House easily passes Ukraine and Israel aid, notching win for Johnson: 5 takeaways

House easily passes Ukraine and Israel aid, notching win for Johnson: 5 takeaways

The House on Saturday approved a series of bills providing tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid to embattled U.S. allies overseas, breaking a months-long impasse that bitterly divided Congress and sending the package along to the Senate.

The legislation — marrying military aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with humanitarian assistance for Gaza — marked a victory for Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who had taken the politically risky step of bringing the proposals to the floor over the objection of hard-line conservatives, some of whom want to boot him from power.

That decision has endeared the Speaker to Ukraine’s supporters in both parties, who argued the need for an aggressive strategy to help Kyiv’s beleaguered forces counter Russia’s imperial designs in Europe.

But it’s heightened the tensions between Johnson and his right flank, which was already furious with the Speaker for his willingness to negotiate bipartisan deals with President Biden and felt betrayed that GOP leaders dropped demands for tougher border security.

Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s monumental votes.

Ukraine, Israel, Gaza finally get their aid

The focus on the political machinations of moving the foreign aid package through Congress has, at times, overshadowed the situation on the ground in the hot spots where the new assistance is poised to flow.

Yet recent developments in those war-torn regions have fueled the urgency surrounding that aid on Capitol Hill, and in the end convinced Johnson that moving the aid — military and humanitarian alike — was worth the risk to his leadership perch.

In Ukraine, for instance, Kyiv’s defenders are running on threadbare weapons systems as Russian forces have made recent territorial advances — dynamics that led CIA Director Bill Burns to warn this week that Ukraine will lose the war by year’s end without additional U.S. support.

In Israel, recent strikes from Iran have highlighted the vulnerability of Tel Aviv’s position in a region hostile to its very existence.

Taiwan is facing new threats to its sovereignty from a Chinese Communist Party that has long had imperial designs on its island neighbor and has been emboldened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

And in Gaza, where more than half the population consists of children, more than 34,000 people have been killed by Israeli forces as they seek to root out the Hamas terrorists who conducted the Oct. 7 massacre.

The House-passed foreign aid package addresses each crisis, providing roughly $61 billion for Ukraine; $26 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid in Gaza and elsewhere; and $8 billion for Taiwan and other U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific.

“We have a responsibility — not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans — to do what is necessary to defend democracy wherever it is at risk in the best interest of the free world,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said.

An evolution for Mike Johnson — that comes with a risk

The months-long path to passing Ukraine aid in the House was an evolution of sorts for Johnson, who began that journey being skeptical of Kyiv and ended it as a supporter who put his job on the line to muscle through billions of dollars in assistance.

The last time the House weighed in on aid to Ukraine — $300 million in September — Johnson opposed the proposal. Nearly seven months later, the Louisiana Republican helped lead the push to get $61 billion in assistance for Kyiv on the House floor, in defiance of conservatives who have threatened to force a vote on his ouster.

“[R]ather than spending the resources to secure our southern border and combating the invasion of 11 million illegals and despite repeated promises there would be no additional money going to Ukraine without first securing our border, the United States House of Representatives, under the direction of the Speaker, is on the verge of sending another $61 billion to further draw America into an endless and purposeless war in Ukraine,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who signed on to a motion to vacate this week, wrote in a statement.

Johnson, for his part, has referenced the intelligence briefings he has received as Speaker to help explain why he reversed course on Ukraine aid — and was willing to put his gavel at risk to secure the assistance.

“I think providing lethal aid to Ukraine right now is critically important,” Johnson said this week. “I really do believe the intel and the briefings that we’ve gotten. I believe [Chinese President Xi Jinping] and Vladimir Putin and Iran really are an axis of evil.”

Pro-Ukraine Republicans took note of his transformation — and are thankful for it.

“He showed courage today. He’s going to go down in history as saying, ‘I’m gonna do the right thing, I don’t care about the vacate [motion],’” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a moderate leadership ally. “And that’s what leaders are made of.”

Democrats step in to help Johnson

The minority party in the House tends to be relatively powerless, consigned to a role of thrashing futilely against the current while the majority leaders have their way with the workings of the floor and the legislative agenda.

In this Congress, however, those precepts haven’t held.

The Republicans’ small and shrinking majority — combined with the unusual willingness of hard-line conservatives to buck their leadership on procedural votes that were once routine — has empowered Democrats with unusual sway over the workings of the lower chamber.

Those dynamics were on full display this week throughout the foreign aid debate. When three conservative members of the House Rules Committee opposed the rule governing the four-bill package, Johnson spoke with Jeffries, and the pair secured a deal to have Democrats on the panel make up the difference.

Later, when 55 conservatives voted against that same rule on the floor, it was again Democrats who took the rare step of crossing the aisle to pass the measure — and allow final votes on the foreign aid bills.

“The most bipartisan rule in my career,” said a chuckling Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The inability of Johnson and his leadership team to move those measures with Republican support empowered Jeffries and the Democrats, helping them secure policy victories and ensuring that the final product would look much more like the Senate-passed package than conservatives wanted.

“We have some fence-mending and some party discipline to do,” McCaul said.

The threat to Johnson has dimmed, but not died

The threat to Johnson’s gavel still exists — three Republicans are in favor of a motion to vacate — but its potency has decreased after conservatives cast doubt on the idea, former President Trump endorsed the Speaker, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) waffled on when she will force a vote on the resolution.

After months of railing against the prospect of sending additional aid to Ukraine — and watching the House approve that very assistance — Greene declined to force a vote on her motion-to-vacate resolution, letting lawmakers leave Washington without putting her ouster effort in motion.

“I’m actually gonna let my colleagues go home and hear from their constituents because I think people have been too obsessed with voting for foreign wars and the murder industry here in America, and actually understand how angry Americans are,” Greene told reporters minutes after the Ukraine aid vote.

“When you have the strongest, loudest voices in the Republican movement and grassroots furious, calling for Mike Johnson to be vacated, the people here, my colleagues, have not heard the message,” she added. “So I’m looking forward for them to go home, hearing from the folks back at home.”

But even if Greene were to defy Trump’s vote of confidence and trigger a vote on Johnson’s ouster, Democrats would likely swoop in and save the Speaker. A number of Democrats in recent weeks have said they would protect Johnson from a conservative coup if he moved Ukraine aid, which he did on Saturday.

Still, however, some Republicans see a motion to vacate on the horizon.

“With a lot of this behind us, you know, we can move forward with some more normalcy, I hope,” McCaul said. “Unless we have a motion to vacate, which is foreseeable.”

TikTok on the chopping block

Johnson made a number of changes to the Senate-passed foreign aid bill — which he called “innovations” — to try and assuage conservative concerns, including adding a provision that could lead to a ban of the popular app TikTok.

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill in March stipulating that TikTok’s China-based parent company, ByteDance, must divest itself of the app within roughly five months of the law going into effect or face a ban from U.S. app stores and web hosting services, legislation that faced an unclear fate in the Senate.

But now, a modified version — which gives ByteDance a year to divest, kicking the deadline past the November election — is on its way to Senate passage and, after that, President Biden’s desk, a resounding accomplishment for proponents of banning TikTok who have raised concerns about national security risks the app poses in the U.S.

“This legislation also defends our interests at home by including my bipartisan legislation to protect Americans against the national security threat posed by Chinese Communist Party control of TikTok,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who delayed his resignation to stay for the foreign aid vote, wrote in a statement shortly after the package passed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.