On The Hill

Johnson faces ouster attempt as path to Israel, Ukraine aid bill looks more uncertain

One major sticking point for Democrats: whether Johnson’s bill contains humanitarian aid for Gaza

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on April 16, 2024 in Washington, DC.

House Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) path to passing his proposed aid bill began to look shakier on Tuesday, amid defections inside his party and a move from two members of his caucus to force Johnson’s ouster.

Several members of Johnson’s caucus said Tuesday that they likely won’t not support the procedural “rule” vote on the four-bill aid package Johnson announced on Monday, meaning that the bills will need Democratic support to move to the House floor. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) hasn’t made any commitments to back the legislation, but humanitarian aid for Gaza is likely to be a key precondition for Democratic backing.

House Republicans were initially expected to release the bill on Tuesday, to permit a Friday vote, but did not do so.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has yet to formally trigger her motion to evict Johnson from the speaker’s chair, but she and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a longtime opponent of Israel and other foreign aid, urged Johnson on Tuesday to resign and allow Republicans to pick another new speaker, who would be their third in the current Congress.

Johnson vowed not to resign, and an attempt to force the issue from Greene and Massie could come at any time, which could slow down consideration of the aid bill.

“I am not resigning,” Johnson said at a press conference. “And it is, in my view, an absurd notion that someone would bring a vacate motion when we are simply here trying to do our job.”

Johnson told Republicans on Tuesday that there would be no border-related amendments to the supplemental bill, angering other House Republicans.

For now, many of the Republicans’ key national security hawks, including some who had been growing publicly frustrated with delays in progress on the bill, are firmly backing Johnson and his plan. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called Johnson’s package “far better” than the Senate plan.

Democratic leaders suggested they support Johnson’s package if it includes the major pieces of the Senate bill, including Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan aid and, crucially, humanitarian support for Gaza and other theaters. Johnson hasn’t clearly said whether humanitarian aid will be part of the bill.

“It is imperative that, whatever it looks like, that it has the contents of what passed the Senate — so whether it is divided into four bills and those all pass… or if they’re connected by a rule and go over to the Senate, that’s what I’m looking at,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who is a member of Democratic leadership, told Jewish Insider.

Once the full bill is released, Wasserman Schultz continued, Democrats will assess whether it meets that test and then make decisions about whether to back Republicans on the procedural votes and the bills.

“Clearly [Johnson] is going to need us, and if he needs us, the scales have to tip in our direction in order to garner our support,” she continued.

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), the No. 3 House Democrat, at a press conference appeared to reject the prospect of blocking Johnson’s proposed bill regardless of what it contains as a strategy to pressure Republicans who support Ukraine aid to sign onto a Democratic petition seeking a vote on the Senate-passed aid bill.

“We don’t want to sink any plan that delivers aid to our allies,” he said. “We’re less concerned on what process is used. If there is a reasonable process that legislative leaders on both sides of the Capitol agree on, and the White House, then we look forward to making this happen. But this needs to happen by the end of the week.”

Rep. Don Davis (D-NC), who had been working with Republicans on an alternative supplemental bill, said that he needs to see the bill for himself before he makes a decision on whether he’ll support it or procedural votes.

“I want to do everything I can to deliver the necessary assistance for Israel,” Davis told JI. “We’re a long time overdue. And in light of recent occurrences with Iran, we need to do everything humanly possible to support the people of Israel. And that’s entirely my focus.”

Moderate Democratic Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) have pledged to protect Johnson from an attempt to oust him, but that may not be a sustainable long-term solution from Johnson and could prompt further discord and opposition within his conference. Other Democrats’ votes are likely to depend on the content of the aid bill and guidance from Democratic leadership.

Davis said that he is “absolutely open to supporting the speaker as long as I see that there’s a genuine effort in trying to safeguard the American people and all of the conversations around security assistance.”

“I’m definitely keeping an open mind towards that, but I need to definitely see the particulars here,” he continued.

Aguilar indicated that Democrats would prefer not to see an attempt to boot Johnson, saying they “don’t like the chaos and dysfunction” and they “stand willing to work with anyone who wants to deliver on that help and support” for Israel, Ukraine, humanitarian assistance and Taiwan. But he said the issue didn’t come up in a lengthy Democratic caucus meeting on Tuesday.

Wasserman Schultz told JI that questions about a motion to vacate are premature.

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