Speaker Mike Johnson drew a hard line during a private Wednesday meeting with GOP senators on border talks.
Speaker Johnson told Senate Republicans that he wants the GOP to push for the Democratic leaderships no. 1 non-starter—the conservative House-passed border bill known as H.R. 2.
Not only that, but Johnson also informed GOP leaders that he wouldn't be going for the tentative big sweeping package—even if they could pass it—whether or not it includes some border policy changes.
What's even more, Johnson said it’s the House GOP’s preference to pass each provision separately on the House floor, arguing that he “did not think he had the votes to do them all” together, said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). There is a bipartisan effort in the Senate to pass a package tying together Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the border as a comprehensive national security package, hoping it can get enough votes if all these policies are grouped together.
This proposal, which has already faced a significant uphill climb, is being challenged further by Johnson's hard line. In these border negotiations, Republicans have been unable to get Democrats to budge on much, and Senate Democrats have already rejected other proposals like H.R. 2. This bill plans to tighten up the asylum process considerably, fund continued building of a border wall and ramp up technological monitoring along the northern and southern borders.
Pushing for the inclusion of H.R. 2 may embolden Republicans in Congress but will inevitably alienate Democrats.
“He wants as much of H.R. 2 as you can. And I'm all for H.R. 2. But it's a double-edged sword,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “If we pass H.R. 2 and make it part of the package, you may not get a single Democratic vote in the House."
Johnson did continue to advocate for funding Ukraine with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell before the meeting, repeating his view that Congress can’t let Russian President Vladimir Putin march through Europe, according to a person briefed on the meeting.
“Now the question is how they package it,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), one of the border negotiators. “We have a view here that we really need to send that out in a package.”
Those senators left the meeting under the impression that the border negotiations were struggling and that an enormous, $100 billion spending package was unlikely to pass Congress at all.
Some of these conservative Senators railed against the hardline by taking it further, declaring in a press conference that the package would never work. Others took the “optimistic” belief that Johnson might carefully consider the Senate’s bid.
The speaker “was upbeat about being able to put together a package and he understands that he's not going to get everything that was in H.R. 2, but he's going to do his best to try to get as much as possible,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).