The honeymoon phase is over between Speaker Mike Johnson and Republicans

House Speaker Mike Johnson  (Getty Images)
House Speaker Mike Johnson (Getty Images)

On Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson met with President Joe Biden along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to discuss a proposed bill to provide security spending for Israel and Ukraine, among other aspects of national security.

To recap, the president and Democrats have bent as much as they could to pass a supplemental spending bill. But as The Independent reported early last year, Republicans were always going to oppose providing more aid to Ukraine. As a result, Republicans have demanded that any spending to support Ukraine be tied to provisions restricting immigration, which they have billed as “border security.”

But now, Mr Johnson is facing criticism from his fellow House Republicans, and the negotiations with the president and fellow congressional leaders could threaten his speakership.

House Republicans unanimously picked Mr Johnson after Rep Matt Gaetz led an effort to remove Kevin McCarthy as speaker and Republicans cycled through multiple nominees. But Mr Johnson, a political newcomer only elected in 2016, did not have much experience as a congressional leader.

Most Republicans gave him a mulligan when he needed to pass a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown late last year, blaming Mr McCarthy for not keeping the House on schedule to pass 12 individual spending bills.

Ukraine is different though. Much of the House Republican conference viscerally hates supporting Ukraine. Restrictions to immigration are the only type of sugar that would allow them to swallow the medicine of Ukraine spending. Furthermore, most House Republicans have shown an aversion to supporting a potential Ukraine-immigration deal that a bipartisan group of senators is brokering, despite the fact there is no final agreement.

Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, the right-wing conspiracist from Georgia, told The Independent that she would file a motion to vacate against Mr Johnson if any spending went to Ukraine.

“The war’s basically lost,” Ms Greene said, saying that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for peace talks. “It would be like continuing murdering a bunch of people at this point.”

Rep Eli Crane of Arizona – one of the eight Republicans who voted to remove Mr McCarthy – for his part said he worried that Mr Johnson would cave to the Democrats.

“We're gonna I think we're gonna continue to spend way too much money that we don't even have,” he said. “In return, we're not going to get a secure southern border.”

Of course, this anger from conservatives is incredibly self-serving and only seeks to increase their own brands since it gives conservative voters grandiose expectations that somehow, Mr Johnson could somehow get a staunchly conservative wishlist bill on immigration when Republicans only have one half of one chamber of Congress while Democrats control the Senate and the White House.

House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole told The Independent that conservatives needed to realise that Republicans also only have a razor-thin majority given the number of resignations and absences on any given day.

“I'm sorry, with a majority like this there's a limit to what you can do,” he said. Mr Cole also shot down the idea. Mr Cole, a veteran lawmaker who resembles the olden days where members could hash out legislation in a smoke-filled room (the scent of cigars on which he likes to chomp often wafts through the doors of his office) understands how legislation is passed.

But some freshman lawmakers like Rep Cory Mills of Florida, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, seem to understand Republicans will not get everything they want are giving Mr Johnson the benefit of the doubt.

“I know that he's put into a very difficult position because he's sitting there with a Democrat president, a Democrat, Senator, Chuck Schumer, and another Democrat, Senator Mitch McConnell,” he told The Independent, he said despite the fact Mr McConnell takes joy in obstructing Democrats. “So he's the only conservative in there who understands that we can't link the border security and American security to foreign security. And so I think that he's going to hold the line on that.”

But Johnson still has to grapple with the fact the slim margins within his Republican conference and his opponents only need a handful of Republicans to make him suffer the same fate.

At the same time, he cannot risk allowing American leadership on the international stage to falter, or else he alone will share the blame if Ukraine falls to Russia. Talk about the end to a honeymoon phase.