Mike Johnson
GOP lawmakers said they expect more clarity from the speaker after the House finishes government spending bills. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Mike Johnson’s Plan for Ukraine is Secret. Or it Doesn’t Exist.

The House Speaker is about to feel a lot more pressure to tell his members what’s on his mind.

House Speaker Mike Johnson still hasn’t explained his strategy for getting aid to Ukraine — and at this point, it’s not clear if he even has one.

It has been a month since the Senate passed a $95 billion bill to restock American weapons and assist Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Since then, rank-and-file members have floated multiple competing strategies in the House on approaching one of the most high-profile issues Congress faces. But Johnson, who sets the chamber’s agenda, doesn’t seem any closer to outlining his own plan. At this point, all Republicans do know is that Johnson opposes the Senate bill and has made public comments supportive of Ukraine.

“He has not spoken to the conference about it,” House Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, told NOTUS on Tuesday.

House Republicans closely aligned with Donald Trump ardently oppose more Ukraine aid, while a faction of national security hawks believe it is essential for American interests. Johnson, caught in the middle, is about to feel a lot more pressure to make up his mind.

Some Republicans on Tuesday brushed off questions about Johnson’s approach or couldn’t define the next steps. Rep. Troy Nehls, a Texas Republican who opposes more assistance to Ukraine, chuckled when asked if Johnson’s views on Ukraine are clear to him. “I’ve been hearing this and that,” Nehls said before reiterating his own stance. But is Johnson’s strategy clear? “I don’t know.”

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a New York Republican, said Johnson should share his strategy with the conference (Malliotakis does think he has one and is just keeping it close to his chest).

“The problem is every time he talks to the conference, it ends up on Twitter within two seconds, and so there’s no trust there,” she told NOTUS.

GOP lawmakers, including Cole, said they expect more clarity from the speaker after the House finishes government spending bills this month. (Cole supports more aid to Ukraine “as soon as possible” and said Johnson told him “he’s working on it” when they spoke about the issue.) But a few Republicans who want to send more weapons and money to Ukraine are already plowing ahead with an attempt to sidestep Johnson this week.

“I already signed the discharge for our bill, for defending borders, defending democracies,” Rep. Mike Lawler, a New York Republican, told NOTUS on Tuesday. “Time is of the essence, and we are working to make sure that we can get a bill to the floor.”

Lawler is one of several Republicans willing to use a discharge petition — a procedural tool that allows a simple majority of 218 members to override the speaker and force a vote on the measure.

Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican who sponsored the same bill, said when he recently spoke with Johnson about it, Johnson told him that at least 70 House Republicans would oppose it. Discharge petitions have historically been difficult to get over the finish line, and Ukraine’s allies in the House haven’t united around one approach yet. Democrats who support more Ukraine funding are working to advance their own discharge petition to bring forward the Senate bill for consideration.

Bacon said he is feeling a sense of urgency. People “who know when Ukraine absolutely has to get this,” Bacon said, have pointed to early spring as a deadline for more assistance. However, he declined to share more specifics because “it’s probably more in the classified realm.”

“Our bill addresses every concern he has,” Bacon said of Johnson. “Our goal is to kick in the door and try to get something done.”

Johnson’s approach, on the other hand, has appeared designed not to make law but to avoid tough votes that would anger his members. First, he insisted on stricter border security provisions being included in the bill; then, he quickly shot down a bipartisan Senate border proposal that would have included many of those provisions. Instead of offering a different border plan that could pass, Johnson said he wants to include House Republicans’ hard-line immigration bill, which Democrats (who control the Senate and White House) won’t accept.

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Johnson hasn’t been particularly welcoming of GOP attempts to forge an alternative to the Senate bill either. In a brief interview with Punchbowl News about the debate last week, Johnson wouldn’t commit to allowing a vote on a different version of a national security package being prepared by some Republican committee chairmen.

It’s not uncommon for House speakers to avoid discussing issues that divide their party, but it’s almost impossible for them to ignore more urgent national security requests. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi found herself in a similar dilemma in 2007, when Congress considered $100 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pelosi, who opposed more money for the Iraq War, couldn’t stop the vote altogether because a contingent of her party had sided with Republicans in backing the funding request. She voted against it when she brought it to the floor, but she managed to pair the vote with an increase in the national minimum wage and funding for some domestic priorities.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell called on Johnson on Tuesday to let the House consider the Senate’s bill. “I want to encourage the speaker again to allow a vote,” he said. “Let the House speak.”

Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, said members are willing to use a discharge petition or any tool available to have the debate, but he agreed with McConnell’s argument.

“The most efficient way to deal with this is for the speaker to just listen to his members and put the legislation on the floor,” Kildee told NOTUS. “This is a life-and-death situation and has implications for the strength of democracies across the globe.”

Haley Byrd Wilt is a reporter at NOTUS.