Home » Congress finally passes $60.8bn billion Ukraine aid bill as speaker’s fate hangs in the balance

Congress finally passes $60.8bn billion Ukraine aid bill as speaker’s fate hangs in the balance

by John Jefferson
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The House of Representatives finally passed aid for Ukraine on Saturday in a move that could threaten Speaker Mike Johnson’s political future.

Members voted 311-112 to pass the $60.8bn package, which the Senate had previously passed. The legislation’s successful passage elicited cheers and waving of Ukrainian flags on the House floor, as well as chants of “Slava Ukraini!” – meaning “glory to Ukraine”. Angry conservatives fumed at their colleagues after the vote, with one speaking into the mic: “Put those damn flags away!”

Passage of the three foreign aid bills through the Senate is slated to take place on Tuesday, per Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The two other portions of the national security supplemental package, dealing with Israel and Taiwan, both passed with significant bipartisan margins. The House version of the supplemental changed the military assistance to Ukraine into a loan, a mostly failed bid to entice conservatives to get on board.

“If the hotline clears this morning, we expect to announce an agreement allowing the next vote on Tuesday, early afternoon”, said the Senate majority leader, according to Punchbowl News. Parts of the legislation were already passed by the upper chamber, making the path to the president’s desk fairly straightforward from here.

“This is not a blank check, like the Senate’s version,” Mr Johnson told reporters after the vote. “The loan system … is a House innovation.”

“I know there are critics of the legislation, I understand that,” he added. “But there is no question whatsoever that the House has made many improvements to the Senate bill, and the package we sent over there is much better.”

He also noted that Democrats forced his hand on the passage of aid to Ukraine by opposing a stand-alone bill that would have solely provided military assistance to Israel. Addressing the months of delays between the Senate’s action on the bill and the House finally passing it, he claimed that the chamber’s majority acted “as quickly” as it could have.

The real political drama in the House is expected to play out in the coming days, as conservatives are voicing frustrations over Mike Johnson’s governing style and willingness to rely on Democratic votes to pass major pieces of legislation which significant numbers of Republicans oppose. A third GOP member, Paul Gosar, on Friday signed on to the motion to oust Mr Johnson as speaker and that number may well grow after Saturday’s votes.

A number of Democrats have already indicated that they will extend a political lifeline to Mr Johnson should that happen, but the speaker’s detractors argue that Democratic support will only hasten his downfall.

“Every Democrat who walks across the aisle to try to save the Republican speaker is going to cause two or three more Republicans to join the effort because, at that point, you’re … ceding control of the House of Representatives to a contingent of Democrats,” Thomas Massie, one of the three Republicans supporting the motion to vacate, told Politico’s Playbook newsletter.

Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader, spoke to reporters on Saturday and said that his caucus would “have that conversation” about saving Mr Johnson “once the legislation is passed”.

While support for the motion to vacate is growing, even supporters of such a measure admit that ousting Speaker Mike Johnson would throw the lower chamber back into chaos. Last fall, it took Republicans more than three weeks to coalesce around a candidate after the ouster of Kevin McCarthy by a contingent of eight Republicans.

Speaking to reporters in a gaggle on the House steps on Thursday, the leader of that anti-McCarthy coalition, Matt Gaetz, said that passing a motion to vacate against Mike Johnson “could put the [GOP] conference in peril”.

There was no sign of that trigger being pulled immediately; Majority Leader Steve Scalise told reporters he did not expect Ms Greene’s motion to be put to the floor this weekend after he was seen speaking with the Georgia conservative congresswoman on the House floor.

The bill includes significant funds for what Ukraine says is its top priority: the resupply of air defence missiles and other armaments it says have been depleted responding to Russian attacks, resulting in greater casualties.

President Joe Biden celebrated passage of the legislation in a statement shortly after the votes concluded.

“Today, members of both parties in the House voted to advance our national security interests and send a clear message about the power of American leadership on the world stage. At this critical inflection point, they came together to answer history’s call, passing urgently-needed national security legislation that I have fought for months to secure,” said the president.

“I want to thank Speaker Johnson, Leader Jeffries, and the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the House who voted to put our national security first. I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law and we can quickly send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to meet their urgent battlefield needs.”

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, who had lobbied Congress personally on the legislation including in a rare trip to Washington, also thanked US lawmakers after the news broke.

One piece of ride-along immigration legislation containing several of the GOP’s priorities outlined in the hardline H.R. 2 bill separately died separately in the House on Saturday. It required two-thirds of the chamber for passage, a side effect of passing it under suspension of the chamber’s rules. Just a handful of Democrats supported it.

Legislation passed on Saturday dealing with a wider range of issues including sanctions on Iran and Russia may also require tinkering due to the provision forcing the sale of TikTok, though President Joe Biden has come out in support of that specific provision and it may end up receiving sufficient bipartisan support. The second ride-along bill passed with a vote of 360-58. A previous bill forcing the sale of TikTok passed in March, but has since stalled in the Senate.

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