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House Speaker Mike Johnson holds press conference with Trump

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: He's doing a really good job under very tough circumstances.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump's assessment of House Speaker Mike Johnson. They appeared together at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida yesterday after a tough week of Republican infighting in the Capitol. NPR congressional correspondent Barbara Sprunt joins us now from Capitol Hill. Barbara, thanks for being with us.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Johnson and Trump, side by side, Mar-a-Lago - sends the message that they're in sync. Are they?

SPRUNT: Well, I think the proof will be in the pudding on that one there. It's a little too early to tell if this is going to do what I suspect Johnson hopes it will, which is to boost support among his conference and remind folks that he has a relationship with Trump. Remember, long before he was speaker, Johnson supported Trump through both impeachments and authored a legal defense challenging the 2020 election results on his behalf.

I think Johnson is painfully aware of how much influence Trump has over House Republicans. Just this week, the former president took to social media to call on House Republicans to tank the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Trump says it was used against him during his first campaign, and over a dozen members voted to block a reauthorization of a key part of that law. And this was all over Johnson's objections.

It's just another example of how tough a job Johnson has. He has a very narrow majority with big divisions. One member told me this week that Jesus himself couldn't manage this conference. Some of Johnson's loudest critics are also major allies of Trump. You know, take Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. She's a staunch Trump ally. They speak regularly. Trump refers to her as a friend. And she's also the Republican member behind the effort to oust Johnson as speaker. Trump was asked about this yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: It's not an easy situation for any speaker. I think he's doing a very good job. He's doing about as good as you're going to do. And I'm sure that Marjorie understands that. She's a very good friend of mine, and I know she has a lot of respect for the speaker.

SIMON: So that's a kind of endorsement that Speaker Johnson gets from appearing with Donald Trump. I got to ask, what's in it for Donald Trump?

SPRUNT: There's a couple things there. One, voting integrity - election integrity, as Trump calls it - it's one of his signature issues. Having the speaker stand alongside him to talk about this proposed bill, which would have a variety of election integrity - so to speak - measures in it, it doesn't have a political future, but it does send a message. And Trump stands to gain if the House can be a little less chaotic. It's an election year, and there's a sense that the more the House is mired in these speakership fights and can't advance legislation, the more Democrats are able to say to voters, look at this House, it's in chaos. Why would you want to keep Republicans in the majority.

SIMON: Barbara, any implications you discerned in this meeting for the major bits of legislation that Speaker Johnson has coming up in the next few weeks - aid for Israel, aid for Ukraine?

SPRUNT: Well, I spoke to Republican members this week here on the Hill, and they are agitating to vote on things like aid for Israel, aid for Ukraine. Ukraine is an issue, though, where there's also big divisions. Trump has historically opposed efforts for a Ukrainian aid package, although yesterday he did say he was, quote, "looking at aid in the form of a loan" with Johnson. Johnson has tried to make the case in a recent Christian Broadcasting Network interview that aid would actually help Trump politically if he were to win reelection, because he'd be in a better position in his mind to help broker a peace agreement.

And Greene, who I mentioned still has that motion to vacate in her pocket, has previously suggested that if Johnson does come forward with a Ukrainian aid package, she may trigger the vote to oust him as speaker. But then again, that was before Trump came out yesterday and said he thinks it's unfortunate that people bring up these moves to get rid of Johnson. So whether she's tempered at all by Trump's comments, you know, remains to be seen.

SIMON: NPR congressional correspondent Barbara Sprunt. Thanks so much.

SPRUNT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOM YORKE SONG, "HARROWDOWN HILL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.
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