round ordeal to secure the speakership in the first place.

Mr. Johnson oversees a fractious and thin majority in the House, a reality Mr. Trump acknowledged when asked about Ms. Greene’s threat to push Mr. Johnson from his position.

“He’s doing a really good job under really tough circumstances,” said Mr. Trump, who has helped undermine Mr. Johnson’s legislative agenda by voicing opposition to some of his efforts.

He called the threat of a move to oust Mr. Johnson “unfortunate,” adding “This is not an easy situation for any speaker,” And he said: “I’m sure that Majorie understands that.”

Even in light of Mr. Trump’s remarks, there appears to be little political downside for Ms. Greene to follow through on her threat to oust Mr. Johnson if he brings an aid package for Ukraine to the floor.

Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly railed against providing more aid to Ukraine, did not fully back Mr. Johnson’s effort to provide additional U.S. military assistance to the nation as it continues to fight against Russia’s invading forces.

But he moderated his stance on Friday, saying that the two had discussed the issue and that he believed they might find common ground in offering aid “in the form of a loan,” an idea the former president has pushed for months.

House Republicans have a narrow majority that leaves little room for dissent if Mr. Johnson wants to advance legislative priorities. But the party remains deeply divided, with many on its right fringe attacking Mr. Johnson’s efforts to find compromise.

“The Lord Jesus himself could not manage this conference,” Representative Troy Nehls, Republican of Texas, said on CNN this week. “You just can’t do it.”

In a social media post after Friday’s news conference, Ms. Greene signaled that Mr. Trump’s high-profile show of support had not changed her view of the speaker. After voicing her continued loyalty to the former president, she said, “But I do not support Speaker Johnson.”

Mr. Johnson, for his part, offered on Friday a high-profile backing of Mr. Trump’s allegations of voter fraud, giving them public support and pushing a proposal to address two issues central to Mr. Trump’s 2024 campaign: border security and repeatedly debunked claims of election fraud.

Since his first presidential campaign, Mr. Trump has claimed without evidence that Democrats are allowing or encouraging migrants to cross the border illegally in order to register them to vote.

It is already illegal for people who are not citizens to vote in federal elections. Fact checkers have found that it happens rarely, often by mistake, and nowhere near the level that Mr. Trump has suggested, such as when he claimed that millions of immigrants who are not citizens voted in 2016.

But Mr. Johnson repeated Mr. Trump’s claims, vowing to push a bill that would require that anyone registering to vote in a federal election prove their citizenship, and require states to remove noncitizens from their voter rolls. Mr. Johnson was not clear on how such a bill might enforce these requirements.

Stoking fears that undocumented immigrants are trying to manipulate U.S. elections is a convenient way for Mr. Trump to seize on the migrant crisis while continuing to sow doubt among his supporters about the security of the country’s elections.

In a statement released by the Biden campaign, Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, preemptively labeled the announcement a “sham” and criticized Mr. Trump for repeating his election lies.

“Donald Trump and Mike Johnson don’t care about election integrity,” Mr. Thompson said. “They care only about helping Trump’s campaign of revenge and retribution to regain power at all costs.”

Mr. Johnson played a significant role in supporting Mr. Trump’s false claim that he won in 2020, recruiting House Republicans to sign a legal brief that supported a lawsuit seeking to overturn the election results. He repeated claims about voter fraud in interviews, and he provided Republicans with arguments that some used to object to certifying Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021.

Well ahead of Election Day this November, Mr. Trump — who faces criminal charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 race — has already tried to sow doubt about the 2024 election. He routinely insists at his campaign rallies that Democrats cannot possibly win in November without cheating and has more recently urged his supporters to turn out in droves to ensure that his vote total is “too big to rig.”

Republicans in key battleground states have also since 2020 pushed for increased restrictions on voting, including laws requiring identification at polling places and more limits on mail-in voting and early voting, practices that have tended to favor Democrats in recent cycles.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked both practices, arguing frequently that mail-in voting is rife with fraud and that elections need to be limited to “one-day voting.” Other prominent Republicans, particularly in battleground states, have said that the party needs to encourage the practice in order to chip away at Democrats’ advantages.

Annie Karni contributed reporting from Washington.


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