For Speaker Mike Johnson, 110 days into the job, a critical decision is coming up.
At some point in the next few days, the Senate appears poised to pass a $95 billion package that includes aid for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine. Johnson then will have to decide how to handle this package in the House.
Here are his options.
1) Ignore it. This isn’t much of an option but Johnson could just decide that he won’t pay any attention to the package. Remember that more than half of the House Republican Conference voted against a September bill that would’ve provided a measly $300 million to Ukraine. It will be perilous for Johnson’s internal politics to put any bill with Ukraine money on the House floor. Yet given the fact that Johnson has said funding for Israel is critical and has at least acknowledged the fact that the United States should fund Ukraine, we can’t imagine he’ll totally ignore the package.
2) Legislative maneuvering. During a news conference last week, Johnson was noncommittal about how he’d handle the legislation when it passes the Senate. But Johnson did say that he thought Congress should “address these issues on their own merits.” In other words, Johnson clearly doesn’t like the fact that billions of dollars for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine are rolled together into one bill.
Johnson has a few options here. He could split the question, as it’s referred to in the House. In other words, Johnson can design a process that sets up individual votes on aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. This would require cooperation from the House Rules Committee, which is effectively controlled by hardline conservatives.
Johnson could, theoretically, put individual bills on the floor for each of the parts of the Senate package. We don’t think he’ll head in that direction.
Or Johnson could simply pass the Israel-only aid package that he tried to push through the House last week and allow the Senate to amend it with its package when it returns from recess. This is a possibility following last week’s floor debacle over a GOP-drafted Israel-only bill.
3) Discharge petition. If Johnson does nothing, Democrats and GOP Ukraine backers can try a discharge petition to force the bill onto the floor provided they get 218 backers. But getting there wouldn’t be easy.
There’s an existing discharge petition with 213 Democratic signatures (H. Res. 350). But a number of those Democrats could drop off over Israel aid. How many? It’s unclear, but there would be some.
Pro-Ukraine Republicans would be lobbied to come onboard, but they’d have to overcome heavy pressure from their leadership not to do so because of the border security argument. Former President Donald Trump — whose NATO comments are a huge problem for the party — is another issue here.
Yet say all that can be overcome and 218 members from both parties sign onto the resolution. This would be the worst option for Johnson because it would effectively cede the floor to Democrats. Yet if he doesn’t devise a plan on the Senate bill, this could happen.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who supports the foreign aid package, told us Sunday that he has talked with House members about a discharge petition. Tillis said this may be required to ultimately get the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk.
“There’s a general belief that we need to get it done,” Tillis said of his conversations. “Hopefully this is something Speaker Johnson will just take up, because I believe you’d have significant support for it in the Republican Conference — whether it’s a majority or not, I don’t know.”
And Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), a former House member who’s still close with his former colleagues, said he believes that the speaker understands the importance of passing the aid bill following some high-level classified briefings.
Mullin noted that there are plenty of defense hawks in the House GOP Conference, and said he has talked with House members about various scenarios including a discharge petition.
— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan