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Trump looms over fight to oust Speaker Johnson

<i>Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>
Getty Images via CNN Newsource

By Kristen Holmes, Melanie Zanona and Manu Raju, CNN

(CNN) — As Mike Johnson stares down a serious threat to his speakership, he’s taking steps to show alignment with the most powerful figure in the Republican Party: Donald Trump.

Johnson has made plans to trek down to Mar-a-Lago on Friday to appear at a joint news conference with the former president to deliver remarks on “election integrity” – a topic Trump cares deeply about. The development was first reported by CNN.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s allies have asked Trump to publicly support the speaker, or at least stay out all together of his back-and-forth with House Republicans, according to multiple sources close to both Johnson and Trump. And people have also been counseling Johnson to keep Trump in the loop on a yet-to-be-released Ukraine aid package – a politically perilous policy issue that could draw the ire of Trump, divide the House GOP and end Johnson’s rookie speakership.

The effort to stay in Trump’s good graces could provide Johnson some much-needed political cover as he tries to carefully navigate a tricky stretch of governing and fend off a possible right-wing revolt. Johnson’s strategy also shows the continued grip Trump has on the House Republican Conference.

Johnson has long been a staunch Trump supporter and played an instrumental role behind the scenes in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. CNN previously reported that after the election, Johnson sent an email from a personal email account to every House Republican soliciting signatures to support a long-shot Texas lawsuit seeking to invalidate Electoral College votes from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The lawsuit was eventually rejected by the Supreme Court.

But it may prove difficult for Johnson to prove he is moving in complete lockstep with Trump. Aside from promising to deliver some form of funding to Ukraine, which Trump has railed against, the speaker has also been trying to pass a contentious reauthorization of a foreign surveillance law. Those plans were thwarted after Trump encouraged Republicans to kill the bill and hard-liners tanked a procedural vote on Wednesday.

Johnson told House Republicans during a closed-door meeting Wednesday that he had spoken to the former president the previous day. But when asked by CNN if he had sought Trump’s backing amid a potential vote to oust him, Johnson said: “I’m not going to comment on the conversations with President Trump.”

Trump’s team also declined to comment on the call.

Johnson added: “It would be chaos in the House” if a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair were to succeed.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of Trump’s most loyal supporters who is threatening to force a vote on Johnson’s removal, also told CNN she had recently spoken to Trump but declined to reveal how he feels about her effort.

“I don’t speak for the president,” Greene said, following a tense, 70-minute meeting in the speaker’s office Wednesday.

Asked about Johnson’s upcoming news conference with Trump, Greene said: “Things like that don’t bother me.”

For his part, Trump has said that he does not want to go through another speaker fight, one source told CNN.

‘Trump’s support on anything would be helpful’

Johnson – who has promised to address Ukraine as lawmakers return to Washington from a two-week recess – has so far kept his strategy close to his vest and plans to talk it over more with members of his conference this week.

But the speaker has publicly floated some ideas to make the proposal more appealing to conservatives, such as structuring the aid as a loan – an idea previously floated by Trump.

Several House Republicans told CNN they would feel more comfortable with any Ukraine package if they knew it had Trump’s backing and encouraged Johnson to seek Trump’s buy-in.

“I would hope the speaker is consulting with Donald Trump on just about everything we do,” said Texas Rep. Troy Nehls, a Trump ally. “If he’s not, he should be.”

Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern, the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, echoed a similar sentiment.

“President Trump’s support on anything would be helpful for the Republican Party,” Hern told CNN.

Some Trump allies who support aiding Ukraine expressed cautious optimism after the former president’s meeting with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron at Mar-a-Lago earlier this week. Cameron described the meeting as “good” and said he would continue to push for Ukraine aid during meetings in Washington with US lawmakers from both parties.

Cameron said he reiterated during the meeting with Trump that supporting Ukraine is an investment in US security and that “the best thing we can do is to keep the Ukrainians in this fight.”

Two sources close to Trump said there was no indication that the former president had shifted his stance on funding Ukraine.

Greene continued to encourage Johnson to drop his plans for both Ukraine aid and the surveillance bill.

“Right now, he does not have my support, and I’m watching what happens on FISA and Ukraine,” she said. “Those are the two things that we’ll be watching.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional reporting.

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