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Lifeline for foreign aid package, speaker’s job up to Democrats

Johnson strategy bleeds support on GOP side, with more backing effort to strip his gavel

From left, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., and Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., participate in a news conference following a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday.
From left, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., and Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., participate in a news conference following a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The fate of foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as well as Speaker Mike Johnson’s job appears to be in the hands of House Democrats, as Johnson aims to pass billions of dollars to support U.S. allies this week. 

Johnson, R-La., told Republicans in a conference meeting Tuesday that the House would hold individual votes on four bills — aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, and then a fourth bill with a mix of items — and then combine them into one package to send over to the Senate. 

This strategy is infuriating House Republicans who are against aid for Ukraine. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., announced after the meeting that he is now on board with the effort by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to boot Johnson from the speaker’s chair.

Two Republican votes would be enough to remove Johnson from the office after Friday, when Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., is set to resign, unless Democrats step in to save him.

And it was clear after the meeting that Johnson would lose a significant number of Republican votes on the rule needed to advance the measures, meaning he would need help from Democrats to get the aid that many on both sides of the aisle want to get across the finish line. 

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, said leaving the meeting that there was no path to adoption of the rule with Republican votes alone. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., the newest member of the Rules Committee, agreed. 

“Watch the procedural votes. The Democrats have the ability to help us on procedure on this funding mechanism,” Scott said. “Let’s see if they do.” 

‘MIRV’ strategy

Johnson told Republicans Tuesday morning that combining the bills into one package would force the Senate to consider everything the House passes, Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said. 

“So you can’t cherry-pick it, and say, ‘Yee-haw, there goes Ukraine,’ and the rest of them get the usual sentence of death from the Senate leadership,” Amodei, a senior appropriator, said.  

The process of merging separate bills into one package after each measure has passed the House separately is known in procedural parlance as a “MIRV” rule. Normally, that’s an acronym for multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle, or a ballistic missile that carries multiple warheads.

The effect is similar on the Senate; after House passage of each bill, the rule, if adopted, provides that they all be attached to the same underlying vehicle before being transmitted to the Senate. House leaders have employed this tool at least 14 times since the mid-1990s, such as one notable attempt in 2000 to attach a small-business tax cut measure to legislation that would increase the minimum wage.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., who initially appeared to back Johnson’s piecemeal funding strategy on Monday night, later backtracked when it became clear the speaker was contemplating combining the pieces.

“MIRV — the process used to merge the bills — is about as ridiculous as ranked-choice voting,” Biggs wrote on X, formerly Twitter, late Monday. “The least popular option is the one that wins.”

While Republicans have been willing to put bills with larger bipartisan support on the floor under suspension of the rules, doing so requires a two-thirds majority that may not exist for this package. 

It wasn’t immediately clear how Democrats would handle the situation. While it’s not typical for the minority party to help with rule votes, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, R-N.Y., did allow Democrats to support the rule to ensure that the debt limit suspension law could pass last summer. 

“If they want to get it passed, we might need some help, but it’s their call,” House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., said. 

Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass., said Democrats could help with the rule, but would make that decision after finalizing negotiations with Republicans on the bills’ contents.

“Once that is finalized, then we are going to move to the process discussions,” she said. “But it is certainly on the table as a possibility.” 

A handful of Democrats said leaving their caucus meeting that they would have to see the bill text before deciding whether they would support the rule.

“If they keep them fairly clean. I think a rule would be just fine,” Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said. “I want to vote for Ukraine aid. I want to make sure we have conditions on offensive weapons in Israel if they’re going to use them with any invasion of Rafah. I support humanitarian aid. So it’s like, how they do all these is really going to matter.”

Johnson said he expects Republicans to finish drafting the bills as soon as Tuesday, which could pave the way for a late Friday vote. The speaker intends to give his members 72 hours to review the legislation before the vote, which would lead to either late Friday night votes or, more likely, votes early Saturday, Amodei said. 

Motion to vacate

Greene set the table for her effort to remove Johnson shortly after the House passed the final fiscal 2024 appropriations package in March, introducing her resolution but not invoking the procedure that would force its consideration.

After Friday, Greene would need just one additional Republican to get on board to remove Johnson if Democrats handle the situation the way they did when Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was removed, declining to throw him a lifeline.

Massie’s Tuesday announcement increased the risk Johnson is facing. Massie wrote on X that Johnson should announce his resignation so House Republicans can select a new speaker without having a gap between House leaders. 

Johnson said at a Tuesday press conference he would not resign, and called the motion to vacate “absurd.” 

“It’s not helpful to the cause,” he said. “It’s not helpful to the country. It does not help Republicans advance our agenda, which is in the best interest of the American people.” 

Once again, the speaker’s fate appears likely to fall to Democrats. Former House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Democrats need to see what Johnson decides to do on the supplemental before making any decisions. 

“I certainly think we ought to not be directed in our House activity by Ms. Greene and Mr. Massie,” Hoyer said. 

Democrats are making decisions one step at a time, Clark said. 

“Leader Jeffries has been very clear — let’s put the substance of this before the process,” Clark said. “We’re going to take this one step at a time. We are out of time and excuses from the Republican Party for ignoring this national security package, and we hope we can get to agreement today on exactly what is going to be in it, and then we’ll move forward and make decisions from there.” 

If Johnson is able to muster the votes for a rule and send the combo package to the Senate, Democrats in that chamber aren’t ruling out taking it up. 

On the floor Tuesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is “reserving judgment” on Johnson’s foreign aid package “until we see more about the substance of the proposal and the process by which the proposal will proceed.” 

Schumer called for bipartisan support for Ukraine and Israel funding: “The time for delay is over.”

The White House signaled Tuesday that President Joe Biden is not opposed to House Republican leaders’ piecemeal approach to emergency aid funding for Israel, Ukraine and other allies.

Biden and top aides are “waiting to see the speaker’s plan in detail” and will determine a “best path forward” in consultation with House and Senate Democratic leaders, an administration official said.

Caitlin Reilly, Peter Cohn, Nina Heller, Michael Teitelbaum and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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