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Happy Wednesday morning.
News: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning to force a vote on a clean foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific after Republicans block floor debate on the bipartisan border supplemental package this afternoon. We have more on this below.
On the House GOP: We’ve seen fits and starts, crashes and burns and our fair share of missteps by House GOP leaders through the years.
But what we’re now witnessing with Speaker Mike Johnson’s House defies definition.
Tuesday’s debacle — failing to impeach DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and then choosing to lose a vote on $17 billion in aid to Israel — is truly one of the most embarrassing days in recent House GOP history.
Regardless of what one thinks of the merits of either effort, losing back-to-back votes shows a House Republican legislative process that isn’t optimized for winning. GOP leaders can reverse both defeats, but the damage to their reputation is immense.
Inside Johnson’s leadership circle, there are plenty who doubt his decision-making capability while being forced to begrudgingly execute his questionable strategies. And among rank-and-file House GOP lawmakers, there are a lot of people scratching their heads about where he’s leading them.
Let’s start with the Mayorkas impeachment: The GOP leadership knew it had three no’s going into Tuesday night’s highly-awaited showdown over Mayorkas. They weren’t sure how many Democrats would be there. But given the gravity of removing a Cabinet secretary from office, why roll the dice?
In the end, one widely expected Democratic no-show — Rep. Al Green of Texas, who briefly left the hospital after emergency surgery — made it to the vote, resulting in a 215-215 tie. That meant the impeachment resolution would fail. Johnson had spent several frantic minutes huddled on the floor with members and aides before the vote, a sign of the trouble ahead.
With the tally deadlocked, Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah) switched his vote to no, which will allow him to offer a motion to reconsider. The House then rejected the Mayokas impeachment resolution by a 214-216 final tally.
Now this isn’t over yet. Republicans can still impeach Mayorkas. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise — who is undergoing cancer treatment — is expected to come back as soon as next week. At that point, unless someone else changes their position, a re-vote will happen and Mayorkas will be impeached. But the episode Tuesday left an indelible image of GOP floor incompetence, something that’s happened with stunning regularity this Congress.
Now, that other vote: The decision to hold the Israel aid vote right after that is truly befuddling. Because of the conservative bent of the House Rules Committee, Republican leaders are forced to consider nearly everything under suspension of the rules, meaning a two-thirds majority for passage.
After the House Democratic leadership and the White House made clear they were opposed to the bill, Johnson’s leadership team went forward with the vote despite knowing it would fail. Republicans spun the narrative that Democrats defeated it — and they did, a decision that some Democrats called into question.
But pro-Israel groups privately questioned the wisdom of creating the optics of the House divided over helping Israel during what the GOP describes as an existential war. All of this while the Israeli Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana is on the Hill this week.
As we said, none of this is permanent. The Republican leadership will schedule another Mayorkas vote. Senior Republicans signaled they may try to put the Israel aid bill through the Rules Committee next week, a huge challenge that will spark a fight of its own.
But the Republicans’ tight margins and internal policy splits create an absolutely ungovernable climate.
Here’s Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), summing up the feelings of the middle of the conference:
“We need to whip and we need a better whip. We need a whip count and we need to know exactly where we are and we need to be careful not to get ahead of our skis.
“We’re talking about governing in a majority and we can’t even pass a rule, so that speaks volumes of where we’re at as a conference… I would like to think we could look past this moment and recognize that things get far worse for us if we are thrust back into the minority.”
Remember, in less than a month, Congress is going to need to pass FY2024 spending bills. The FAA needs to be reauthorized and FISA is going to come up for a vote. As we mentioned above, Schumer is about to move a standalone bill to send billions of dollars to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. Johnson has some big decisions to make very soon.
— Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Mica Soellner
Happening tonight: Punchbowl News Managing Editor Heather Caygle will sit down with House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar tonight at the Democratic retreat! If you’re a lawmaker, aide or reporter attending the retreat, RSVP here. Join us at 6:30 p.m. for Punchbowl News’ “Cocktails and Conversation.”
