House Democrats mull options on foreign aid bill as Republicans dig in

Given Republican leadership’s increasingly clear opposition to the Senate-passed funding bill, Democrats face long odds of circumventing them

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) walks to a House Democrat caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on May 31, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) walks to a House Democrat caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on May 31, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) pledged on Tuesday to use “every available legislative tool” and that “all options are on the table” to move forward the Senate-passed bipartisan Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan aid package. But given Republican leadership’s increasingly clear opposition to that bill, Democrats face long odds of circumventing their objections.

“What is clear is that there are more than 300 bipartisan votes in the House of Representatives to pass the national security bill today,” Jeffries asserted at a press conference, flanked by Democratic military and intelligence community veterans. “Republicans are playing politics with this… What they are doing is politicizing aid to Israel, they’re supporting Putin over the freedom fighters in Ukraine.”

The minority leader declined to specify what paths Democrats might pursue, explaining that the party would be discussing the issue further behind closed doors on Wednesday morning. 

But it’s widely believed that Democrats are considering a long-short bipartisan maneuver, requiring signatures from a majority of House members, called a discharge petition, which would force a vote on the bill over the objections of House leadership. It’s one of their few avenues for circumventing House leadership.

Some House Democrats, such as Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), told reporters yesterday they’d be enthusiastic about such an effort.

It’s likely that Jeffries would need to convince a sizable number of House Republicans to revolt against their leadership to bring the bill to the floor — an extremely difficult prospect. He’ll need not just to pick up enough Republican signatures to achieve a majority of the House, but also make up for an unknown number of far-left Democrats who would oppose any measure providing additional military aid to Israel.

Democratic Israel critics are, so far, declining to say how they’d approach a potential discharge petition effort including aid to Israel. 

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) told Jewish Insider that he hadn’t thought about the issue yet, and that Democrats hadn’t yet discussed it in detail. He said the question is “difficult” because there’s “no question I would vote for Ukrainian aid. There’s no question I would vote against Israeli aid.” He also called the humanitarian assistance portion of the bill insufficient.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, likewise said she hadn’t discussed the issue with many colleagues yet, calling it premature until House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) decides his next move.

Jeffries insisted that an “overwhelming majority” of his caucus would support the bill immediately.

Democrats pursued discharge petitions on other bipartisan issues last year, but failed to convince a single Republican to join the efforts. Only two such petitions have succeeded in decades.

Key moderate Republicans are so far rejecting the idea and saying they have concerns about some parts of the Senate-passed package, instead floating a new bipartisan compromise including border legislation. Discharge petitions also take weeks to become eligible for consideration on the House floor.

Johnson dug in yesterday, with his skepticism of the Senate bill echoed by other members of House GOP leadership.

“National security begins with border security. We’ve said that all along. That has been my comment since late October. That is my comment today,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday.

The House speaker also appeared to confirm that the House won’t be taking up foreign aid in the short term, telling Punchbowl News that the House is focused on the appropriations process for the moment, with government funding deadlines on March 1 and 8. Given that the House will be in recess during one of the intervening weeks, it seems unlikely that Johnson will initiate further proceedings on foreign aid until after the government funding deadlines.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urged Johnson to take up the Senate’s bill.

“We’ve heard all kinds of rumors about whether the House supports Ukraine or doesn’t. It seems to me that the easy way to solve that would be to vote. And I hope the speaker will find a way to allow the House to work its will on the issue of Ukraine aid and the other parts of the bill as well,” McConnell told Politico, while saying he did not want to “tell him how to do it.”

The Biden administration is reportedly telling lawmakers that not passing the supplemental would be a gift to Iran.

Jewish groups, which supported the Senate bill, also called on the House to take up and pass the Senate bill quickly.

“We urge the House of Representatives to take up and swiftly pass this legislation,” William Daroff and Harriet Schleifer, the CEO and Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said in a statement. “Israel is facing existential threats that require bicameral and bipartisan support of the US Congress without delay.”

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