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Rule for debate on war supplemental heads to House floor

Substantial Democratic support expected on key procedural vote, which would set up final passage Saturday

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., navigates through reporters in the Capitol on Thursday.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., navigates through reporters in the Capitol on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House Rules Committee approved a rule late Thursday for consideration of a $95.3 billion foreign aid package in a rare bipartisan vote that signaled solid support for the measure despite considerable GOP opposition.

The committee voted 9-3 for the rule setting terms for floor consideration of the long-stalled aid package, which the House plans to take up as four separate bills for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific region — plus a combo package of sanctions and the TikTok divestiture bill. 

All Democrats on the panel voted with the GOP leadership and for the rule, which is scheduled for a vote Friday morning. Three Republicans voted against it: Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Chip Roy of Texas, and Ralph Norman of South Carolina.

Upon passage, expected Saturday, the bills would be stitched together into one measure under the rule, known in House parlance as a “MIRV” — multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle, like the ballistic missile technology of the same name. The vehicle will be the Senate-passed supplemental package, which is very similar in content.

The Rules panel vote came after a lengthy recess behind closed doors as party leaders negotiated which amendments would be allowed as part of the rule. Ultimately, they narrowed down a lengthy list to just seven amendments for consideration during floor debate, with no amendments being allowed on the Israel aid measure.

Part of the delay involved internal Republican deliberations over a desire by some of Speaker Mike Johnson’s allies to change House rules to make it tougher for his critics to oust him — potentially including the change in the rule for debate on the aid package.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., said he and others wanted to raise the threshold for a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, which currently just needs one advocate under a House rules change last year.

“I’m working with a group of members to change the rule so they can’t get that done, so that one knucklehead can’t put the whole House into disarray by forcing another speaker vote,” Johnson said. 

[Democrats prepare to ride to Johnson’s rescue, gingerly]

Ultimately Johnson, R-La., decided against such a rule change in the rule for debate on the aid package, saying in a statement Thursday that the votes weren’t there. “We will continue to govern under the existing rules,” he said.

Still, Johnson faces an ouster threat from Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Massie and possibly others over his handling of the supplemental funding package. But for now, the speaker plans to push forward.

The three GOP defections on the Rules panel meant Democratic votes were needed to advance the rule, which presages a similar outcome on the floor Friday.

“There’s nothing the speaker can do to get the votes of the extreme members of the Republican Party,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., a Rules member. “It’s time to stop negotiating with legislative terrorists.”

Top Democrats hinted earlier Thursday they were likely to lend their votes on the House floor so as not to sink long-stalled aid to key allies.

“We’re going to do what we’ve done throughout the entirety of the Congress, which is to make sure we take care of the business of the American people,” said Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. 

Greene, ironically, secured one of the seven amendments allowed under the rule. It would simply eliminate all funding in the $60.8 billion Ukraine aid bill.

Other amendments that will be considered include one to prevent any of the $7.9 billion in direct economic aid to Ukraine from being used to pay the pensions or salaries of government officials in that country, and another to eliminate all of the nonmilitary funding in the Ukraine package.

‘We must kill the rule’

The need for bipartisan support was clear Thursday when the Freedom Caucus, made up of 30 to 40 rebellious conservatives, announced its opposition to the rule for the aid package because it doesn’t include border security legislation. Republicans control the House with only a two-vote margin so Democratic support is required to offset dozens of GOP defections.

“To secure the border, we must kill the rule,” the Freedom Caucus said in a statement.

While Democrats appear willing to back the aid package rule, they will not do so for a separate border bill, which contains key provisions of an earlier, House-passed measure that Democrats uniformly opposed, including tougher asylum restrictions and resuming construction of a border wall.

Facing GOP defections and no Democratic support, the Rules Committee was unable to advance a rule for that measure Wednesday night, instead scrapping the meeting altogether. House leaders agreed Thursday to take up the bill on the floor under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority vote that clearly doesn’t exist.

Roy said the separate border bill was “just a sideshow that wasn’t going to result in anything.” He added that the rule under consideration Thursday for the aid package “will not include anything that touches the border.”

The aid bills for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific largely mirror a Senate-passed combined measure, with $60.8 billion for the Ukraine war effort, and nearly $26.4 billion in military aid to Israel and humanitarian assistance for Gaza. 

The third bill, totaling $8.1 billion, would provide nearly $4 billion in security assistance to Taiwan and other regional allies along with money to replenish depleted U.S. stocks, $3.3 billion for submarine infrastructure and more.

But unlike the Senate-passed version, roughly $9.5 billion in economic aid to Ukraine would be structured as a loan, with repayment terms set by the president.

A fourth bill tacked onto the package  would impose sanctions on Russia and Iran, on multinational criminal organizations for fentanyl trafficking, Iranian petroleum and missiles, among other matters. The legislation also targets the TikTok social media platform, and would give Chinese owner ByteDance Ltd. up to a year to divest the app.

President Joe Biden, who has pushed for the aid package since the Senate passed it in February, said Wednesday he “strongly” supports the House bills.

Progress on the aid package came amid reports of Israeli missile strikes on targets in Iran, a response to Iranian drone and missile attacks against Israeli targets on Saturday.

Earlier in the day, the House adopted a resolution condemning the Iranian attack, endorsing Israel’s right to defend itself and reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security. The vote was 404-14; most of the “no” votes were Democrats, with Massie the lone Republican opponent.

Cluster munitions

During the morning hearing portion of the Rules meeting, Massie raised several concerns with the legislation, including whether military assistance to Ukraine could be used to purchase cluster munitions, which can be effective in spreading bomblets over a wide area but pose a risk to civilians.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who testified before Rules, said he understood Massie’s concerns but added that Russians are using those bombs against the Ukrainians in Ukraine. “The Ukrainians just want to use them in their own country to get the Russians out,” he said. “They are highly effective weapons.”

Massie also criticized a provision of the package that allows for seizing Russian assets held in the U.S., saying such a move could make foreign creditors “have less appetite for what was the most secure investment in the world, which is the U.S. Treasury.”

He said Russia might retaliate by seizing American assets in Russia.

McCaul defended the provision, which he said would “let Russia pay for its own war crimes, not the American taxpayers.”

Massie sought to have his amendment barring Ukraine aid funds from being used to purchase cluster munitions included among those considered on the floor. But the Rules panel rejected his proposal on a 2-10 vote, with only Massie and Roy in support.

Olivia Bridges and Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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