February Events! Join us for a bipartisan conversation with Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.). On Thursday, Feb. 29, at 9:30 a.m. ET, the senators will discuss news of the day and AI policy with Punchbowl News founder Anna Palmer and senior congressional reporter Andrew Desiderio. RSVP now!
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning to bring the negotiated foreign aid package up for a vote today, immediately after Republicans block the broader bipartisan border security supplemental.
The foreign aid package includes tens of billions of dollars for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific, as well as the FEND Off Fentanyl Act. It doesn’t include any provisions or money related to border-security funding.
According to a Senate Democratic aide, Schumer is able to do this because he filed cloture Monday on the underlying legislative vehicle, instead of bringing up the motion to reconsider the supplemental vote from December that Senate Republicans blocked.
Schumer informed Democrats and the White House last week that this was his backup plan if Republicans killed the border security compromise. The GOP is expected to block the border bill when the Senate holds a key procedural vote at 1 p.m.
This would appear to satisfy Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call for a Senate vote on the foreign aid portion of President Joe Biden’s supplemental funding request even if the border bill goes down.
“We still, in my view, ought to tackle the rest of it because it’s important — not that the border isn’t important, but we can’t get an outcome,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
The outlook: If Republicans don’t block Schumer’s maneuver, it’s expected that the Senate would remain in session until final passage. The Senate was scheduled to leave Thursday afternoon for a two-week recess. Moving the measure through the chamber would require several days unless the two sides work out a time agreement.
Based on our conversations with GOP senators, it seems likely that the Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan package could win the requisite 60 votes. But hardline conservatives who helped tank the border deal were already objecting to this plan when asked about it on Tuesday.
“Groundhog Day was last week, but in some ways, we could be back reliving the Bill Murray classic,” Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) said. “Because you’re still going to have the same dynamic, our conference is pretty split on Ukraine funding.”
House dynamics: Speaker Mike Johnson has said repeatedly that Congress shouldn’t address foreign entanglements without fixing the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Some Senate Republicans are more optimistic than others.
“[Johnson] has acknowledged the importance of funding Ukraine, but I know he’s got management issues and he’s trying to figure that out,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “I’m willing to give him all the latitude he needs to get it across the finish line.”
We can also report that there have been private discussions about a House discharge petition built around a Ukraine-Israel aid package. This would require 218 signatures. There are clearly enough GOP and Democratic supporters on Ukraine, although conservative Republicans will strongly oppose this. On Israel, there’s also broad support, despite opposition from progressive Democrats.
So there’s a potential House path forward for this legislation, provided the Senate passes it first.
— Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan
Senate Republican tax writers are as sour as ever on the tax bill that overwhelmingly passed the House last week.
They’re demanding changes — including a markup — before even entertaining getting on board, as we first detailed in The Vault Tuesday night.
There are still signs of optimism for the bipartisan $80 billion package of business tax breaks and an expanded child tax credit, including some public GOP support from outside the Senate Finance Committee.
But with a bloc of Finance Committee Republicans holding firm against the measure, some senators are wary of the procedural pitfalls that lie ahead.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a Finance member, told us he’s “very awake to the reality” that his Senate colleagues will need changes to the bill if it has any shot of moving forward. Here’s Young:
“We all know the challenge there is when you start considering amendments on a tax package, anything becomes fair game. And I am not confident that the end product will be something that we have enough support for. But it’s a dynamic situation.”
No decision has been made on whether to hold a committee markup, according to a source familiar with the situation. Amendment votes could get tricky fast, with just a one-seat majority for Democrats on the panel.
“I sure wouldn’t want folks that just want to somehow stop this tax relief from trying to have some way to do that,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told us of the Republican request.
All this comes on top of a crush of bigger Senate priorities that make expending floor time or political capital on the tax bill more complicated.
Some hope for tax backers: Outside the Finance Committee, some GOP senators are ready to take the deal from Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.). Others say they’re open to the bill, or offered some praise.
“There’s win-win opportunities in this,” said Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.). “It’s so important for farmers back home, for small businesses back home. And I think Republicans need to lean into the childcare issue. This is pro-family.”
