POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Ukraine, Israel aid advances in rare House vote as Democrats help Republicans push it forward

Apr 19, 2024, 2:09 PM

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., , center, stops to talk to reporters just after lawmakers...

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., , center, stops to talk to reporters just after lawmakers pushed a $95 billion national security aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies closer to passage, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — With rare bipartisan momentum, the House pushed ahead Friday on a foreign aid package of $95 billion for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and humanitarian support as a robust coalition of lawmakers helped it clear a procedural hurdle to reach final votes this weekend. Friday’s vote produced a seldom-seen outcome in the typically hyper-partisan House, with Democrats helping

Republican Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan advance overwhelmingly 316-94. Final House approval could come this weekend, when the package would be sent to the Senate.

It was a victory for the strategy Johnson set in motion this week after he agonized for two months over the legislation. Still, Johnson has had to spend the past 24 hours making the rounds on conservative media working to salvage support for the wartime funding, particularly for Ukraine as it faces a critical moment battling Russia, but also for his own job as the effort to remove him as speaker grew.

“Ukrainians desperately need lethal aid right now. … We cannot allow Vladimir Putin to roll through another country and take it,” Johnson told the conservative host of The Mark Levin Show about the Russian president’s invasion of Ukraine. “These are very serious matters with global implications.”

Johnson said after the vote that while it wasn’t “perfect legislation,” it was the “best possible product” Republicans can get given their thin majority in one chamber of Congress.

After months of delay, the House worked slowly but deliberately once Johnson made up his mind this week to plough ahead with a package that matches, with a few alterations, what the Senate passed in February. President Joe Biden sent a swift endorsement of the speaker’s plan and, in a rare moment, Donald Trump, the Republican presumed presidential nominee who opposes most overseas aid for Ukraine, has not derailed the speaker’s work.

“The world is watching what the Congress does,” the White House said in a statement. “Passing this legislation would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment.”

In an extremely rare step, the members of the House Rules Committee joined forces late Thursday in a near midnight vote, the four Democrats giving their support on a procedural step, to push past the Republican majority’s three hardline holdouts to send the package to the House floor for debate on a 9-3 vote. It was a moment unseen in recent House memory.

Democratic leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said that he spoke with Johnson on Thursday night to ensure the bill would clear the Rules Committee.

“It’s long past time that we support our democratic allies,” Jeffries said after the vote.

“House Democrats have once again cleared the way for legislation that’s important to the American people.”

Johnson will need to rely on Democrats again Saturday to turn back amendments Republicans have offered that could kill the package. One from hardline Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene would reduce spending for Ukraine to zero.

Greene has filed a “motion to vacate” the speaker from office, and it drew another supporter Friday as Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican, co-sponsored the motion. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, another co-sponsor, suggested that before the House breaks next week others could follow, building pressure on Johnson to step down.

Rep. Eli Crane, a hardline conservative from Arizona, also said he was “open” to joining the move to oust Johnson.

“I definitely sense that there’s a souring to Republican leadership,” he said.

Greene could launch a bid to evict Johnson from the speaker’s office, should she call it up for a vote, much the way Republicans booted Kevin McCarthy from the position last fall. Jeffries, the Democratic leader, remained noncommittal to helping Johnson keep the speaker’s gavel, though some Democrats have suggested they would be inclined help defeat the motion to vacate through procedural maneuvers.

With one of the most narrow House majorities in modern times, Johnson can only afford to lose a single vote or two from his Republican ranks to pass any bill. That dynamic has thrust him into the arms of Democrats as he searches for votes to pass the package.

Without his Republican majority fully behind him, Johnson could not shape the package as the ultra-conservatives demand lest he lose Democratic backing. It forced him to leave behind tough security measures to clamp down on migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

At best, Johnson has been able to carve up a Senate-passed version of the bill into separate parts, as is the preference among House Republicans, and the final votes will be on distinct measures — for Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific allies.

The package would also include a fourth provision that includes many Republican priorities that Democrats endorse, or at least are willing to accept. Those include proposals that allow the U.S. to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl; and potentially ban the video app TikTok if its China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake within a year.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the vote showed “the world that Democrats understand the world and our allies. That we’re going to stand by them and make sure that we give them the support and the aid that they need, that we care about humanitarian concerns.”

He added that in his 26 years in the House, he had never seen one party have to help the other like Democrats did this week.

“It just shows how the Republicans cannot manage the House and the House floor to get things done,” Meeks said.

Republicans, even those who supported the process, were severely disappointed it had come to this.

“I’m concerned,” said Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., who voted for the procedural step but, was nevertheless displeased with the process. “This is reflective of the controversy in the country: How much aid?”

Passing each bill, in votes expected Saturday, will require Johnson to form complicated bipartisan coalitions on each, with Democrats for example ensuring Ukraine aid is approved, but some left-leaning progressives refusing to back military aid for Israel over the destruction of Gaza. Still, Jeffries said that a majority of Democrats would vote Saturday for the packages of aid for Ukraine, Israel and allies in Asia.

The components would then be automatically stitched back together into a single package sent to the Senate where hardliners there are also planning procedural moves to stall final approval.

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Ukraine, Israel aid advances in rare House vote as Democrats help Republicans push it forward