As Spending Talks Intensify, Johnson’s Bind Grows Tighter

At an intense meeting inside the Oval Office on Tuesday, Speaker Mike Johnson was the odd man out.

President Biden made clear that the speaker’s positions were out of step with other leaders in government, as did Vice President Kamala Harris. The top Democrats in the House and Senate did, too. Even Senator Mitch McConnell, his fellow G.O.P. leader on the other side of the Capitol, emphasized the need for the speaker to avoid a government shutdown and provide badly needed aid to Ukraine.

With time running out to respond to two crises — a partial government shutdown that is looming this weekend and the potential end to American aid to help Ukraine prevail in its war against Russia — Mr. Johnson, only months into his job, has found himself the last holdout at an increasingly agitated table of negotiators.

On the one side, he is feeling pressure from the president of the United States, both Senate leaders and the House minority leader — all demanding he cut a deal to fund the government and keep aid to Kyiv flowing. But on his right flank, he is facing a band of hard-line Republicans demanding that he hold out for conservative priorities and spurn Ukraine’s calls for help, or risk being booted from the speakership.

To put it succinctly, Mr. Johnson is in a bind.

“Boy, is it a tough one,” said former Representative Vin Weber, Republican of Minnesota, who helped advise Kevin McCarthy during his lengthy bid to secure the gavel. “There is not a solution that will make everyone happy and unite the Republican Party.”

Mr. Weber said the pressures on Mr. Johnson were coming not just from members of Congress, but also from a Republican electorate at war with itself.

“He has a divided Republican grass-roots base,” Mr. Weber said. “Isolationism has spread among the grass-roots base, but there’s also a lot of grass-roots Republicans who will be furious if we let the Russians win. He’s got problems multiple ways. But he’s got to figure out the right thing to do and do it. It may cost him his speakership.”

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