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House Rules Committee debates Israel aid package, as House speaker confronts right flank

“The House must pass the package this week, and the Senate should quickly follow,” said U.S. President Joe Biden.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee field hearing on New York City violent crimes, at the Javits Federal Building in New York City on April 17, 2023. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee field hearing on New York City violent crimes, at the Javits Federal Building in New York City on April 17, 2023. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.

The House Rules Committee debated three foreign aid bills, whose texts Speaker of the House Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) released on Wednesday and which include billions of dollars for Israel.

The committee took up the separate bills for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan on Thursday, teeing up a potentially dramatic showdown with the right flank of his own party, which opposes additional funding for Ukraine.

“To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys,” Johnson said at a press conference on Wednesday. “My son is going to begin in the Naval Academy this fall. This is a live fire exercise for me, as it is for so many American families.”

“This is not a game. It’s not a joke,” he said. “We can’t play politics with this. We have to do the right thing.”

Johnson’s proposal is divided into three separate bills but largely mirrors the $95 billion supplemental aid package that the Senate passed in February.

The three House bills likewise provide $95 billion in total supplemental aid, with $60.8 billion for Ukraine, $8 billion to counter China in the Indo-Pacific and $26 billion in the Israel-focused bill—$9.1 billion of which is humanitarian aid for Gaza and other global hotspots.

A fourth piece of legislation grouped with the aid bills would force TikTok’s Chinese ownership group to sell the social-media company. The fourth bill also includes sanctions measures against Russia and Iran.

Of the $26 billion in the Israel-related aid bill, $5.2 billion is devoted to procurement for the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Iron Beam rocket and missile defense systems, $4.4 billion would fund Israeli purchases from U.S. defense stocks and $3.5 billion would go to the procurement of other advanced weapons systems.

Another $2.4 billion would fund U.S. military operations in the region, such as the U.S. naval operations to protect Red Sea shipping.

U.S. President Joe Biden and House Democrats previously opposed efforts to vote on aid for Israel as a standalone bill, but with Johnson effectively packaging the three bills together and including Democratic demands, such as aid for Gaza, the new formula earned Biden’s endorsement on Wednesday.

“The House must pass the package this week, and the Senate should quickly follow,” Biden stated. “I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed.”

Johnson’s decision to move forward with the foreign aid supplemental package with Democratic support has provoked fury from the House Freedom Caucus, representing the most right-wing Republicans.

“This tactic allows Johnson to pass priorities favored by President Biden, the swamp and the Ukraine war machine with a supermajority of House members, leaving conservatives out to dry,” House Freedom Caucus members wrote in a memo to fellow Republicans on Wednesday. 

Republicans angry at Johnson for funding Ukraine and not prioritizing U.S. border security could support a motion to vacate that would oust him from the speakership, just as former speaker Kevin McCarthy was forced out in October.

Johnson said on Wednesday that he wasn’t worried about that possibility.

“My philosophy is you do the right thing, and you let the chips fall where they may,” he said. “If I operated out of fear of a motion to vacate, I would never be able to do my job.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) filed a motion to vacate the speakership in March after the passage of the final 2024 government funding bills. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) announced on Tuesday that he would support that motion.

Greene has not said if or when she might trigger the motion but could do so as early as Friday, which would require a floor vote within two legislative days.

If one additional Republican were to support the motion, Johnson would be removed, assuming that every Democrat in the House also voted to remove the speaker, as they did in October.

With Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) retiring from Congress this week and further narrowing the already razor-thin Republican majority, Johnson may end up in the unusual position of relying on Democratic support to keep his job as speaker.

Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) and Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) have said that they would back Johnson in a vote on a motion to vacate.

“My position hasn’t changed. Massie wants the world to burn. I won’t stand by and watch. I have a bucket of water,” Moskowitz wrote Wednesday.

Lacking the votes to depose Johnson or defeat the aid bills, Greene submitted amendments on Wednesday in an apparent effort to prod her colleagues. Greene’s amendment to the Israel bill called for funds “for the development of space laser technology on the southwest border,” evidently in reference to accusations that she had endorsed an antisemitic conspiracy theory about California wildfires.

Both Democrats and Republicans made similar snipes at their colleagues in amendments and statements.

Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wisc.), who opposes removing Johnson, called Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) “tubby” on the House floor, Axios reported. Gaetz was one of the eight Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy in October and is thought to be one of the Freedom Caucus members most likely to support a motion to vacate.

Moskowitz, meanwhile, submitted an amendment to the Ukraine aid bill Thursday that would rename Greene’s House office the “Neville Chamberlain Room,” suggesting that Greene’s opposition to Ukraine funding rhymed with the former British prime minister’s appeasement of Nazis.

The intra-Republican battle over the aid package also forced Johnson’s supporters and opponents to prepare for unusual parliamentary maneuvers.

Freedom Caucus members had formed a Floor Action Response Team, or “FART,” that will take shifts on the House floor to prevent moves that would strip them of their committee seats or otherwise empower Johnson, Politico reported Thursday.

Some Republicans have also called on the Rules Committee to change the procedures around motions to vacate. 

“I’m working with a group of members to change the rules so that they can’t get that done, so that one knucklehead can’t put the whole House into disarray by forcing another speaker vote,” Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) said Thursday. “We’ve got real problems.”

Speaker Johnson announced on Thursday that he opposed that effort.

“Any rule change requires a majority of the full House, which we do not have,” the speaker said. “We will continue to govern under the existing rules.”

At press time, the House Rules Committee was in recess after debating amendments on the foreign aid bills. After the Rules Committee votes on the bills, a vote on the aid package is expected on the House floor on Saturday.

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