The House G.O.P. loves arguing over what to prioritize, but there’s one sacred obligation upon which they largely agree: supporting Israel with few preconditions. Of course, this has become a higher priority than ever, given that the nation is at war with Hamas and facing retaliation from other regional powers. Freshman speaker Mike Johnson is also, notably, an adherent of Christian fundamentalism—a political-religious faction that is traditionally (and eschatologically) concerned with Israel.
So a number of my sources in the MAGA movement were caught off guard, therefore, by Johnson’s recent gambit to use additional aid for Israel as a bargaining chip to address a somewhat back-burnered conservative bugaboo: the tens of billions of dollars that Democrats added to the I.R.S. budget in 2021 as part of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. The I.R.S., especially given Biden’s push to hire 87,000 new tax agents, has always been a pain point for hardliners. (Apparently, internal House polling shows that the issue plays “super high” with G.O.P. and independent voters, even if it’s D.O.A. in the Senate.) But the fixation on the I.R.S. during this international crisis surely seems at odds with Johnson’s current presentation as a moderate-friendly sentient adult. “He gets points for being intellectually and fiscally honest,” one Republican lobbyist told me. “But don’t do it with Israel. He may be playing with fire.”
Sure, the Freedom Caucus and activist set have long demanded that any new spending be offset with funding cuts. But multiple Republicans I spoke to had assumed that the new speaker would take the more obvious right-wing approach to getting immediate aid to Israel—namely, separating it from Ukraine aid. Alas, tying Israel aid to gutting the I.R.S. might excite portions of the Fox News crowd, but it would also risk making the G.O.P. look less pro-Israel and more self-serving—especially if the fight is dragged out, or splits Johnson’s conference. “He should have started with Ukraine,” the lobbyist moaned.