Johnson confronts most significant threat to his speakership to date as key decisions over Ukraine aid loom

Originally Published: 07 APR 24 11:30 ET

(CNN) — House Speaker Mike Johnson is facing down yet another pivotal week of his speakership as he confronts both the threat of an ouster and mounting pressure to decide whether he will finally move ahead on aid to Ukraine, which he’s been pledging to pursue for months.

Throughout the two-week Easter recess, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has kept up her attacks against Johnson as she continues to warn the speaker against pursuing any Ukraine aid package. But Johnson has also been working behind the scenes in an effort to thread the needle and find a package that could pass.

The issue for Johnson remains that any aid to Ukraine will need a large number of Democratic votes. Creating legislation that could attract enough Democratic support to get Ukraine across the finish line and included funding for Israel could be difficult, especially in the wake of an Israeli strike that killed World Central Kitchen aid workers last week. Following the strike, more Democrats have signaled they are open to attaching conditions to aid for Israel, a dynamic that could complicate future efforts to approve Israel aid through Congress.

For their part, GOP leaders are looking at potentially breaking the package into pieces, but getting that through the Senate could be yet another heavy lift.

Johnson isn’t expected to move to pass Ukraine aid this week, instead focusing on passing a bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but even that effort could be rife with party infighting and once again put the speaker at odds with members of his right flank.

Congress will also confront a series of other major issues this week. House Republicans are gearing up to send articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the Senate and lawmakers are expected to face questions over how Congress will respond to rebuilding and recovery efforts following the collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key bridge.

Will the House vote a second time to remove a speaker?

A key question when the House returns is whether and when a vote will be triggered to remove the speaker.

In March, Greene filed a motion to oust Johnson in March, a surprise move that came amid conservative anger over the speaker’s handling of the government funding fight. But that motion still needs to be called up on the floor to force a vote.

If that happens, the House will have to consider the issue within two legislative days, setting up a showdown on the floor as the speakership hangs in the balance. A floor vote to oust Johnson would require a majority to succeed. A motion to table — or kill — the resolution could be offered and voted on first. That would also only require a simple majority to succeed.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner said Sunday he doesn’t believe Johnson is at “any risk” of being ousted.

Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” Turner dismissed “chaos caucus” lawmakers who he said were “seeking attention for themselves and trying to stop all of the important work in Congress.”

The threat against Johnson comes after GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz similarly moved against then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy last year. That triggered a historic and unprecedented vote to oust McCarthy, throwing House Republicans into weeks of chaos and turmoil as they struggled to elect a new speaker.

Ultimately, Republicans elected Johnson, only for him to now face a similar challenge to his speakership — the latest sign of bitter divisions within the House GOP conference.

House to send Mayorkas impeachment articles to Senate

On Wednesday, the House will send its two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas to the Senate, paving the way for a trial in the chamber.

It’s expected, however, that the Democratic-led Senate will vote to dismiss the case quickly. Even if somehow the Senate does not vote to dismiss, it is highly doubtful the chamber would vote to convict Mayorkas, which would require a two-thirds majority vote — a high bar to clear.

House Republicans voted to impeach the Biden administration official in February over his handling of the southern border, but held off on sending the articles to the Senate until the annual government funding process had been finalized.

Democrats have slammed the impeachment as a political stunt, saying that Republicans had no basis for the move and that policy disagreements are not a justification for the rarely used constitutional impeachment of a cabinet official.

On Thursday, senators will be sworn in as jurors. While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not specified exactly how he plans to handle the trial procedurally, Democratic senators — joined by some Republicans — have signaled they expect to move to dismiss the case before a full trial. Democrats could pass a motion to dismiss or table the articles on a simple majority vote that same day.

Some hard-right Republican senators are trying to find a way to force a full trial, but their efforts are not expected to get enough traction to pass, according to senators and aides from both parties.

Key outstanding issues: Baltimore bridge collapse and FISA deadline

Upon returning to Washington, lawmakers will be pressed to respond to the rebuilding and recovery effort in the aftermath of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore last month.

The full scope of what will be required — and the price tag — will take time to determine. There are several mechanisms the federal government can tap for the recovery process, but pressure may grow on Congress to pass additional funding with Congress back in session.

A spending package may not be dealt with in the current congressional work period, though, as a significant portion of funding for the recovery effort is expected to come from an emergency fund at the Department of Transportation.

Spending issues are typically contentious on Capitol Hill, but there is often more bipartisan support for disaster relief and emergency recovery. Some hardline House conservatives, however, have signaled that they would want spending cuts to offset any cost, which could become a point of contention if Congress moves to pass legislation.

The Maryland congressional delegation is trying to arrange a meeting with Speaker Johnson to emphasize the importance of Hill action to help rebuilding and recovery in the wake of the bridge collapse.

Congress is also facing an April 19 deadline to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a major — and controversial — surveillance law.

Authority for Section 702 was extended through mid-April as part of the National Defense Authorization Act passed last year, but is now on track to expire.

House Republicans have been divided over how to handle the issue, putting pressure on Johnson to find a compromise between different factions within his conference.

Leadership pulled a pair of surveillance law bills from the floor in December amid internal GOP divisions. In February, a spokesperson for the speaker said the House would consider FISA reform “at a later date” to allow for more time to reach consensus on a path forward.

A bill introduced by GOP Rep. Laurel Lee of Florida titled the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act would reauthorize Section 702 of FISA for five years and aims to impose a series of reforms on the authority.

Section 702 of FISA enables the US government to obtain intelligence by collecting communications records of foreign persons based overseas.

Supporters argue Section 702 is a critical tool for safeguarding national security, but it has come under scrutiny from some lawmakers over alleged misuse.

“This is surveillance of foreigners who are abroad – we are not surveilling foreigners in the United States; we’re not surveilling Americans in the United States,” Turner said Sunday. “Those individuals who say this is a warrantless search of Americans’ data are just not telling the truth.”

He added: “If you’re an American, and you’re corresponding with ISIS, yes … your communications are going to be captured. You would want us to do that.”

The searches are governed by a set of internal rules and procedures designed to protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, but critics say that loopholes allow the FBI to search the data it collects for Americans’ information — as opposed to from foreign adversaries — without proper justification.

CNN’s Annie Grayer, Ted Barrett, Morgan Rimmer, Melanie Zanona and Betsy Klein contributed.

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