Mike Johnson: The wartime Speaker battling on multiple fronts

"I regard myself as a wartime Speaker," declared House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

Only, we’re not sure if Johnson was referring to the internecine war among Republicans over whether he should keep his job.

Many members wear pocket squares with their suits. But not Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. He walks around with a self-made, diode "debt clock" tucked into the breast pocket of his jacket, tracking the skyrocketing debt. Massie’s ascending fiscal chronometer may have read more $34 trillion dollars this week. But the only number which mattered on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning was "two." As in two House members who were ready to oust Johnson from his job: Massie and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. 

"The motion (to remove Johnson) will get called. And then he’s going to lose more votes than (former House Speaker) Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., And I told him this in private, like two weeks ago," said Massie. 

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A reporter asked Massie about what that meant, not having a leader – again – for the second time in less than a year. 

"Some would say we’d be rudderless. But we have a rudder. We’re steering everything toward (Senate Majority Leader) Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.," replied Massie. "There has not been a change. I mean, if the country likes Chuck Schumer, then they should like what Speaker Johnson’s accomplished in the House." 

There’s strength in numbers – even if the numbers are low. After all, it’s about the math. It matters even more in a House which is currently split at 218 Republicans to 213 Democrats. That meager Republican majority shrivels to 217-213 after Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., quits. Gallagher was supposed to leave Friday. But Fox is told that the Wisconsin Republican will at least hang around until Saturday as the House tries to approve the international aid supplemental package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. 

Greene beamed at the support from Massie for her effort to remove Johnson.

"It was significant," said Greene of Massie’s backing. "It also lets people know this is a lot more serious than people realized."

Greene echoed Massie, suggesting "there’ll be more" Republicans who might vote to remove Johnson "than were against Kevin McCarthy." 

Here’s the problem for Greene. She doesn’t have someone who could win a Speaker’s vote on the floor. That’s why the House burned 22 days on the calendar last October and thrashed through three nominees for Speaker before finally settling on Johnson. If the House approved a "motion to vacate the chair" (a "MTV," which removes the Speaker), there’s no telling how long it would take the get a successor this time.

"I don’t think that the threat is really real at this point, just because you don’t have an alternative," said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., who was a top lieutenant to McCarthy. "We saw what happened last fall when this all went down. There’s not an alternative."

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Graves said a number of conservatives who were mad at Johnson "don’t think past step one. Which is why we have so many problems here right now." 

Graves asserted that the "painful scars" of the McCarthy debacle would be "a major disincentive for folks who actually pull the trigger on a motion to vacate."

There was significant blowback from conservatives after Johnson announced a four-pronged approach to grapple with the Middle East. Especially after the House plotted a course for the week of 17 bills dealing either with Israel or Iran. Johnson tailored his pitch on the foreign aid measure. He planned one bill for Israel. One for Ukraine. One for Taiwan. The final bill would include a plan to repossess Russian assets and grant some of the assistance to Ukraine as a "lease." That’s an option endorsed by former President Trump. But the sweetener to the fourth bill would be a measure to curb the use of TikTok in the U.S.

The House would then package the four bills together and send them to the Senate.

"It's got a chance of passing," said Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, Tuesday morning. But if you "MIRV" them together and pretend that they were really separate votes, but at the end of the day, it has the effect of being one vote. I mean, that's all smoke and mirrors."

Davidson characterized the TikTok provisions as "camouflage for defending America."

"‘MIRV’ them together?"

"MIRV" is a Capitol vocabulary term you’re going to hear about as the House tries to advance the four separate foreign aid bills - and then blend them into one for efficiency purposes before sending the package to the Senate.

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It’s pronounced "merve." A "MIRV" is a vestige of the Cold War and missile counts between the United States and Soviet Union. It stands for "Multiple Independently-Targetable Re-Entry Vehicle." Each MIRV had multiple nuclear warheads or "MIRVs" attached. This was an issue of contention between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Was a MIRV counted as one missile or four or five? 

The idea is that the House would vote on each individual bill - then blend them together as one for the Senate. 

A parliamentary MIRV!  

Hence why conservatives are upset about the plan by Johnson. It’s four bills. Or is it one? 

Johnson defended the MIRV maneuver.

"I’m concerned that Israel might not pass through the Senate right now if it’s not included in the package," said Johnson. "If you separate them, then none of our priorities will be reflected, I’m afraid."

