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Johnson’s plan to send aid to Ukraine moves closer to reality

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 probably would 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,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said when asked Thursday if the party 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 Johnson floated early this week, the speaker 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 decided to advance his plan, knowing it probably would conclude with a push to oust him.

All eyes are now on House Democrats.

During their second caucus meeting this week, Democrats discussed Thursday morning how they could help Republicans pass the foreign aid bills, which remain a priority for them and President Biden, who is behind the speaker’s plan. But Democratic leaders didn’t firmly commit their caucus as they wait to see what Republicans will do in a Rules Committee meeting. If Republicans move ahead with political amendments or measures that weaken the bill, known as poison pills, the minority party won’t provide the votes when Johnson needs them, according to roughly a dozen Democrats familiar with the situation.

The foreign aid bills closely mirror a Senate package, and if they pass the House they would be sent to the Senate for a vote. Biden has said he will sign the measures as soon as they land on his desk. Democrats have been told that the Ukraine aid bill will be voted on first on the floor — a key request to help win their support — to best ensure its passage. They worried that if it were considered after the Israel bill, then Republicans would have less incentive to back Ukraine funding.

It’s unclear whether the fourth GOP bill — which includes legislation to regulate TikTok and allow the resale of seized Russian assets — will garner enough support for passage. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told Democrats it does not include poison pills, but he didn’t say whether members should support it.

Meanwhile, Republicans from the conservative Main Street Caucus, one of the GOP’s five ideological groups, urged Johnson to penalize members who block regular order and vote “no” on rules, according to multiple Republicans at the Wednesday meeting.

Other forms of punishment suggested for rebellious members included kicking Roy, Norman and Massie off the Rules Committee. Their assignment to the committee was also a decision by then-Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to earn the speaker’s gavel.

The Republicans present also discussed whether to increase the number of members needed to invoke a measure to oust the speaker, known as a “motion to vacate,” perhaps by including such language in the foreign aid bills. Currently, any one member can force such a vote, a deal made by McCarthy and hard-right Republicans to ensure that he could become speaker. That motion is what ultimately led to his historic ouster nine months later.

But changing the threshold for a motion to vacate, one Republican said, is “easier said than done.” Many rank-and-file Republicans privately worry that making it harder to oust the speaker will anger their conference and threaten the foreign aid bill.

After backlash from Republicans and privately from Democrats, Johnson announced on X that the House would “continue to govern under the existing rules” because any motion to vacate “change requires a majority of the full House, which we do not have.”

Intraparty tensions are reaching a boiling point. A verbal altercation erupted on the House floor Thursday morning when Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) got into a heated argument, aggressively daring members of the Freedom Caucus to introduce their measure to oust Johnson and calling Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) “tubby,” according to a person who witnessed the argument. Gaetz responded by asking Van Orden if he has an IQ over 40, a Gaetz spokesperson said.

Van Orden was at the Jan. 6, 2021, “Save America” rally and last year reamed out high school interns for lying on the floor of the Capitol Rotunda to take in the frescos.

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 the motion to vacate to topple Johnson if he puts Ukraine aid on the floor, something to which many hard-right Republicans object.

“I don’t care if the speaker’s office becomes a revolving door,” Greene said Thursday on the “War Room” podcast.

Greene told reporters Thursday that she would “absolutely” move forward with her motion if Johnson attempts to raise the threshold required to oust him.

“If he wants to change the motion to vacate, he needs to come before the Republican conference that elected him and tell us of his intentions,” Greene said. “Kevin McCarthy, while he was staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, he never made a move like this behind closed doors and made deals with Democrats to change the motion to vacate.”

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.”

Republicans who want to govern and feel the urgency to aid foreign allies amid threats from Russia, Iran and China have been rallying behind the speaker and are pleased to see him step up, given the “Chamberlain-Churchill moment” in which he finds himself, referring to the former British prime ministers.

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (N.Y.), who was at the Main Street Caucus meeting, said Republicans like him are “all pretty frustrated.” He called on his colleagues to recognize that if they continue to obstruct on critical issues, other Republicans will lean on bipartisan support to do the right thing.

“I think it’s a time where we need to look at this country as a whole and start making decisions as Americans and realize that this is a critical time in the world and that there’s many eyes on this institution,” he said.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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