Democratic support for Johnson’s foreign aid package trickles in, as far right revolts

Johnson: ‘This is not a game, it's not a joke. We can't play politics with this. We have to do the right thing.’

Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) does an interview with CNN at the U.S. Capitol on April 17, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

House Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) proposed foreign aid package is picking up support from House Democrats, setting up a potential pathway to its passage, but is further alienating members of the Republicans’ right flank, some of whom are discussing Johnson’s ouster as GOP leader.

The package, which includes funding bills for Israel, Ukraine,the Indo-Pacific and other national security policies including Iran sanctions, meets the criteria — particularly the inclusion of humanitarian aid — that House Democrats had laid out as a condition for potentially backing the funding package and procedural votes to ensure it moves to the floor. 

Responding to a question on Wednesday about why he was willing to risk his speakership over foreign aid, Johnson said, “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.”

“Look, history judges us for what we do. This is a critical time right now, a critical time on the world stage. 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,” Johnson added, explaining that the intelligence briefings he had received since becoming speaker had led him to the conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin would invade the Balkans or Poland if successful in Ukraine.

Prior to becoming House Speaker, Johnson had voted against Ukraine aid.

“To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys. My son is going to begin at the Naval Academy this fall,” Johnson said of his rationale. “This is not a game, it’s not a joke. We can’t play politics with this. We have to do the right thing. And I’m going to allow an opportunity for every single member of the House to vote their conscience and their will on this, and I think that’s the way this institution is supposed to work. And I’m willing to take personal risk for that because we have to do the right thing.”

President Joe Biden said he “strongly” supports the bill and urged the House to pass it this week.

Democratic support will be necessary given the growing revolt against the proposal from House conservatives and groups like the Heritage Foundation. Members of the GOP’s right flank insist they won’t support the legislation at any stage; Democratic support will be needed to not only pass the procedural “rule” allowing consideration of the bills but also to move the bill out of the House Rules Committee — both incredibly rare scenarios.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who opposes Ukraine aid and has been highly critical of the proposed package, criticized the notion of tying together Israel and Ukraine aid.  

“I would prefer that we would be united in taking on the issue of Israel alone, but this president has no interest in doing that. In fact, he’s trying to undermine Israel at every turn,” Roy told Jewish Insider.

Fourteen far-right lawmakers, including Roy, previously voted against a standalone Israel aid bill because it didn’t finance the aid with cuts from elsewhere in the government.

He said his “preference” would be to support Israel “but not at the expense of letting Ukraine ride on the back of it, without getting border security, and frankly, more clarity of mission, purpose and result of what we would do with Ukraine.” 

The Israel bill totals $26.83 billion, including $4 billion for missile defense, $1.2 billion for Iron Beam development, $3.5 billion for advanced weapons systems, $1 billion to improve munitions production, $4.4 billion to replenish U.S. stockpiles of weapons provided to Israel and $2.4 billion for the U.S.’ own operations in the Middle East.

It also includes $400 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program and the same $9 billion that the Senate passed for humanitarian aid to Gaza and other theaters around the globe. It maintains a ban on UNRWA funding and stringent oversight provisions for Palestinian aid that were included in the Senate bill and the 2024 annual funding bill.

The House is expected to take a final vote on the three funding bills on Saturday evening, alongside a fourth bill that includes a variety of sanctions targeting Iran and its proxies and the House-passed bill that seeks to force the sale of TikTok by its Chinese parent company. The Chinese government itself has reportedly been lobbying against the bill, Politico revealed yesterday.

While Biden, House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) endorsed the bill, House Democratic leadership has yet to do so; leaders say they want to confer with Democratic members on Thursday morning.

“The leadership of the House Democratic caucus [doesn’t] get ahead of our members,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) told JI. “On all issues, particularly ones of great significance, though we may have a perspective, we want to have that conversation, as a caucus, as a family, as a team, so that we can continue to emerge unified as we’ve been throughout the entirety of the 118th Congress.”

