Speaker Johnson reveals new plan to break Senate foreign aid package into separate bills in House

 April 16, 2024

For the past two months, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has been under intense bipartisan establishment pressure to pass a foreign aid package -- primarily comprised of military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and Gaza -- that faces staunch opposition among many House Republicans.

On Monday, Johnson announced a new proposal to break up into four separate bills the $95 billion package cleared by the Senate in February, the Associated Press reported.

The plan could work to leverage Democratic support to bypass GOP resistance on aid to Ukraine, and vice-versa on assistance for Israel, but could also backfire and result in the scuttling of some or all of the separate bills if partisan policy amendments are added ahead of any final votes.

Breaking the Senate package into separate pieces

NBC News reported that Speaker Johnson's plan potentially includes transforming further aid for Ukraine into loans, possibly backed by liquidating seized Russian assets, which could win over some Republican detractors of continued U.S. support for the embattled Eastern European nation.

He intends to allow members up to 72 hours to read the separate bills and propose amendments before voting on them, which could allow for votes to be held as soon as Friday if the legislative texts are released on Tuesday, though the House is scheduled to go on recess on Thursday.

Johnson told reporters on Monday, "Every member ultimately will be able to vote their own conscience on all of these matters, and everyone have an opportunity to weigh in and bring the amendments that they think are suitable."

"We will follow the germaneness rules of the House of course and the regular rules with regard to amendments," the speaker added. "But I think the final product will be something that everybody can take confidence in because they got to vote their district and vote their conscience."

Johnson's plan could backfire

Politico reported that Speaker Johnson is trying to "thread a foreign policy needle" with his plan that aims to break up the Senate bill and pass it as individual components before reassembling the package deal and sending it back to the Senate for concurrence with any added changes.

While the plan hasn't yet been fully embraced by all House Republicans, it also hasn't yet received vehement opposition either, and there is some tentative Democratic support for the procedural gambit to pass the foreign aid measure.

There are some risks involved that could scuttle the whole effort, to be sure, such as the possibility of "wild card" amendments and GOP policy riders that could act as a poison pill for Democratic supporters, as well as a proposal to try to force the Democrat-led Senate to vote on prior House-passed border security legislation before sending back the foreign aid package for concurrence.

Rep. Greene's threat of a motion to vacate

One big question in all of this is whether Speaker Johnson's plan will placate some of the most vocal opponents to additional aid for Ukraine, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has previously threatened to force a vote on a motion to vacate the chair and oust Johnson from power over the Ukrainian assistance.

According to CNN reporter Manu Raju, Greene was not persuaded to back down from her firm opposition by former President Donald Trump's call for Republicans to "stand by" Johnson, and though she predicted that she was not alone among GOP members who are "angry" about the speaker's plan, she also said she hasn't decided yet whether this effort will prompt her to move forward with the removal motion.

For his part, Johnson suggested that he wasn't overly concerned about the threat posed against his continued leadership by Greene, the AP reported.

"I don’t spend my time worrying about motions to vacate," the speaker told reporters on Monday. "We’re having to govern here, and we’re going to do our job."

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