An Inside Look at the Dynamics Between Joe Biden and Mike Johnson: Formalities, Intelligence Briefings, and Aid Disagreements

by Gabriel Martinez
Biden-Johnson relationship

In the secured confines of the White House Situation Room, the newly appointed House Speaker, Mike Johnson, laid out his terms with a clear edge during a briefing to Biden’s aides concerning foreign aid allocations: he insisted that the financial aid designated for Israel in its conflict with Hamas should be distinctly separated from the funds for Ukraine amidst its defense against Russia’s ongoing invasion, now exceeding a year and a half.

The briefing on October 26 saw immediate contention. Among those present, including Democratic legislators, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and White House Budget Director Shalanda Young, voiced their staunch opposition to Johnson’s proposal to divide the aid, as per insiders who requested anonymity due to the confidentiality of the discussions.

There was noticeable dissonance within the ranks, with some Republican members present subtly indicating their disapproval of Johnson’s position.

“While he partially engaged with the feedback, his emphasis heavily reflected the MAGA faction’s ideology, not necessarily aligning with a unifying Congressional goal,” Representative Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York, shared. Meeks was among the participants at the briefing.

This early encounter, barely a day after Johnson’s rise to the House leadership, exemplified his readiness to upend established protocols of the White House and to challenge fellow Republicans, signaling how he might approach governance.

The nascent strategy of Speaker Johnson, particularly regarding Israel’s aid, has baffled White House officials. Noteworthy is Johnson’s insistence that any emergency foreign aid should be counterbalanced with equivalent budget cuts — a move considered unconventional. Additionally, in a decisively partisan gesture, he proposed funding the aid by reallocating resources from the IRS earmarked for the crackdown on tax evasion.

The bill in question was passed in the House recently with a vote of 226-196, gaining an unexpected alliance from 12 Democrats. In the lead-up to the vote, senior aides from the White House engaged in an intensive lobbying effort, particularly with Jewish Democratic members, to delineate not only Biden’s policy objections but also to underscore the strategic need to curb Democratic defections.

Johnson stood firm in his stance, unrepentant.

During his first official press conference as speaker, Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, stated, “Should any Democrat from the Senate or the House, or elsewhere, want to debate the prioritization of IRS agent recruitment over Israel’s support at this juncture, I am prepared for that discussion.”

Despite their initial skepticism, White House officials maintain a degree of intrigue towards Johnson. They found a silver lining in his unexpectedly constructive comments about aiding Ukraine, considering his prior votes against such funding.

While Democrats see Johnson as a more advantageous political contrast than his forerunner, Kevin McCarthy of California, the White House has strategically avoided direct confrontation with Johnson, leaving most of the critical rhetoric to the political committees of the party.

During the tumultuous process leading to the selection of the new speaker, the White House remained publicly neutral. Following Johnson’s formal election, officials, along with the broader political landscape of Washington, hurried to acquaint themselves with Johnson, whose previous interactions with the Biden administration had been virtually non-existent.

The White House’s engagement process with Johnson is ongoing.

Chief of Staff Jeff Zients and presidential counselor Steve Ricchetti extended cordial greetings to Johnson during his initial meeting with President Biden. Furthermore, when Johnson was invited to the Situation Room, he was advised of his entitlement to include a national security aide for the classified briefing — a privilege afforded by his role as House speaker.

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre conveyed post-election that President Biden “is committed to cooperating in good faith with whoever assumes the speaker role — which is now Speaker Johnson — with the goal of delivering results for the American populace,” echoing the President’s intentions over recent weeks.

Johnson, a low-profile conservative first elected to Congress in 2016 and now aged 51, brings little in the way of leadership experience or a track record for cross-party collaboration, drawing a stark contrast to Biden, who has spent decades in Washington fostering personal relationships and bipartisan dealings.

Even with Johnson’s remarkable ascent in the House Republican hierarchy, the White House took discreet note of his rigidly conservative views and saw parallels with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a leading critic within the House Judiciary Committee, who is spearheading an impeachment inquiry against Biden.

Johnson has been vocally supportive of former President Donald Trump’s challenge to the 2020 election outcome, encouraging other legislators to back an unsuccessful legal attempt by several states to invalidate certain results. Before his political tenure, Johnson specialized in constitutional law as an attorney.

