ontario news watch
United States

House leaders toil to advance Ukraine and Israel aid. But threats to oust speaker grow

WASHINGTON (AP) — House congressional leaders were toiling Thursday on a delicate, bipartisan push toward weekend votes to approve a $95 billion package of foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as well as several other national security policies at a critical moment at home and abroad.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson this week set in motion a plan to advance the package, which has been held up since October by GOP lawmakers resistant to approving more funding for Ukraine’s fight against Russia. As the Republican speaker faced an outright rebellion from his right flank and growing threats for his ouster, it became clear that House Democrat Leader Hakeem Jeffries would have to lend help to Johnson every step of the way.

“This is a very important message we are going to send to the world this week, and I’m anxious to get it done,” Johnson said earlier Wednesday announcing his strategy.

The growing momentum for a bipartisanship dynamic, a rarity in the deeply divided Congress, brought rare scenes of Republicans and Democrats working together to assert U.S. standing on the global stage and help American allies. But it also sent Johnson’s House Republican majority into fresh rounds of chaos.

Johnson’s Republican leadership team, seizing on the opportunity to outflank hardline conservatives with Democratic support, raised the idea of quickly changing the procedural rules to make it harder to oust the speaker from office.

The idea being floated would be to tuck a rules change into the emerging national security package that would raise the threshold on the so-called “motion to vacate” vote that right now can be called by any single lawmaker to remove the speaker.

Ultra-conservatives reacted with fury, angrily confronting Johnson on the House floor in a tense scene.

“If he wants to change the motion to vacate, he needs to come before Republican conference that elected him and tell us of his intentions,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a top ally of Donald Trump, who is leading the campaign to oust him.

Greene said if Johnson goes through with his plan, “he’s going to prove exactly what I’ve been saying is correct: He is the Democrat speaker.”

Following the exchange with Johnson on the House floor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who instigated the ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker last year but has so far refrained from joining Greene’s effort, said it was pushing him towards also wanting Johnson out as speaker.

“It’s my red line now,” added Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican. “I told him there’s nothing that will get you to a motion to vacate faster than changing the threshold.”

At the same time, one floor above the turmoil in the House chamber a rare image of bipartisan statesmanship was on display as the procedural Rules committee began debate launching the steps needed to push the foreign aid package forward toward weekend voting.

The Republican chairmen of the powerful Appropriations and Foreign Affairs committees alongside their top Democratic counterparts spoke in evocative language, some drawing on World War II history, to make the case for ensuring the U.S. stand with its allies against aggressors.

Chairman Michael McCaul of the Foreign Affairs Committee cast this as a “pivotal” time in world history, comparing the current images of people fleeing the conflict in Europe to the situation in 1939 as Hitler’s Germany rose to power.

“Time is not on our side,” he told the panel.

The top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Greg Meeks of New York, followed through on McCaul’s urgency: “The camera of history is rolling.”

Johnson is trying to advance a complex plan to hold individual votes this weekend on the funds for Ukraine, Israel and allies in the Asia-Pacific, then stitch the package back together.

The package would also include legislation that allows the U.S. to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl; and potentially ban the video app TikTok if its China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake within a year.

While Johnson is trying to remain close to Trump, and positioning the national security package as a way to assert U.S. strength in the world in the mold of Ronald Reagan-era Republicans, that puts the speaker politically at odds with the anti-interventionists powering the former president’s bid to return to the White House.

Earlier, behind closed doors, Democratic leaders huddled with their caucus to discuss the foreign aid package and the extent to which they would help advance it through the procedural maneuvers in the Rules committee to bring it to the floor.

Democratic Whip Rep. Katherine Clark told reporters after the meeting that Democrats were “open to helping.”

“This is a moment in history where we need to ensure that at long last we are bringing this critical aid to Ukraine to the floor,” she said.

Rarely, if ever, does the minority party help the majority through the procedural hoops, particularly at the House Rules committee or during the various floor votes before final passage. It would be a level of bipartisanship unseen in this Congress, even as Republican leaders watched their own priority bills defeated on procedural votes by their own members.

But given the high stakes of the moment for Ukraine, Israel and other allies, and the inability of Johnson to marshal enough Republican support, the speaker will have no other choice if he intends to see the national security package to passage.

Yet Democrats were also trying to apply maximum leverage as Johnson’s job comes under threat.

Privately, Clark advised rank and file lawmakers not to divulge their positions on whether they would vote to help defeat a motion to vacate Johnson as speaker, though a handful of Democrats have already publicly said they would likely do so.

“Do not box yourself in with a public statement,” Clark told them according to a person familiar with the remarks.

Lawmakers have said the world is watching and waiting on its next steps, but there’s still a long slog ahead. If the House is able to clear the package this weekend, it still must go to the Senate for another round of voting.

Stephen Groves, Lisa Mascaro And Kevin Freking, The Associated Press

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *