House Republicans release aid bills for Israel and Ukraine, eyeing weekend House votes

April 17, 2024
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WASHINGTON — Facing a divided party and pressure to act, House Speaker Mike Johnson rolled out three bills Wednesday to provide assistance to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, with the hope of holding final votes on Saturday.

The bills represent a major test of Johnson’s ability to navigate a thicket of political and global challenges with a wafer-thin majority. And it comes as Johnson, R-La., faces a serious threat to his gavel from Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky.

Johnson’s biggest challenge is Ukraine funding, an issue that has bitterly divided the GOP. He has been squeezed by conservative security hawks who want to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s aggression and by an empowered isolationist wing that is feeding off former President Donald Trump’s criticism of NATO and prior Ukraine aid measures.

Multiple Republicans say they oppose any funding for Ukraine, meaning that a significant share of Democrats will be required to carry that measure over the finish line.

In a message to members before releasing the legislation, Johnson said there would be “three bills that will fund America’s national security interests and allies in Israel, the Indo-Pacific, and Ukraine, including a loan structure for aid, and enhanced strategy and accountability.”

He said Republican leadership will come forward with an amendment process “alongside a fourth bill that includes the REPO Act,” which is aimed at seizing Russian assets to benefit Ukraine; the House-passed bill to ban TikTok in the U.S. unless it divests from its China-based owner; as well as “sanctions and other measures to confront Russia, China, and Iran.”

“We expect the vote on final passage on these bills to be on Saturday evening,” Johnson said in a text message obtained by NBC News.

He said there will also be a “border security bill that includes the core components of H.R.2” — a conservative, House-passed immigration bill — moving under a separate process. That measure serves as a sweetener for reticent conservatives who are unhappy that the aid bills don’t include domestic immigration provisions.

Swift conservative pushback

Multiple House conservatives pushed back immediately on social media Wednesday after Johnson’s message went out, complaining that the border measures weren’t directly tied to Ukraine funding.

“The Republican Speaker of the House is seeking a rule to pass almost $100 billion in foreign aid — while unquestionably, dangerous criminals, terrorists, & fentanyl pour across our border. The border ‘vote’ in this package is a watered-down dangerous cover vote. I will oppose,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, wrote on X.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., the most recent chair of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, said: “Anything less than tying Ukraine aid to real border security fails to live up to @SpeakerJohnson’s own words just several weeks ago. Our constituents demand — and deserve — more from us.”

Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, earlier called aid to Ukraine unnecessary, saying: “I’m not giving them a nickel today, tomorrow or next week.”

“Putin is not going into Poland. I don’t care what you say. Besides, anyway, it doesn’t really matter because … when Donald Trump wins, Putin’s leavin’. Putin’s leavin’ Ukraine,” Nehls said ahead of the bill’s release, without explaining his logic.

House Democrats have repeatedly called on Johnson to bring up a Senate-passed foreign aid package instead, calling it the best — if not only — path to getting a bill on Biden’s desk. They have posted a “discharge petition” with 195 signatories to end-run Johnson and force a vote on that bill. It needs 218 votes to come up, meaning it will need the backing of some Republicans in addition to Democrats.

At a Wednesday meeting with Democrats, House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., told members that they need to use their “personal relationships” with Republicans to garner support for the discharge petition, according to two people familiar with her comments.

Treasury Secretary Yellen dials up pressure

At a bilateral meeting later Wednesday with Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen plans to dial up the pressure on House Republicans to act.

“The failure of House Republicans to act to support Ukraine in this pivotal moment of the war for so long has been inexcusable—and detrimental to our national security,” Yellen will say, according to a Treasury source. “Every moment of delay by House Republicans strengthens Putin and emboldens America’s adversaries around the world who are closely watching to see if we, the United States, maintains its resolve to support a democratic Ukraine as it fends off an autocratic Russia.”

Meanwhile, Greene has not said when she might force a vote on her “motion to vacate” the speaker’s chair, which would take a simple majority to remove Johnson from his job. Her effort gained a cosponsor in Massie on Tuesday, who predicted Johnson would be voted out.

It’s not clear the votes are there to oust Johnson. Many conservatives, including some who voted to remove former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, have not joined the effort to oust Johnson. Some Democrats have also said they’ll vote to protect Johnson from a motion to depose him.

But Massie said that would only hurt his standing with the GOP in the long term.

“Then he goes further in the hole with Republicans. He becomes toxic to the conference. For every Democrat who comes to his aid he’ll lose 2 to 3 more Republicans,” Massie said. “He doesn’t have much shelf life after that.”

Johnson struck a defiant tone Tuesday when asked about the threat to his gavel, calling it “absurd” while saying he’s “not concerned” about the motion and will continue to do his job.





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