Jeffries’s Hint of a Lifeline Bolstered Johnson on Ukraine. Will He Need It?

When Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader, was in Munich in mid-February for the annual international security conference, Representative Michael R. Turner, the Ohio Republican and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, quietly sought him out with a request.

Mr. Turner, according to those familiar with the private conversation, told Mr. Jeffries that he was committed to funding Ukraine’s war effort and believed that Speaker Mike Johnson would ultimately put an aid package on the floor, in defiance of right-wing Republicans opposed to doing so.

But the Ohioan also felt it would help stiffen the speaker’s spine if Mr. Jeffries could make it clear in some way that if Mr. Johnson were to do the right thing, Democrats would not let him be ousted by rebellious ultraconservatives, as they had when Kevin McCarthy faced a mutiny last year. Mr. Jeffries said he would take the idea under advisement.

About 10 days later, after a Feb. 27 Oval Office session with President Biden and congressional leaders, Mr. Jeffries made his move. At a luncheon the next day at the Washington bureau of The New York Times, Mr. Jeffries responded to a question that he believed “a reasonable number” of Democrats would bail out Mr. Johnson if he put the aid package to a vote and faced ouster because of it.

Mr. Jeffries has been careful to say since then that his comment was strictly an observation, not a commitment. But that delicately worded signal is now seen as critical to bolstering Mr. Johnson in his decision to move ahead with the Ukraine funding in the face of a promised backlash.

It is also a proposition that could be tested as soon as this week if Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, forges ahead with her threat to force a vote to oust Mr. Johnson over the package and several other issues on which she said the speaker has put the party on a “path of self-inflicted destruction.”

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