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) said even though he’s open to GOP-backed edits if possible, he supports the tax bill as is.
Still, concerns from key players loom large. Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) said he has no position yet. Schmitt added that listening to Finance Committee ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) “is going to be very important in this whole thing.”
— Laura Weiss
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What we witnessed over the last few days within the Senate GOP Conference can accurately be described as the final countdown for the “Old Republican Party.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed for the inclusion of U.S. aid for Ukraine in a September spending bill until the last minute when his conference overruled him. Several weeks later, McConnell changed tack and embraced his conference’s demand for border security as a condition for Ukraine funding.
Four months later — and within 24 hours of the legislative text finally being released — that entire construct collapsed. McConnell and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) had the rug pulled out from under them in the face of overwhelming opposition from his colleagues — and former President Donald Trump.
This internal struggle was, in many ways, the death knell of the old Republican Party once personified by the Senate GOP Conference and its longtime leader, McConnell. Even during Trump’s presidency, there was still some independence to be found in that conference. Not anymore.
A defiant McConnell on Tuesday pushed back on the criticism that he was misreading his colleagues.
“I followed the instructions of my conference, who were insisting that we tackle this in October. I mean, it’s actually our side that wanted to tackle the border issue. We started it,” McConnell said, adding that “things have changed over the last four months.”
Years in the making: The structures and standards that have come to define the GOP have been breaking down since the Tea Party movement began in 2009. They were further eroded when Trump won the White House in 2016. But in recent months, the last holdout of the old Republican Party — the Senate GOP Conference — has all but abandoned many of its generational positions on foreign policy and governance.
The new GOP is against funding for Ukraine, eschewing the muscular foreign policy that defined the Republican Party in the post-WWII era. Those who subscribe to this new view are no longer an irrelevant minority in the GOP Conference.
“Frankly, a lot of the leadership in the Republican Conference has spoken to their own members like children,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), one of Trump’s staunchest allies on the Hill, told us. “And I think they’re seeing that the children have developed some thoughts of their own.”
Changing times: McConnell, perhaps the embodiment of the Republican Party for the last 40 years, is increasingly looking like an anachronism — and not just on policy. Even the appearance of working with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is a no-go for some Republicans. And partnering with Democrats to pass legislation — despite it’s necessary given the filibuster — is heresy. The future of the filibuster itself if Republicans hold the House, Senate and White House next year is very much in doubt.
Here’s Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has been critical of his party’s shift:
“Politics used to be the art of the possible. Now it’s the art of the impossible. Meaning, let’s put forward proposals that can’t possibly pass so that we can say to our respective bases, ‘Look how I’m fighting for you’…
“We’ve gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.”
— Andrew Desiderio, Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
THE MONEY GAME
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) raised more than $950,000 for the House Democrats’ campaign arm during a fundraiser at Osteria Morini in Navy Yard Tuesday night. See the invite.
Pallone, of course, is currently the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee and in line to chair the panel again if Democrats retake the House. Pallone was joined by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) in kicking in DCCC dues for the event.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Minority Whip Katherine Clark, DCCC Chair Suzan DelBene and Reps. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) and Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) were also in attendance.
— Heather Caygle
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ALL TIMES EASTERN
Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.), Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Amir Ohana and hostage families will hold a press conference following the inaugural meeting of the House-Knesset Parliamentary Friendship Group.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) will host Israeli families of hostages and members of the Knesset to discuss the urgent need to bring hostages home.
President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries will hold his weekly press conference.
Biden will depart the White House for Joint Base Andrews. From there, Biden will fly to New York City. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC spokesperson John Kirby will gaggle aboard Air Force One.
Biden will arrive in New York.
Biden will participate in three campaign receptions, the last one beginning at 5:45 p.m.
Biden will depart New York for the White House, arriving at 9:15 p.m.
– Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.)
– Tracey Tully and Benjamin Weiser
– Matthew Lee, Wafaa Shurafa and Sam Magdy in Tel Aviv, Israel
– Christopher Cadelago in Reno, Nev.
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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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