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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Martin Pengelly in Washington

Trump lauds House speaker as a ‘good person’ after Ukraine aid bill passage

Mike Johnson speaks into mic as Trump stands in background.
‘It’s not like he can go and do whatever he wants to do,’ Donald Trump said of Mike Johnson. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Mike Johnson is a “good person” and is “trying very hard”, Donald Trump said, after the US House speaker oversaw passage of military aid to Ukraine, long opposed by Trump, in the face of fierce opposition from the right of the Republican party.

“Well, look, we have a majority of one, OK?” Trump said in a radio interview on Monday night, after a day in court in his New York hush-money trial.

“It’s not like he can go and do whatever he wants to do,” Trump said of Johnson. “I think he’s a very good person. You know, he stood very strongly with me on Nato when I said Nato has to pay up … I think he’s a very good man. I think he’s trying very hard. And again, we’ve got to have a big election.”

Johnson faces opposition from rightwingers in his party, in particular from Marjorie Taylor Greene, a fervent Trump ally who has threatened to trigger a motion to vacate, the mechanism by which a speaker can be removed, and called for Johnson to quit.

No less than 112 House Republicans voted against Ukraine aid, leaving Johnson reliant on Democratic support. A similar scenario saw his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, removed last year, but with an election looming, many see Johnson as safe for now.

Trump’s distaste for Nato was often on show when he was president and has been prominent in his campaign to return to the White House despite facing 88 criminal charges and multimillion-dollar civil penalties.

Trump recently said he would encourage Russia to attack Nato allies he deemed financially delinquent: remarks Joe Biden condemned as “dumb, shameful, dangerous [and] un-American”.

Trump’s apparent fondness for Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader who ordered the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, has also been a constant of his time in politics.

Most observers thought Trump would therefore continue to back Republicans who blocked Ukraine aid for months. But as Johnson manoeuvred towards passing a bill and then did so last Saturday, Trump declined to shoot down the effort.

In his Monday interview with John Fredericks, a rightwing radio host, Trump praised Johnson for converting $9bn of Ukraine aid into a “forgivable loan” – a proposal some Republicans wanted to apply to the whole package.

Focusing on avoiding chaos in Congress in an election year, Trump said: “We’ve got to election [sic] some people in Congress, much more than we have right now. We have to elect some good senators. Get rid of some of the ones we have now, like [Mitt] Romney [of Utah] and others.”

Romney, who as the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 picked Russia as the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, was also the only GOP senator to vote to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial, for seeking to blackmail Ukraine by withholding military aid in return for dirt on his rivals.

Focusing on his own political prospects, in a rematch with Biden in which polling his been slowly tilting towards the incumbent, Trump said: “We have to have a big day, and we have to win the presidency. If we don’t win the presidency, I’m telling you I think our country could be finished … We are absolutely a country in decline.”

Trump spent much of the interview complaining about his various prosecutions, which have reduced his ability to campaign. Teeing Trump up, Fredericks called the hush-money case, concerning payments to an adult film star who claimed an affair, “this scam, communist, Soviet manifesto trial that is going on in New York City”.

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