March 4, 2024

Speaker Mike Johnson is facing down his first major challenge as the leader of the lower chamber’s Republican caucus: In just a matter of weeks, he’ll need Congress to reach a consensus on two contentious issues—border funding and international aid. It’s a feat that hasn’t been achieved in decades, in a venue where compromise has proven to be the Waterloo of Republican speakers.

Despite Johnson throwing his weight into securing a deal, it’ll be a “steep road” for the newly minted speaker, as one lawmaker told The Hill. Negotiators in the Senate, who face challenges of their own to surmount as its members debate their part of the pending deal, aren’t confident that their success—should it come to fruition— will be replicated by Johnson in the lower chamber.

At stake is a $105 billion national security package proposed by the Biden administration, which includes more than $13 billion to address border issues along with $14.3 billion in aid to Israel and more than $61 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has suggested could be the difference between winning or losing the war.

The major obstacle is a familiar bugaboo: Republican infighting, fueled by a razor thin conservative majority in the House. The fractious Republican caucus, whose famous inability to work together led to Johnson’s anointment in the first place, has already started to seep into the discussions on this latest deal, with some lawmakers outright refusing to negotiate.

The chaos within the caucus is being furthered by outside pressure. Conservative policy group Heritage Action urged lawmakers on Tuesday to strike down any plans etched by the upper chamber, insisting that H.R. 2, an asylum-limiting immigration bill proposed by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, was the “only solution to securing the border.”

“Worse, the proposal coming out of these ‘negotiations’ will likely be used as leverage to advance President Biden’s request for $106 billion in fiscally irresponsible spending, including an additional $60 billion for Ukraine that fails to meet conservative standards and $13.6 billion for fake ‘border security’ that would accelerate Biden’s open border operations,” wrote Heritage Action’s president Kevin Roberts in a statement.

“House and Senate conservatives should reject this proposal and commit to supporting H.R. 2 to restore safety and security for the American people. Anything less is unacceptable,” he added.

Even as conservatives stall, Democrats have agita of their own regarding a deal in which many fear their party are poised to give away too much to the GOP in the terse negotiations.

“We have been willing to give a lot in these talks. We are way out of [our] traditional comfort zone for Democrats,” one of the negotiators, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, told reporters. “At some point, Republicans are going to have to say ‘yes.’”