Jeffries Suggests Democrats Would Save Johnson From Removal Over Ukraine Aid

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader, said on Wednesday that he believed “a reasonable number” of lawmakers in his party would protect Speaker Mike Johnson from removal from his post if he allowed a vote on a foreign aid bill that includes money for Ukraine and faced a Republican mutiny as a result.

Mr. Jeffries said House Democrats had not formally discussed whether they would help save Mr. Johnson if he suffered the same fate as Kevin McCarthy, the former speaker who faced a so-called motion to vacate that prompted a snap vote on whether to remove him. Mr. Jeffries, a New York Democrat, also said he had not discussed the matter with the speaker.

But in a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Jeffries went as far as he has publicly in addressing what Democrats might be willing to do to protect the top leader of the opposing party if Mr. Johnson were to defy right-wing Republicans and allow a vote on the $95 billion national security spending package, which includes more than $60 billion in aid to Ukraine.

“It does seem to me,” Mr. Jeffries said, “based on informal conversations, that were Speaker Johnson to do the right thing relative to meeting the significant national security needs of the American people by putting it on the floor for an up-or-down vote, there will be a reasonable number of people in the House Democratic Caucus who will take the position that he should not fall as a result.”

Pressed on whether he was saying that Democrats would vote to rescue Mr. Johnson, Mr. Jeffries replied: “You can interpret it any way you want to interpret it.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the right-wing Georgia Republican, has said she would seek to depose Mr. Johnson were he to allow a vote on continuing to fund Ukraine.

Mr. Jeffries’s comments came a day after President Biden and congressional leaders, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, pressed Mr. Johnson to take up the aid package, which the Senate passed earlier this month and would provide military aid for both Ukraine and Israel. Mr. Johnson has so far refused to allow the legislation to come to a vote, amid fierce opposition from his conference to the money for Kyiv.

Mr. Jeffries predicted the foreign aid bill would receive “north of 300 votes from both sides of the aisle” if Mr. Johnson allowed it to come to the floor, calling it “an urgent issue for America’s national security.”

“I do not believe that Speaker Mike Johnson is pro-Putin,” Mr. Jeffries said.

“I do believe that he, as he has indicated, is of the view that the right thing to do is to make sure we continue to support the Ukrainian war effort and our allies in Israel, the Indo-Pacific, and across the world,” he said. “It’s my assessment as an outside observer that part of the challenge he clearly is confronting does relate to people in Congress who just don’t want to see Ukraine win.”

Every single House Democrat joined eight Republicans to oust Mr. McCarthy in October, a vote that came after he pushed through a stopgap spending bill to avert a shutdown relying on Democratic votes.

Democrats ultimately decided to support the ouster, Mr. Jeffries said, in part because “he had trust issues that had developed within the House Democratic caucus.” Mr. Jeffries listed a series of grievances that included Mr. McCarthy’s decisions to renege on the debt limit deal he had brokered with Mr. Biden in the summer to appease the right-wing rebels in his ranks and to open an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Biden without evidence of wrongdoing.

The final straw came, he said, after Mr. McCarthy declared he was not willing to give Democrats anything in exchange for voting to keep him in his post, suggesting he had no interest in having their backing to keep his speakership afloat.

“With Johnson, it’s more of a blank slate,” Mr. Jeffries said. “Speaker Mike Johnson is a deeply principled conservative, and members of the Democratic caucus strongly disagree with many of his positions. But to date, when he’s made a promise — publicly or privately — he’s kept it.”

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