Newly-elected House Speaker Mike Johnson’s comments on Ukraine funding on his first full day in office have some conservatives, like Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), expressing concerns.
“To his great credit, the new speaker has been a stalwart on the Ukraine issue—voting consistently against an endless conflict with no plan from the Biden administration,” Vance tweeted on Friday morning, referencing comments Johnson made during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday evening. “It’s concerning to see him change his tune so quickly after being elevated to this role.”
To his great credit, the new speaker has been a stalwart on the Ukraine issue—voting consistently against an endless conflict with no plan from the Biden administration.
It’s concerning to see him change his tune so quickly after being elevated to this role. https://t.co/VBIKMpjZUW
— J.D. Vance (@JDVance1) October 27, 2023
Others, too, have expressed concerns about Johnson on the matter.
This is extremely concerning.
Mike Johnson seems to support additional aid for Ukraine.
Hopefully he backtracks on this. pic.twitter.com/tlIxl8CCR7
— Joey Mannarino (@JoeyMannarinoUS) October 26, 2023
Mike Johnson, the new GOP Speaker of the House, tells Sean Hannity:
– “We can’t allow Putin to prevail in Ukraine”
– US “boots on the ground” may be required to “stand with Israel”
– Supports Israel directly attacking Iran
– Russia, China, and Iran are “the new Axis of Evil” pic.twitter.com/1dQAZqpMKn
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) October 27, 2023
Johnson, who was elected Speaker of the House on Wednesday with unanimous support from House Republicans, ascended to the position which is second in the presidential line of succession behind Vice President Kamala Harris following more than three weeks of chaos in the House after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted earlier this month. Those three weeks saw the House GOP conference nominate several other Republicans—House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, then House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan, then House Majority Whip Tom Emmer—as speaker-designate before eventually settling on Johnson as the fourth post-McCarthy candidate.
— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) October 26, 2023
Johnson quickly consolidated the support of all House Republicans, who unanimously backed him on the floor on the first ballot electing him Speaker on Wednesday. Only one, Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-WI), technically did not vote for him because he was in Israel on a fact-finding mission after the Hamas terrorist attack of 10/7—but Van Orden would have supported Johnson if he had been back in time.
Johnson’s unanimous vote was the first time in more than a decade that a Republican speaker was elected with unanimous GOP support on the House floor—the last time that happened was former Speaker John Boehner’s first election as Speaker in January 2011—causing many to hope that Johnson would be able to navigate the party out of a longstanding intra-GOP civil war. But to do so, Johnson needs to move quickly to confront many major pressing issues, such as government funding battles, White House requests for emergency funding to Ukraine and Israel, and many more matters. With a bare-bones skeleton staff—he was barely in leadership before his unexpected rise into the Speakership—and a virtually nonexistent fundraising operation, how Johnson intends to do this remains uncertain. Whether he can effectively handle such major pressing crises and chart the conference through these uncertain waters remains to be seen. But there are some alarm bells quietly going off among some on the right at the end of the week in which he rose into the job. Whether he can course-correct next week and beyond remains to be seen.
On Johnson’s first day as Speaker of the House, he met with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and held meetings at Democrat President Joe Biden’s White House. Just taking those meetings in and of itself is not problematic—that is the job of the Speaker of the House, to represent the lower chamber of Congress on important matters—but what happened afterwards and what he says he did there at the White House is what concerns some folks on the right.
Asked by a reporter walking through the Capitol on Thursday if he supports additional U.S. aid to Ukraine, Johnson said “we all do.”
“We’re going to have conditions on that,” he added. “So we’re working through that.”
Asked what kind of conditions he wants to see, Johnson said, “Accountability, and we want objectives that are clear from the White House—but we’re going to have those discussions and it will be very productive.”
That may sound fine to many on the right, but concerns rose even more when Johnson appeared on Hannity’s program later in the evening to announce who he put in charge of those “conditions”—something many members of the House have privately raised alarms about.
“I told the staff at the White House today that our consensus among House Republicans is we need to bifurcate those issues,” Johnson told Hannity. “I agree with your assessment on Ukraine, which is why the American people are demanding some real accountability for the use of those dollars. Now, we can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine because I don’t believe it would stop there and it would probably encourage and empower China to perhaps make a move on Taiwan. We have these concerns. We’re not going to abandon them, but we have a responsibility—a stewardship responsibility—over the precious treasure of the American people and we have to make sure that the White House is providing the people with some accountability for the dollars. We want to know what the objective there is. What is the end game in Ukraine? The White House has not has not provided that. I was at the White House for a couple of hours today and I told the staff there that this is where we are. This is where the House Republicans. So, we’re going to look at Israel separately.”
Hannity, in a followup question, asked with this kind of money being spent if the United States is “having a proxy war with Putin and Russia.”
“It’s a great concern,” Johnson replied. “We have a group of colleagues here in the House led by Mike Garcia out of California—a brilliant legislator and a top gun pilot—and some of our veterans have gotten together. Dan Crenshaw is involved in this and others. They came up with a document that presents 12 critical questions for the White House to answer as a condition of supplying the additional support. These are not hard questions—these are things the White House should be forthcoming about. I delivered that myself. I delivered that myself today to the National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, and he says he is going to read it. We want to be cooperative and we want to work together on this but we owe it to the people to know what the plan is and where the money is going to be spent and we need some auditing for the money that’s already been sent over there. These are not tough questions.”
Set aside for a second the fact that appearing on Hannity’s program usually does not work out well for Republicans who do it. More importantly, the elevation by Speaker Johnson of Crenshaw, who most Republicans, including many who even support giving more aid to Ukraine, think is far too hawkish, to the point where he would be the member he cited in his first interview as Speaker as leading the list of concerns that he presented to the White House in his first meeting there on arguably the most important foreign policy issue of the day, has some worried he may be in need of some help as he gets organized here.
In fact, Crenshaw a year ago, when he attacked conservatives for criticizing continued Ukraine aid when there were baby formula shortages in the country, drew heat from then-Fox News host Tucker Carlson who dubbed him “Eyepatch McCain” in a brutal segment deconstructing Crenshaw’s illogical fallacies.
So, again, with all that said, some of this might just be Johnson learning on the job—a “welcome to the National Football League, Mr. Speaker,” moment—but if he does not get more careful about how he handles these types of things and whom he empowers he could quickly see that unanimous GOP support splinter. How Speaker Johnson manages that will be a major story to watch in the coming days, weeks, months, and possibly years ahead.