Conservatives have also implored Johnson to attach border security to the plan. But that might not be feasible.

"We don’t have the votes. If you put Ukraine in any package, you can’t also do the border because I lose Republican votes on that rule. My friends don’t get it," replied Johnson. 

"Are they still your friends?" asked yours truly.

"They’re all my friends," said Johnson. "I love everybody in this building." 

Johnson made his decision on Monday against taking the streamlined Senate aid bill approved in February and instead traveled his own route. Initial information about the plan was scant. 

"What are they doing over there?" asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of your reporter on Monday night as we both exited the Capitol. 

The "what" was the House’s approach on an international aid package. But "over there" referred to the U.S. House of Representatives, that hostile, untamed, political wilderness which lies beyond the boundaries of the Capitol Rotunda.  

The Senate isn’t exactly a peaceful place. But considering the contretemps in the House, the Senate is practically Xanadu. Especially as Republicans skirmish with one another over foreign aid, leadership and a wartime Speaker.

House to focus just on Israel, Iran next week

EXCLUSIVE: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R, La., tells Fox News the House is shifting its legislative docket next week to deal exclusively with the crisis in the Middle East.

Scalise says the House is jettisoning "themed" legislation focusing on attempts by the Biden Administration to curb the types of appliances people can buy and recalibrating toward foreign policy.

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The biggest issue is a potential aid package for Israel. Scalise says it’s not clear if the House would focus on just Israel or do something related to Ukraine and Taiwan. Scalise suggested an Israel-only bill was a distinct possibility. But did not rule out including Ukraine. Scalise says members must just figure out what can pass.

Scalise says the House is also looking at bills to support Israel and resolutions to condemn Iran and condemn this weekend’s attacks.

In particular, Scalise says the House will bring up a measure which was blocked last week when members torpedoed a procedural measure, blocking debate on a FISA bill.

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Scalise says the House will resuscitate a resolution which supports Israel, condemning antisemitism and calls for a unilateral ceasefire.

Senate voted in favor of $95 billion international spending bill, there may be another around the corner

Members of the House and Senate usually like to gab.

But word of a cryptic, major national security threat against the U.S. cast a pall on Congress this week.

Loggorrheic lawmakers suddenly turned mute when they were sworn to secrecy considering the gravity of Russia potentially deploying a weapon in outer space.

"I can’t discuss this. I’m sorry," lamented Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla.

"Absolutely no comment," said Rep. Richie Torres, D-N.Y.

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"We should be concerned. It’s serious," offered. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., "That’s all I can say right now."

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., was practically verbose when he chatted up reporters about the threat.

"I’m going to be very precise and I’m not going to take questions," said Johnson.

But Johnson lent little detail into the disconcerting reports.

"Steady hands are at the wheel," said Johnson. "There’s no need for alarm."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said the White House "confirmed that, in their view, the matter was ‘serious.’"

This consternation is cast against the backdrop of the Senate approving a $95 billion international security bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. In other words, if there’s a pressing threat from Russia, this could impact Ukraine.

An eye-popping 70 senators voted in favor of the bill just before daybreak Tuesday morning. Twenty-two Senate Republicans voted yes. Three senators who caucus with the Democrats voted nay.

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Twenty-two GOP yeas is not quite half of the 49 member Senate Republican Conference. But that’s still a substantial showing. And 70 votes is a robust figure from the Senate. Seventy yeas would make the bill hard to ignore in the House - under other circumstances.

"I think the House will face a moment of truth. This is a historical moment," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. "You can also be sure our allies are watching, whether in NATO or East Asia, to see whether the United States surrenders, or betrays a partner." 

Democrats demanded that Johnson take up the foreign aid bill. But he immediately resisted. 

"We are not going to be forced into action by the Senate who in the latest product they sent us over does not have one word in the bill about America's border. Not one word about security," said Johnson.

Even though Johnson – and Senate Republicans – mauled a bipartisan Senate compromise for the border.

"What is he afraid of to put national security first to help our country, to push back and push back against (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin, and to make sure that our country is protected?" asked House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.

It’s not often that House members can bypass the leadership and deposit a bill on the floor. But there is a way to do it. The gambit is called a discharge petition.

