Dems help move aid bill to House floor, as Johnson faces right wing rebellion

Further Democratic support will likely be forthcoming on the House floor to ensure that the foreign aid package for Israel and other allies can be voted on and pass

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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 Democrats on the House Rules Committee voted on Thursday night to advance aid for Israel and other foreign allies to the House floor despite a rebellion from the Republicans’ right flank against Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA).

Democrats’ support in the Rules Committee was a highly unusual step, and effectively a signal that House Democratic leadership is backing the legislation. It’s unprecedented in at least the last 29 years for a House majority party to require minority party support to advance legislation out of the Rules Committee. But three conservative Republicans, Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Ralph Norman (R-SC) and Chip Roy (R-TX), bucked Johnson and voted against advancing the package.

Democratic support will also be needed on a procedural “rule” vote on the House floor on the package — another rare occurrence — in light of the growing rebellion from right-wing Republicans. The House Freedom Caucus on Thursday announced all of its members will oppose the rule vote, and other right-wing Republicans may join them.

Thursday night’s vote indicates that further Democratic support will likely be forthcoming on the House floor.

Unlike the other three bills in the foreign aid package, no amendments to the Israel aid bill will be considered on the House floor, meaning that Republicans won’t have the chance to try to remove humanitarian aid for Palestinians from the bill, while progressive Democrats won’t get votes on proposed amendments cutting or restricting aid to Israel.

Under the so-called “sidecar” bill, a package of national security legislation that the House will consider alongside aid bills for Israel, Ukraine and the indopacific, the House will vote on an amendment by Rep. Zach Nunn (R-IA) requiring the Treasury Department to report to Congress on all assets of the Iranian government and its affiliates valued at more than $5 million that are frozen under U.S. sanctions and a list of all Iran sanctions waivers and exemptions that have been issued.

“This is a moment in history where we need to ensure that at long last we are bringing this critical aid to Ukraine,” House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) said earlier Thursday. “We will continue to be the adults in the room.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the former majority leader, told reporters after a Democratic caucus meeting on Thursday that Democrats are largely supportive of the bills proposed.

“There is general support, broad-based support for the three bills that are being put forward, which are essentially the Senate bill divided. We’re for that,” Hoyer said. “That’s the central discussion we had.”

A major question as the legislation moves ahead will be how many lawmakers ultimately vote against the package providing aid to Israel. More than 50 Democrats called to suspend and condition aid to Israel, but at least a few of them have publicly committed to voting for the bill. On the right, 14 Republicans voted earlier this year against providing aid to Israel, demanding it be paired with other budget cuts.

Rep. Becca Balint (D-VT), the first Jewish Democrat in the House to support a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and a signatory on the letter calling for suspending aid, said Thursday morning she hadn’t made a decision yet on her vote.

“I’m thinking really deeply. That’s where I’m at,” Balint told Jewish Insider. “This is an incredibly painful issue for me and other progressive Jewish members. And I’m just doing a lot of soul searching and deep thinking.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who is also Jewish and also signed the aid letter, said Thursday morning he hadn’t had a chance to read the details of the bills yet.

“I’ve been in support of the entire package from the beginning,” Raskin said. “I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to support the entire thing. I want to get aid to Ukraine, to Israel, humanitarian assistance to Gaza, and [aid] to Taiwan and the indopacific.”

Also on Thursday, Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressed frustrations with parts of the sidecar bill — which includes numerous Iran sanctions — but Meeks said he ultimately supports the bill.

“I would point to the context of the moment,” Meeks said. “We need to support Ukraine immediately. We need to fund humanitarian aid. We need to back Israel and Taiwan, and cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Meeks noted that he had negotiated with Republicans to add waivers to several proposed sanctions bills; the MAHSA Act, targeting Iranian leadership, for which Iranian-American activists have been lobbying aggressively, still contains no waivers or exemptions.

From the Senate side, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), once one of the Senate’s most vocal defense hawks and Ukraine supporters, suggested he would again vote against the aid package if and when it returns to the Senate.

Graham, re-sharing a social media post by former President Donald Trump, said that European nations “need to contribute more toward the fight in Ukraine” and that he’ll “be urging my colleagues to push our European allies in the direction outlined by President Trump.”

Thursday’s Rules Committee vote came about in part because of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) decision to put Massie, Norman and Roy on the committee — traditionally filled with staunch leadership allies — as a concession to the far right to win votes for his speakership bid.

Some in Washington speculated that Johnson, facing threats from a growing number of right wing lawmakers to remove him as speaker, might seek to use the foreign aid package to change the House rules to disarm the ouster attempt, but Johnson said he lacks the support for such changes.

Nevertheless, growing numbers of Democrats are indicating a willingness to support Johnson in the event of an attempt to oust him.

“I think many of us have no interest in participating in the political shenanigans going on in the multi-factions within the Republican conference,” Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) said. “Put the policy first, and let’s see how it evolves.”

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