In making his case for the speakership, Johnson declared that “the current president is seemingly incapable of leadership and the Senate shows reluctance.” Despite describing his engagement with Biden as polite, Johnson remarked on a perceived cognitive decline in the president during an interview with Fox News.

Biden has seldom commented on Johnson directly, yet he leverages the House GOP’s internal discord as part of his broader argument against the potential reinstatement of Trump to the presidency.

Biden, speaking at a Minneapolis fundraiser, emphasized, “The intent of Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans to undermine our democracy is evident. Amidst their internal squabbles over choosing a speaker and attempts to shut down the government, Vice President Kamala Harris and I remain devoted to defending and fighting for this democracy.”

Supporters of Johnson believe his straightforward approach will be effective against the current administration.

“He won’t mince words with them. They’ll be privy to his thoughts,” shared Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana and an acquaintance of Johnson, who has collaborated with the Biden administration. “Johnson will approach this with his eyes wide open, without any naivety.”

Others in the GOP commend Johnson for maintaining amicable relations across the political divide. Representative Clay Higgins, also from Louisiana, suggested that the attributes that led to Johnson’s election as speaker would benefit him in discussions with the president.

Higgins, acknowledging his own stubborn nature, added, “Mike’s demeanor is inherently kind, compassionate, and courteous, making him a stark contrast to myself.”

This report received contributions from Big Big News writer Farnoush Amiri.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Biden-Johnson relationship

What are the key points of contention between House Speaker Mike Johnson and the Biden administration?

The primary issues stem from Johnson’s insistence on separating foreign aid to Israel from support for Ukraine, and his demand that foreign aid be offset by cuts, notably using IRS resources aimed at tax enforcement.

How did Speaker Mike Johnson’s approach to foreign aid differ from White House expectations?

Johnson has diverged from traditional protocol by demanding that emergency foreign assistance be linked with offsetting budget cuts, a stance that has surprised and confounded White House officials.

What was the outcome of the House vote on the legislation proposed by Speaker Johnson?

The bill proposed by Johnson, which included offsetting foreign aid with IRS budget cuts, passed the House with a vote of 226-196, with some Democratic support.

How has the White House responded to Speaker Johnson’s early actions and statements?

The White House has approached Johnson with a mix of skepticism and curiosity, avoiding direct confrontation and expressing a willingness to work with him while privately noting his hard-right positions.

What is known about Speaker Mike Johnson’s political background and positions?

Johnson is a low-profile conservative elected to Congress in 2016, known for hard-right positions, constitutional law expertise, and active involvement in former President Trump’s post-election efforts.

How have Johnson’s colleagues described his negotiation style and approach to his role as Speaker?

Johnson’s Republican colleagues describe him as a straight shooter and a polite gentleman, qualities they believe will serve him well in negotiations with the Biden administration.

More about Biden-Johnson relationship

  • Understanding the US Foreign Aid Policy
  • Dynamics of the House Speaker Role
  • Fiscal Policy and Budget Cuts Debate
  • IRS Funding and Tax Policy Controversies
  • Profiles in Congressional Leadership

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James K November 5, 2023 - 2:28 pm

This article really gets into the nitty gritty of politics huh Johnson seems to be shaking things up a bit in the White House but I gotta say is it all for show or is he gonna bring some real change

Tommy87 November 5, 2023 - 9:49 pm

biden and johnson are like oil and water don’t seem to mix well but politics makes strange bedfellows they say Maybe they’ll find some common ground eventually or not haha

Mike_R November 6, 2023 - 3:39 am

did anyone else catch that part about using IRS funds to pay for aid like how does that even work, feels like there are pieces missing or maybe i just dont get the whole picture

ElaineG November 6, 2023 - 6:21 am

im not surprised by the pushback Johnson’s getting, dividing aid between Israel and Ukraine is a tough sell, but splitting up the aid, it could make sense strategically… right

Sarah T November 6, 2023 - 9:12 am

just read the piece on Johnson and Biden sounds like theres a lot of tension brewing over foreign aid and stuff, wonder how this will all play out with the midterms coming up and all


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