WASHINGTON (AP) — Inside the White House Situation Room, new House Speaker Mike Johnson made clear to Biden administration officials its demands for foreign aid: Aid to Israel for his war against Hamas should be separated from support for Ukrainedefending itself against a Russian invasion that has now lasted more than 20 months.
Immediately, Johnson was pushed back, according to people with knowledge of the Oct. 26 briefing. Democratic lawmakers in attendance, along with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and White House Budget Director Shalanda Young, told Johnson about their deep opposition to aid sharingsaid the people, who were granted anonymity to discuss a private meeting.
Even some House Republicans in the room indicated they disagreed with the new president’s position.
“He was listening to a certain extent, but he was also making a lot of MAGA Republican points of view and not from the perspective of bringing Congress together to move us in a better direction,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y. ., referring to the former That of President Donald Trump Campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”. Meeks attended the White House briefing.
This confrontation, just 24 hours after Johnson was catapulted to the presidency, showed the will of the Republican leader to defy entrenched White House expectations and even challenge members of his own party, both publicly and privately. He also began telegraphing administration and congressional Democrats on how he might govern.
Johnson’s early moves confounded administration officials, particularly his strategy on aid to Israel. At the White House, aides took particular notice of Johnson’s decision to insist that emergency foreign aid be accompanied by offsetting cuts — a step rarely, if ever, taken. Additionally, in a decidedly partisan move, he chose to pay for the aid using IRS resources. intended to combat tax fraud.
That a bill was passed by the House last week, by a vote of 226 to 196, with 12 Democrats joining the Republicans. Top White House aides worked the phones furiously in the final hours before the vote, particularly with Jewish Democrats, emphasizing not only President Joe Biden’s political objections to the bill but also the political need to limit restrictions. Democratic defections, according to people familiar with the matter. the message from the administration.
Johnson did not apologize.
“If Democrats in the Senate or the House or anyone else…want to argue that it is more important to hire more IRS agents than to stand with Israel in This moment, I’m ready to have this debate,” said Johnson, R-La. at the Capitol during his first official press conference as speaker. “I didn’t attach this for political purposes, okay?”
Yet White House officials continue to approach him with curiosity, despite their initial skepticism. They even found some reason to be encouraged, including Johnson’s surprisingly warm remarks about the we must help Ukrainegiven his past votes against funding.
Even if the Democrats believe Johnson is a more useful political foil that his predecessor as president, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, the White House itself was careful not to openly antagonize Johnson, deliberately deferring most campaign attacks on his background and positions to the political committees of the left.
During the long spectacle of the presidency, the White House has avoided any public involvement. Once Johnson was officially elected, administration officials, like much of Washington and the political world, scrambled to learn about Johnson, whose interactions with the White House during the Biden presidency have been virtually nonexistent.
This means that the process of knowing the White House continues.
White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients and Presidential Advisor Steve Ricchetti spoke cordially with Johnson as Biden met with him for the first time. When the White House invited Johnson to the Situation Room, officials made sure he knew he could bring a national security aide into the classified session — a prerogative he gets as president from the room.
Biden “wants to work in good faith with whoever he (…) chose as president — it happens to be President Johnson — and he wants to deliver results for the American people,” Little said. after White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Johnson’s elevation to the presidency. “This is something the president himself has said over the last few weeks.”
A discreet conservative who was first elected to Congress in 2016, Johnson, 51, had come to the job with little experience in political leadership and had never been known for his bipartisan bona fides. It couldn’t be a starker contrast to Biden, 80, a decades-old Washington veteran who places a high value on personal relationships and bipartisanship.
As Johnson began his improbable rise to the top of the House Republican ranks, the White House also took private note of his far-right positions and his similarities, at least in substance, to Rep. Jim Jordan, R- Ohio, the House Judiciary. Chairman of the committee and one of the administration’s main antagonists leading an impeachment inquiry against Biden.
Johnson had taken a proactive role in former President Donald Trump’s effort to stay in power despite his loss to Democrat Biden in 2020, rallying other lawmakers to sign a letter of support for several states’ failure to reject some election results. Before entering politics, Johnson was a lawyer specializing in constitutional matters.
When Johnson outlined his reasons for running for president last month, he argued that “the president is clearly incapable of leading and the Senate is unwilling.” Although Johnson described his meeting with Biden as cordial, the speaker said in a Fox News interview that he had noticed cognitive decline.
Biden has said little publicly about Johnson himself, but he has continued to use the mess of the GOP presidency in the House to make the case for keeping him in office and not putting Trump back in the White House.
“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy this democracy,” Biden said. at a fundraiser in Minneapolis last week. “And while MAGA Republicans in the House fight among themselves, fighting to elect a president, trying to shut down the government, sowing seeds of destruction at every turn, Kamala and I will always defend, protect and fight for this democracy” , he said, referring to Vice President Kamala Harris.
Johnson’s allies say his blunt stance will serve as a counterpoint to the administration.
“He’s an honest shooter, so he’s not going to mess with them. They’ll know what he’s thinking,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who knows Johnson well and is one of the few Republican lawmakers who has worked closely with the Biden White House. “Mike will have his eyes wide open. He is not naive.
Other Republicans said Johnson’s greatest strength is that he has yet to burn ties with anyone on either side of the aisle. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said the same qualities that helped Johnson get elected president are those that will help him negotiate with the president.
“It will be difficult for me because I’m stubborn, you understand, and I have some rough edges,” Higgins said of Johnson’s contrasting, softer style. “But Mike is such a kind, compassionate and polite gentleman.”
Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.