Johnson plan to send aid to Ukraine moves closer to becoming reality

Amy B WangMarianna SotomayorLeigh Ann Caldwell
10 Min Read

A bill to provide additional U.S. aid to Ukraine could move one step closer to House passage on Thursday — but might need a major boost from Democrats, who would have to join Republicans to push it through.

And that action would likely prompt hard line Republicans, who stridently oppose Ukraine aid, to make good on their threats to attempt to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) from his leadership position.

“Democrats will not be responsible for this bill failing,” House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said when asked Thursday if Democrats will support a procedural hurdle, known as the rule, moving the foreign aid package out of the House Rules Committee and to the floor.

Instead of a complex four-part plan he floated early this week, Johnson now intends to try to pass five bills — one each for aid to Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific allies, as well as a GOP wish list of foreign policy priorities and a fifth stand-alone bill to address widespread Republican demands to strengthen the southern U.S. border. GOP leadership announced that the House would stay in session until Saturday to consider the bills.

Johnson must depend on Democratic votes to ensure his plan is successful, a tactic he has employed several times during his roughly six-month speakership because hard line Republicans will not get behind him. Republicans can only lose two votes to pass anything given their slim majority, which will narrow to one vote once Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) resigns this weekend.

Earlier this week, allies of the speaker had tried to hash out a path forward without Democratic help. No such pathway was found and the speaker had to decide whether to advance his plan, knowing it would likely conclude with a push to oust him.

All eyes are now on House Democrats. During their second caucus meeting this week, Democrats discussed how they could help Republicans pass the foreign aid bills that remains a priority for them and President Biden, who is behind the speaker’s plan. But Democratic leaders didn’t firmly commit their members to supporting the measure as they wait to see what Republicans will do in a Rules Committee meeting.

The foreign aid bills closely mirror a Senate package and if they pass would likely be sent to the Senate for a vote. Biden has said he will sign the measures as soon as they land on his desk.

But Johnson’s plan has thrown an already bitterly divided Republican conference into further turmoil. Late Wednesday night, the House Rules Committee recessed without advancing the border bill because three GOP committee members — Reps. Chip Roy (Tex.), Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Ralph Norman (Okla.) — were poised to sink the vote.

On Thursday morning, Roy, Norman and other members of the House Freedom Caucus were defiant, insisting they would do everything they could to stymie Johnson’s bills during a procedural vote later that day.

“We voted against it in rules, which is supposed to be a no-no,” Norman said. “But the fact is our country is at stake … and we’re not gonna run away from it, not now, not ever, as long as we’re up here.”

Johnson’s gambit to pass five individual bills is already blowing up on the speaker, whose six-month-old hold on the gavel is being threatened by a promise by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to invoke a “motion to vacate” to topple Johnson if he puts Ukraine aid on the floor, something to which many hard-right Republicans object.

Late Wednesday, Greene described the Ukraine bill as “an inflated fantasy idea invited by Mike Johnson” while Roy echoed the argument many Republicans have made: that the United States needs to secure its border with Mexico before worrying about Ukraine.

“Declaring a historic moment doesn’t necessarily make it so,” Roy said.

At a Wednesday evening news conference, Johnson was visibly emotional when asked about why he had opted to try to pass the foreign aid package at this moment.

“Listen, my philosophy is you do the right thing and you let the chips fall where they may. … If I operated out of fear over a motion to vacate, I would never be able to do my job,” he said. “This is a critical time right now. … I can make a selfish decision and do something that’s different. But I’m doing here what I believe to be the right thing.”

Greene said Wednesday night she wouldn’t interrupt the process on the aid package by bringing up the move to oust Johnson. But she also refused to commit to doing so afterward.

The stakes are indeed high for the speaker as he works to navigate a bitterly divided Republican conference. Some members are loudly opposed to Ukraine aid without first securing the U.S. border, while others believe that aid, along with money for Israel, is a critical national security priority; in addition, some Republicans question the speaker’s leadership style. For Johnson, it’s a Catch-22: Consider aid to Ukraine, and a move to wrest his gavel is bound to follow.

Demoralized Republicans exited a four-hour meeting of Johnson and his allies Tuesday night, before the release of the latest proposal, having failed to chart a path on foreign aid that would be carried by Republicans instead of reliant on Democrats. Multiple people familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics, said the session enlightened them and Johnson about the consequences of moving the foreign aid package: It could all lead to his ouster from the job.

“The battle lines were very clear at the end,” one Republican said. “It was very clear [the motion to vacate] will be brought if the speaker’s plan proceeds.”

Even so, Johnson acted, telling Republicans in a text to colleagues Wednesday morning that after “significant Member feedback and discussion” this week, the House would move ahead with his plan, with some significant changes. He released the text of legislation on aid for Ukraine, Israel, Indo-Pacific allies, border security, and other foreign policy priorities Wednesday.

The three separate bills that fund military aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan largely mirror the $95 billion Senate-passed national security supplemental. The House legislation turns a portion of the aid, the money sent directly to Ukraine, into a loan and is endorsed by former president Donald Trump. It also includes just over $9 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza, the West Bank, Ukraine and other places in need, which Democrats have demanded as a condition of any support from them.

Johnson signaled Wednesday evening that there would probably be an amendment to the package to strip the humanitarian aid, which he said he has “concerns” with.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) called Wednesday evening for Republicans to put the foreign aid package on the floor, but didn’t commit Democratic support for the measures.

“The time has come for the House of Representatives to act and act decisively,” Jeffries said. “We can either confront Russian aggression in defense of democracy or we can allow the pro-Putin extreme MAGA Republicans to appease” the Russian leader.

Jeffries said Democrats will “evaluate” the process and the final product, including amendments, before making a determination about how to move forward.

Nonetheless, the speaker’s proposal received a major boost from President Biden on Wednesday afternoon. Biden said he “strongly” supports the proposal and encouraged the House and the Senate to swiftly send it his way.

“I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed,” he said in a statement that is likely to influence Democrats to back the plan and amplify GOP outrage against it.