Jeffries said Democrats would discuss the substance of the bills, the procedural votes that will be needed and the possibility of a motion to remove Johnson and how Democrats would respond. A growing number of Democrats have said they’re willing to protect Johnson if necessary.

Democratic leaders sounded largely positive about the package, though; Jeffries declared that “the time has come for the House of Representatives to act,” that it’s “our intention to get [aid] done over the next few days” and that “we are not going to allow America’s national security interests to be undermined.”

The fourth national security policy bill includes a series of bills targeting Iran and its proxy groups in the Middle East, most of which have already passed the House as stand-alone legislation by strong bipartisan margins

They include: the SHIP Act, targeting the Iran-China oil trade, which passed the House by a 342-69 vote; the Fight CRIME Act, addressing Iran’s missile and drone programs, which passed the House 403-8; the MAHSA Act, sanctioning Iranian leaders, which passed the House 410-3; and a bill taking aim at foreign backers of Palestinian terrorist groups, which passed the House 363-46. 

Also included are a the No Technology for Terror Act, permanently codifying strict export controls on Iran, which passed the House 406-19; a bill expanding sanctions on Iranian proxies using human shields, which passed the House 419-4; the Illicit Captagon Trafficking Suppression Act, imposing new sanctions on producers and distributors of the stimulant drug, which passed the House 410-13; the Iran-China Energy Sanctions Act also targeting the two countries’ oil trade, which passed the House 383-11; the Holding Iranian Leaders Accountable Act, requiring reports on the assets of top Iranian and Iranian proxy officials, which passed the House 419-4; and the End Financing for Hamas and State Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which has not yet passed the House.

Most of the policies shouldn’t prove an impediment to the bill’s support among Democrats, although the final one has not yet passed the House and received a minority of the Democratic votes in the House Financial Services Committee.

The final bill instructs the administration to develop a multilateral strategy with the G7 and other partners to disrupt Hamas financing, report to Congress on the sources of Hamas’ financing and efforts to disrupt it and work to block Iran’s access to funding via Special Drawing Rights at the International Monetary Fund.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee took up and passed several of the included sanctions measures on a bipartisan basis earlier this week, but critics accused Senate Democrats of watering down some of the legislation.

The TikTok bill is largely the same as the one that already passed the House by a 352-65 vote, but includes more flexibility in the time frame for TikTok’s Chinese parent company to divest. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a key Democratic holdout in the Senate, said she supports this version of the bill, likely clearing its path in the Senate.

AIPAC said it “strongly supports Speaker Johnson’s work to bring important national security bills to the floor, and we urge every House member to vote for crucial security aid to our ally Israel.”

Christians United for Israel and the Republican Jewish Coalition are also backing the Israel bill.

Johnson has promised a separate vote on a border policy bill, but conservatives who demanded that immigration take priority over foreign aid don’t appear to be placated by that proposal.

Jewish groups, which pushed hard for the NSGP provisions to remain in the bill, praised its inclusion.

“ADL applauds the inclusion of $400 million in Nonprofit Security Grant Program funding as part of the package to support Israel as it defends itself from terrorism,” Lauren Wolman, a director of government relations at the Anti-Defamation League, told JI. “Nonprofit Security Grants are the one of the most tangible ways to protect and even save lives during this time of great peril. That is why ADL worked tirelessly to promote funding for this program — mobilizing our community and working in tandem with Members.”

Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, said the package carries “historic significance for our country and for the Jewish community.”

“In these frightening times, the House has the opportunity to help Israel protect herself in an increasingly hostile region and take critical steps to secure the safety of people of all faiths as we gather for worship and fellowship in our communities here at home,” Fingerhut continued.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), who has been an advocate for the program, said Democrats “insisted NSGP support had to be part of any supplemental that comes out of Congress.”

“I am deeply gratified this package includes the $400 million we requested,” he continued. “The successful FEMA grant program will help protect schools, houses of worship and other at-risk facilities and I thank Leader Jeffries for helping us ensure its inclusion in this package.”

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