Mike Johnson dodges question on Trump’s threat to violate Nato treaty

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson evidently isn’t taking any chances when it comes to his relationship with Donald Trump and the right wing of his caucus in the lower chamber.

Mr Johnson spoke to The Independent on Tuesday evening as lawmakers gathered to vote on the impeachment of Joe Biden’s Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. That effort, seen largely as a handout for hardliners in the House ahead of primary contests this spring, passed by one vote on Tuesday after failing to pass the chamber last week.

During his presser, he was asked by The Independent’s Eric Garcia about his thoughts in response to Donald Trump’s public threat to violate Nato’s article 5, the cornerstone of its mutual defence agreement, if Russia were to attack a member-state which Mr Trump sees as making insufficient defence contributions. The comments sparked a firestorm in Washington and across the world over the weekend as they inherently cast into doubt the future of the Nato defence pact under a hypothetical second Trump presidency.

“Not going to comment on that,” Mr Johnson shot back.

It was a revealing moment. Mr Trump’s comments have, by now, been denounced by many prominent Republicans who continue to embrace their party’s traditionally-hawkish views on national security. The few exceptions among those Republicans have sought to dismiss the former president’s words as bluster rather than a policy prescription.

Mitch McConnell joined those ranks on Tuesday after initially attempting to take the same track as Mr Johnson.

“I totally disagree with him. And it was extremely unhelpful,” he told Punchbowl in an interview.

Others have made similar comments, even some more conservative members typically seen as closer to Mr Trump (unlike Mr McConnell, who remains one of Mr Trump’s stubborn foes within the Senate Republican caucus).

Josh Hawley of Missouri was one. “Obviously we don’t want Russia to invade,” he told The Independent.

“If they invaded a Nato country, we’d have to defend them, so we don’t want that.”

The speaker is facing mounting pressure from both sides of the aisle, a symptom of the House GOP’s hard-right turn and the subsequent breakdown of the caucus’s relationship with its Senate counterpart.

Republicans in the lower chamber are now facing deafening calls from just about the entirety of Washington to hold a vote on supplemental funding legislation aimed at providing aid for Ukraine and Israel after the Senate passed that legislation early Tuesday morning. The House (and some Republican senators) had vowed to hold up any national security legislation until the situation at the US-Mexico border was addressed, but the collapse of negotiations on that topic at Donald Trump’s urging has significantly weakened that position.

Mr McConnell joined in those calls upon the passage of the supplemental funding bill on Tuesday, and aimed several clear jabs at the Speaker as he did.

“We’ve heard all kinds of rumors about whether the House supports Ukraine or doesn’t,” Mr McConnell told Politico. “It seems to me that the easy way to solve that would be to vote. And I hope the speaker will find a way to allow the House to work its will on the issue of Ukraine aid and the other parts of the bill as well.”