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New threat: How Johnson elected as U.S. House Speaker and what it means for Ukraine

New threat: How Johnson elected as U.S. House Speaker and what it means for Ukraine The new Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Mike Johnson (Photo: Getty Images)

The Republican Party in the United States has finally managed to elect a new Speaker of the House of Representatives after several failed votes and a series of candidate changes. Congressman Mike Johnson has taken the position. We explore the issues with the appointment, who is now leading the lower house of Congress, and his stance on Ukraine in an overview by RBC-Ukraine.

In preparing this article, material from Axios, Reuters, data from the Republicans for Ukraine portal, and the House of Representatives meeting broadcast were used.

The end of the saga

The election of a new Speaker of the House of Representatives following Kevin McCarthy's resignation turned into quite a saga, attracting attention not only in the U.S. but also in Ukraine. Problems within the Republican Party, which holds the majority in the House, began even during the coordination of a single candidate.

Initially, the Trumpist faction compelled Republicans to reject the candidacy of a Republican faction leader, the experienced Stephen Scalise, exploiting his illness as he recently revealed he was battling cancer. Subsequently, the Speaker position was offered to staunch Trumpist Jim Jordan, but it was not meant to be. Jordan repeatedly sought the necessary support for his election but eventually withdrew from the race, losing more and more votes with each attempt.

During the unsuccessful votes for Jordan, an idea began to circulate among Republicans to grant expanded powers to the temporary Speaker Patrick McHenry, until January of the following year. This would have allowed the House to consider important bills, such as the U.S. government's budget for the next year and financial aid for Ukraine. However, this initiative did not find enough support within the party, and McHenry himself opposed such a scenario.

New threat: How Johnson elected as U.S. House Speaker and what it means for UkraineThe House failed to vote for Jordan three times (Photo: Getty Images)

Yesterday, Republicans returned to the selection of a new candidate. Thus, through internal secret voting, Tom Emmer was chosen, known for his anti-Trump stance. Emmer was also known for his support of Ukraine, but just hours later, he withdrew his candidacy, as it became clear that he would not gather the necessary minimum of 217 votes during the House vote.

Ultimately, Republicans elected Mike Johnson as their candidate for Speaker, who received support from all party factions. On the other side, Democrats nominated Hakim Jeffries for the Speaker position, but this was a formality, as the Democratic Party is the minority in the House and cannot elect a candidate with their votes alone.

Not a friend of Ukraine

Congressman Johnson, who entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016, can certainly not be called a friend of Ukraine. He is an ally of the 45th U.S. President, Donald Trump. Johnson defended Trump during congressional impeachment hearings and supported legal actions to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in four U.S. states.

In line with Trump's supporters, Johnson holds an openly anti-Ukraine stance. He supported several initiatives aimed at reducing U.S. support for Ukraine. In May of last year, Johnson voted against a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, arguing that this money would be better spent on domestic needs, especially given the situation at the U.S. border.

"We should not be sending another $40 billion abroad when our own border is in chaos, American mothers are struggling to find baby formula, gas prices are at record highs, and American families are struggling to make ends meet, without sufficient oversight over where the money will go," he stated at the time.

After his election as Speaker candidate, Johnson presented his plan of action to Republicans. Notably, his plan did not mention the consideration of the White House's request for $100 billion in aid to Ukraine and Israel.

In his first speech after being elected, Johnson prioritized assisting Israel and strengthening the border with Mexico. He didn't mention Ukraine at all.

On the hook of Trumpists

Despite the high spirits of the Republicans after the election of the new Speaker of the House, the three-week Speaker ordeal will not pass without a trace for their party. Deep ideological and personal disagreements and an inability to quickly find a compromise have become all too visible, even to their supporters, which holds significance in the context of future U.S. presidential and especially congressional elections.

New threat: How Johnson elected as U.S. House Speaker and what it means for Ukraine

Johnson was elected as the new Speaker of the House (Photo: Getty Images)

Additionally, the new Speaker, Johnson, will have to face the same challenges that cost his predecessor, McCarthy, his position. These include passing a new budget by November 17; otherwise, the U.S. would experience a government shutdown, resulting in the cessation of many government functions except for essential services. Furthermore, there's the issue of providing aid to Ukraine, which consistently faces opposition from the 'Trumpist' faction.

Moreover, a rule in the House's regulations still stands, which allows a single Congressman to bring a resolution for the Speaker's resignation to a vote. In practice, this means that just a few radical Trumpists, with the help of Democratic Congressmen, could push Johnson into resigning, similar to what happened with McCarthy. In other words, the new Speaker of the House will always be on their hook.

For Ukraine, it's essential to understand that the Speaker of the House wields significant powers. This includes the authority to decide which bills go to a vote, such as a bill to allocate over $60 billion in aid to Ukraine, a request made by President Joe Biden. Although there are mechanisms to bypass this rule, they have proven to be ineffective in the practical workings of American parliamentary politics.

Therefore, one can only hope that Johnson, in his new position, adheres to the unofficial Hastert Rule. This rule, established in the 1990s, dictates that Republican Speakers only bring bills to a vote in the House that have the support of the majority within their own party faction.

At present, the allocation of aid to Ukraine falls under this criterion. In September, 93 Republican Congressmen supported an amendment that entirely prohibited providing any assistance to Ukraine. As there are currently 221 Republicans in the party faction, this means that a majority within it, consisting of 111 Congressmen, could block any initiative. Therefore, Ukraine still has some leverage. Nevertheless, the Trumpists could resort to pressuring Johnson, threatening his resignation, which, considering their political style, is highly probable.