Speaker Mike Johnson meets with Biden about Ukraine and Israel aid package

Johnson, whom Biden's campaign has criticized, called it "productive."

October 26, 2023, 7:53 PM

Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson had a "productive meeting" with President Joe Biden on Thursday, Johnson told reporters afterward.

Johnson, a Louisiana lawmaker elevated to his role just one day ago, headed to the White House for a briefing "on the need for [Biden's] national security supplemental request," a White House official said, referring to a sweeping, approximately $105 billion package the president sent to Congress last seeking some $60 billion in military assistance for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel amid their respective wars.

Johnson was joined at the meeting by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who called it "candid" but added that "no decisions have been made."

The new speaker previously voted against Ukraine aid alongside some other House Republicans who argue the money could be better spent at home and that the U.S. should not be so deeply involved in a war overseas.

That view is at odds with previous members of GOP leadership, like former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who called for more accountability for Ukraine funding while saying it was important to help the country defend against Russia's invasion.

McCarthy was deposed by a few hard-line members of his conference earlier this month, triggering a three-week scramble for a replacement that ended with Johnson being chosen on Wednesday.

"The challenge before us is great, but the time for action is now -- and I will not let you down," Johnson said in a speech after winning the gavel.

The White House's foreign aid request faces some hurdles in the Senate, too, where Republicans have signaled they hope to make changes and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called it a "starting point."

Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks after his election at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on Oct. 25, 2023.
Tom Brenner/AFP via Getty Images

Soon after Johnson became speaker, Biden said in a statement that he was looking forward to working with House Republicans in a bipartisan manner, both on possible aid to Ukraine and Israel and on additional funding bills to keep the federal government from partially shutting down in November.

"Even though we have real disagreements about important issues, there should be mutual effort to find common ground wherever we can," Biden said in a statement issued by the White House.

That tone was at odds with how Biden's reelection campaign reacted to Johnson's selection. In a statement, a Biden campaign spokesperson labeled Johnson "MAGA Mike," echoing how Biden has sought to single out a segment of Trump-aligned Republicans as "MAGA" extremists.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was pressed about that rhetoric on Thursday.

"I think he [Johnson] has defined himself as that way. So he's going to have to answer that question for himself," she told reporters. "What we can say is we want to move forward on making sure that we get the work done on behalf of the American people."

She said Biden wants to work in good faith and, when asked about Johnson's past efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, said she didn't want to "prejudge" Johnson's relationship with the president.

Jeffries, on Thursday, struck a polite tone about their meeting.

"President Biden is a good man, the speaker is a good man," he said. "I think it was a cordial interaction."