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Trump to host embattled Speaker Mike Johnson as House swirls in turmoil

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — House Speaker Mike Johnson is making a campaign pilgrimage to visit Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, a rite of passage as the embattled Republican leader positions himself, and his GOP majority, side-by-side with the indicted ex-president.

The two are planning a joint announcement on election integrity ahead of November, but the trip itself is significant for both. Johnson needs Trump to temper hard-line Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s threats to evict him from office. And Trump benefits from the imprimatur of official Washington dashing to Florida to embrace his comeback bid for the White House and his tangled election lies.

“It is the symbolism,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative commentator and frequent Trump critic.

“There was a time when the Speaker of the House of Representatives was a dominant figure in American politics,” he said. “Look where we are now, where he comes hat in hand to Mar-a-Lago.”

Having the House speaker and the presidential contender align for the campaign season is not in itself surprising or even unexpected, a typical arrangement as the party builds a coordinated effort of resources and proposals to present to voters in the fall.

But in the Trump era, the sojourns by Republican leaders to his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, have become defining moments, underscoring the lopsided partnership as the former president commandeers the party in sometimes humiliating displays of power.

Such was the case when Kevin McCarthy, then the House GOP leader, trekked to Mar-a-Lago after having been critical of the defeated president after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. A cheery photo was posted afterward, a sign of their mending relationship.

Johnson proposed the idea of coming to Mar-a-Lago weeks before Greene filed her motion to vacate him from the speaker’s office. The visit comes just days before the former president’s criminal trial on hush money charges gets underway next week in New York City.

The trip shows the fragility of the speaker’s grip on the gavel, just six months on the job since replacing the ousted McCarthy, but also his evolving grasp of the politics of the Trump era.

Johnson of Louisiana understands he needs Trump’s backing to conduct almost any business in the House — including his next big priority, providing U.S. aid to Ukraine to fight Russia’s invasion.

The speaker’s own political livelihood depends on support — or at least not opposition — from the “Make America Great Again” Republicans who are aligned with Trump but creating much of the House dysfunction that has ground work to a halt.

Johnson commands the narrowest majority in modern times and a single quip from the former president can derail legislation. He was once a Trump skeptic, but the two men now talk frequently, including earlier this week.

Even still, Trump urged Republicans to “kill” a national security surveillance bill that Johnson had personally worked to pass, contributing to a sudden defeat that sent the House spiraling this week into crisis. It was expected to try again to pass the bill Friday before Johnson departs for Florida.

In a daring move, the speaker is working both sides to help Ukraine, talking directly to the White House on the national security package that is at risk of collapse with Trump’s opposition. Greene is warning of a snap vote to oust Johnson from leadership if he allows any U.S. assistance to flow to the overseas ally.

“The funding of Ukraine must end,” Greene said she told Johnson in a private meeting this week.

On the issue of election integrity, though, Johnson, who led one of the main legal challenges to the 2020 election won by Joe Biden, appears to be more aligned with Trump.

Trump continues to insist the 2020 election was marred by fraud, even though no evidence has emerged in the last four years to support his claims and every state in the nation certified their results as valid.

As he runs to reclaim the White House, Trump has essentially taken over the Republican National Committee, turning the campaign apparatus toward his priorities. He supported Michael Whatley to lead the RNC, which created a new “Election Integrity Division” and says it is working to hire thousands of lawyers across the country.

At Friday’s event they are expected to promote ideas to prevent noncitizens from voting, even though it’s already a federal felony for a noncitizen to cast a ballot in a federal election. There’s no evidence of significant numbers of immigrants violating that law by casting illegal ballots.

Some liberal cities like San Francisco have begun to allow noncitizens to vote in a few local elections, leading Republicans to argue there need to be even more laws forbidding it in federal elections.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said he was supportive of those proposals. “How do you ensure that noncitizens are not voting? That’s that’s what this is all about.”

With his majority shrinking due to early retirements and departures, Johnson is operating as a speaker in name only. But the more he depends on Democrats to provide the votes needed to pass substantial legislation, including last month’s bills to keep the government from shutting down, the deeper trouble he courts from the MAGA Republicans.

Trump could help Johnson by promoting the House’s legislative priorities or, at least, not torpedoing them. But that seems increasingly uncertain as the presumed presidential nominee leads the GOP in a different direction on both domestic and foreign policy priorities.

Tired of the infighting and wary of another dragged-out brawl like the monthlong slugfest to replace McCarthy, few Republicans are backing Greene’s effort to remove Johnson, for now.

“Marjorie’s actions are horrific,” said Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, a former Trump administration official. “They are childish. They are petulant. They have no place here in this body.”

But if Trump signals otherwise, that could all change.

Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker emeritus, said this week on “The Axe Files” podcast: “The Republicans wanted Donald Trump for speaker. And they got him.”

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Associated Press reporters Stephen Groves, Kevin Freking and Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report.

Lisa Mascaro And Jill Colvin, The Associated Press


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