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Bipartisan House coalition advances Ukraine aid

A bipartisan coalition in the House, led by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), has overcome a key procedural hurdle to advance a $95 billion foreign aid bill, despite objections from far-right lawmakers.

The vote now puts the legislation to fund Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan on a likely track of passing the House on Saturday. It comes after Israel carried out a strike on Iran early Friday in retaliation for a barrage of missiles and drones launched by Iran last weekend, an Israeli official said.

The latest news from the Middle East did not appear to change the likelihood that the House would pass more aid to Israel, even though some Democrats are bluntly critical of the mounting civilian casualties in Gaza. Most Republicans are expected to back it. Plus, it includes humanitarian aid for Gaza, which Democrats want.

A rare coalition of Democrats and Republicans — 316 — voted overwhelmingly to pass the procedural measure, known as a rule, to advance the four-part legislation Friday morning. In a sign of how tenuous this move is for Republicans, more Democrats — 165 — voted for the rule than Republicans — 151.

A majority of House Republicans supported Johnson’s plan despite a far-right threat to oust him if he advanced Ukraine aid. The speaker, however, got a boost when he earned the public backing of former president Donald Trump last week. Trump has questioned why the United States has sent more aid to Ukraine than European countries, but he has refrained from publicly criticizing the speaker’s plan, which includes language conditioning the aid on a loan process supported by Trump.

The speaker’s long-awaited action comes at a pivotal time for Ukraine in its war against Russia as U.S. and Ukrainian officials warn of mounting casualties and rationing artillery shells without an infusion of weaponry from the United States, which is Ukraine’s biggest military backer. Ukrainian forces have failed to shatter a protracted stalemate, and there have been recent significant Russian advances.

The Pentagon says a massive military aid package for Ukraine is “ready to go” as soon as Congress acts and Biden signs off.

This is a key moment for Johnson, who has held the speaker’s gavel for nearly six months while trying to navigate infighting among Republicans over disparate views on policy and tactics. But relying on the support of Democrats could cost Johnson his job as speaker, as at least two Republicans — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.), who are angry that he is advancing money for Ukraine without first locking down the Mexican border issue — are threatening to trigger a motion to vacate, the procedural move to oust the speaker.

It is still unclear if or when such a vote would be triggered, but the effort picked up a critical third ally Friday. Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), who was huddling with Greene on the floor, formally backed the motion after the House passed the foreign aid rule. With Republicans’ two-seat House margin, Gosar’s signature means the speaker could be ousted unless Democrats decide to rescue Johnson.

Despite threats to Johnson’s job, the speaker decided to rely on Democrats to muscle through his aid package.

House Minority Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) made the call late Thursday night to “do what is necessary” to provide the votes to advance the legislation. It was a significant decision considering that Johnson has slow-walked the aid package and remained noncommittal about a path forward until just this week.

House Democrats have once again cleared the way for legislation that is important for the American people, Jeffries said at a post-vote news conference. “From the very beginning of this Congress, we have made clear that we will put people over politics.”

Lawmakers in support of the legislation praised the rare show of bipartisanship on the House floor Friday morning.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior member of the party and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said, “I’m so proud of members on both sides of the aisle.”

The Rules Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), said he is pleased the bills will advance despite his “deep, deep problems about the unconditioned aid to Israel. I was among the first calling for a cease-fire.”

Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.), chairman of the Rules Committee, said he wishes border security was part of this package of bills but that “the requirement for America to assert itself as the leader of the free world is not optional; it’s not a requirement we can put on pause.”

Johnson’s plan is to put the four votes on the floor Saturday, with voting starting midday.

One bill provides $60 billion for Ukraine. Most of the money goes to U.S. weapons manufacturers to build back depleted U.S. weapons supplies, and about 20 percent of that goes directly to the country in the form of a loan. The president can cancel Ukraine’s debt, however, after Nov. 15.

A second bill would provide about $17 billion in offensive and defensive weapons for Israel, as well as just over $9 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and elsewhere. The third bill would provide $8.1 billion for the Indo-Pacific region to deter China, and a fourth bill is full of Republican priorities, including banning TikTok and seizing Russian assets.

Each bill, because they will be voted on separately, will have a different coalition of members supporting them.

The House will also vote Saturday on a fifth bill of Republican priorities to secure the border and limit migrants entering the United States. But it will most likely fail because the measure needs the support of two-thirds of the House since it is moving under a different process.

The foreign aid package will then go to the Senate, where senators will have to vote again on it before the bills can be sent to President Biden, who has endorsed the package.

Johnson has sat on foreign aid funding passed by the Senate for more than two months as he prioritized funding the government and approving an extension of foreign surveillance legislation known as FISA. He had received a tremendous amount of pressure from different factions of his conference — with the anti-Ukraine faction loudly and publicly threatening Johnson’s job, while the pro-Ukraine funding faction lobbied him behind the scenes.

Ultimately, Johnson decided to advance funding to Ukraine, defending his decision Tuesday as “the right thing” to do. But he wasn’t able to muscle it through on just Republican votes with his slim majority, having to depend instead on a significant number of Democrats because 55 members of his conference didn’t back Friday morning’s procedural measure. (More than three dozen Democrats defected, most of them the most liberal in the caucus.)

Democrats stepped in. They didn’t provide the votes Friday morning for the procedural vote until it became overwhelmingly clear Republicans could not pass the rule on their own. “We won’t let it fail,” said one senior Democratic aide, who like others in the article spoke on the condition of anonymity to outline internal strategy.

Democrats have been signaling they would support Johnson, but they withheld an outright announcement, wanting to ensure that they weren’t going to be forced to take votes on overtly political amendments and that the bill was structured so funding for Ukraine would actually pass.

Democrats first said they would help Johnson as the clock approached midnight Thursday. The four Democrats on the Rules Committee provided their votes, a rare bipartisan move in the partisan Rules Committee, to allow the legislation to advance to the House floor as three far-right Republicans — Massie, Ralph Norman (S.C.) and Chip Roy (Tex.) — bucked their party by voting against it. It was the first time Massie has opposed a rule in committee since he was put there by then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Ukraine funding has deeply divided a dysfunctional Republican Party, and some Republicans are urging Johnson to be more forceful and seize control of the House and his party. 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.

But Johnson refused Thursday to raise the threshold of the number of Republicans needed to oust him from his job. The motion to vacate can be brought by just one Republican.

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

The far-right faction of the party is not united on deposing Johnson.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said Johnson has created a coalition government that “does not reflect the intention or the desire of the American people.”

But Good, who voted to depose McCarthy from his speakership and isn’t fond of Greene and Massie, doesn’t support deposing Johnson now. He argues that the role of speaker should be addressed after the November election.

Intraparty tensions are reaching a boiling point. A verbal altercation erupted on the House floor Thursday morning. 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 scene. Gaetz responded by asking Van Orden if he has an IQ over 40, a Gaetz spokesperson said.

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

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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