Here’s how it works:

A discharge petition requires a solid number of 218 House members to sign up to go over the head of the Speaker. The number is locked in at 218, regardless of the side of the House. The House has 435 members at full population. It’s currently at 431 members. Thus, the discharge petition provision wants at least half of the body to favor sidestepping the leadership.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee said he was "absolutely" for a discharge petition.

When asked if most Democrats would sign on, Nadler replied, "yeah, I do."

But not so fast.

Many Democrats might push to advance the foreign aid package. But there are plenty of progressives who aren’t in favor of the bill at all because of concerns for Palestinians.

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"I can’t support that bill with aid to Israel," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. "There’s also a lot of concerns about the restrictions on the aid to Gaza that the Senate put into the bill, including suspending aid to UNRWA, which is the only agency that can deliver aid in Gaza."

Moreover, Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., thought it was "premature" to execute a discharge petition. He wanted the House to try to work through the issue and get it on the floor another way.

So certainly more Democrats favor of a discharge petition. But no one knows what might constitute that particular universe of votes. Therefore, a discharge petition certainly needs substantial GOP support.

A successful discharge petition will require the support of advocates for Ukraine and moderate Republicans. Someone in that wheelhouse is Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. When asked if he was open to signing a discharge petition, Bacon replied "not now." He added he wouldn’t "lean too far forward" just yet.

The Nebraska Republican said "one or two" Democrats talked to him about signing the discharge petition. But he added a caveat.

"I'm interested in finding something we could all agree on," said Bacon.

But that’s just the start.

"I’d never sign a discharge petition when we are in the majority," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., suggested that that signatories weren’t team players for the GOP.

"A discharge petition would be a betrayal on the part of anyone signing it," said Gaetz.

This is why there have only been two successful discharge petitions in the House in the past 22 years.

One was on the House’s version of the famous "McCain-Feingold" campaign finance law, named originally after late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., in 2002. The other was on a measure to renew the Export-Import Bank.

So, this enterprise is challenging. And while it’s an intriguing parliamentary maneuver, the odds – and history – work against discharge petitions.

The House is now out of session until February 28. The Senate is done until the week after next. Another (yes, another) deadline to avert a government shutdown looms on March 1. A bigger one is barreling down the tracks for March 7. And the Senate must wrestle with an impeachment trial for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at the end of the month.

In short, a resolution to the international aid bill isn’t coming soon – if ever.

The threats loom – be a weapon from space for Russia. Threats at the border. Threats from China. The war in Ukraine. Instability in the Middle East.

The Senate finally acted – after a months-long circumnavigation into the border talks.

But there is no viable plan right now to pass the foreign aid package in the House.

It was long said that the Senate is where the House’s hot coffee cools.

In this case, the Senate served the House hot coffee.

And in today’s environment, it’s cooling instead in the House.

Biden tells donors Israel is losing support globally

President Biden is warning that Israel is losing global support in its continued war against Hamas, according to the White House press pool.

Biden made the comments Tuesday during his campaign reception at the Salamander hotel in Washington, D.C.

"Bibi's got a tough decision to make," Biden told attendees, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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"This is the most conservative government in Israel's history," Biden said. He added that the current Israeli government "doesn't want a two-state solution."

Biden claimed that in order to avoid a global turn of perception against Israel, Netanyahu "has to strengthen and change."

"There’s a lot to do and we’re going to have to be strong supporters of Israel," Biden said. "The goal is Israel’s security."

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He added, "We’ve got a lot of work to do."

Israel's ongoing conflict with Hamas began after the terrorist group launched an attack on Israeli civilians, infiltrating the country on Oct. 7 and killing more than 1,200 Israelis.

Israel has come under fierce international condemnation for the high numbers of civilian casualties in its counterattacks following the massacre, although the Biden administration has firmly supported the state's right to self-defense. 

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Biden hosted a Hanukkah celebration on Monday at the White House, where he condemned the rise of antisemitism during the Israel-Hamas war as "sickening." 

In remarks in front of Jewish lawmakers and other attendees, Biden harshly criticized those who remain silent in the face of antisemitism and reiterated his long-standing support for Israel.

"I got in trouble, got criticized very badly by the southern part of my state and some of the southern parts of the country, when 35 years ago I said, ‘You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist. And I am a Zionist,'" Biden said. 

Fox News Digital's Chris Pandolfo contributed to this report.