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House Republicans divided on path forward for Ukraine aid

No new plan has emerged to address demands for border restrictions

Speaker Mike Johnson addresses reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday.
Speaker Mike Johnson addresses reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans who want to see Ukraine aid passed into law have started to brainstorm options for moving it forward as Speaker Mike Johnson appears unlikely to bring up the Senate-passed supplemental package in its current form.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., told reporters on Wednesday that he’s working on a legislative “framework” that would address Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the border, providing an alternative to the Senate’s bill. He said he was working with a “handful” of other Republicans and some Democrats on the proposal, which he plans to unveil in the next day or so.

“Personally, I would support it,” Fitzpatrick said of the Senate package, “but I don’t think it has the votes.”

Johnson, R-La., said Monday night that he would not support the $95.3 billion Senate package, instead calling for a bill that addresses U.S. border security as well as national security priorities.

But he has not said whether he plans to bring up the Senate bill and allow lawmakers to amend it, split it up into parts or simply ignore it. The longer he waits, the likelier it is that Democrats consider using one of several procedural maneuvers to bring the measure to the floor — and the more open pro-Ukraine Republicans might be to such an effort.

“I think the discussions are continuing,” said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who has backed Ukraine aid in the past. “I’m not in charge of what comes forward. And we’ll see — there’s a lot of different moving parts.”

Asked whether House Democrats would rally behind any alternative package, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., maintained that the $95.3 billion Senate-passed supplemental package should be brought up for a vote in the chamber.

“House Republicans need to put the bipartisan, comprehensive national security bill on the House floor today, tomorrow before the end of the week,” he said. “And it will pass the House with more than 300 votes and be sent to President Biden’s desk.”

Possible paths forward

One option would be to allow lawmakers to vote on amendments to the bill and then send it back to the Senate. Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, R-Texas, believes the bill could be altered to pick up more Republican traction, including by focusing the measure on the dollars flowing to the U.S. defense industrial base instead of directly to foreign countries and cutting out nonlethal aid.

“Humanitarian aid, whether it’s for Israel or Ukraine, doesn’t necessarily need to be in these bills,” he said. “Weapons, things they need to win. That’s what needs to be in these bills.”

Other Republicans seem open to breaking the bill into parts and considering aid for each country on its own. Last week, House Republicans brought to the floor a stand-alone measure that would send $17.6 billion in aid to Israel and fund U.S. military operations in the Middle East, but it did not meet the two-thirds threshold needed to pass legislation under suspension of the rules.

“I want to see us pass security assistance to all three pieces, however that happens. Whether it’s divided separately, or together,” said Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky. “So however we can find the votes we need to get it done.”

After months of negotiations, Senate Republicans rejected a bipartisan immigration plan, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., elected to move the foreign aid forward without any border language.

But many Republicans remain implacably opposed to aiding Ukraine without first changing immigration policies to stem record-high migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“In order, right: secure the border, pay for it, have a clear mission so we know what we’re actually trying to do,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, in reference to Ukraine funding. “And then, have a conversation about what that funding might look like if you actually paid for it and did your job here.”

Other avenues

House Democrats looked to continue their pressure campaign on Johnson Wednesday as they sought to compel the speaker to allow an up-or-down vote on the Senate-passed supplemental.

While there’s been talk of leveraging a discharge petition as an avenue for forcing floor consideration, members acknowledged they have other procedural levers they could pull — but they didn’t dive into what alternatives are under consideration.

“Discharge petition is definitely one pathway and I know that the leader is speaking about those kinds of pathways; there are possible other pathways too,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a brief interview.

Jeffries told reporters this week that “all options are on the table” to move the bill. But asked directly Wednesday whether he supports a discharge petition, Jeffries maintained that members “support an up-or-down vote and we’ll work hard to make sure that that happens sooner rather than later.”

However, a discharge petition, if pursued, is a protracted and complicated process that needs 218 signatures to launch and could then be subject to amendments. The House has approved only two discharge petitions since 1995, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Some Democratic lawmakers expressed concern that pursuing available legislative tools could be too time-consuming and further delay the delivery of defense aid they say is critical for frontline troops in Ukraine.

“It’s so urgent in Ukraine that even a two-week delay to do the gymnastics for whatever parliamentary gambit people are working on is — people are going to die, and that’s not an exaggeration,” Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a brief interview. “If the votes are there, [Johnson] said ‘let the House work its will.’ Okay, let’s go, let’s vote.”

In the meantime, Houlahan and seven other national-security minded Democrats have opted to appeal directly to Johnson, sending him a letter Tuesday that implored him to “immediately” take up the foreign aid bill and tackle border-related issues separately.

“While we are disappointed bipartisan immigration reform was not included in this aid package, we understand that legislating often requires compromise,” lawmakers wrote. “We hope that after passage of this foreign aid bill, the House will move swiftly to address and secure our border and finally vote on comprehensive immigration reform.”

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