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Johnson’s foreign aid package overcomes critical hurdle

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Speaker Mike Johnson‘s foreign aid package will advance to the floor, after Democrats on the Rules Committee stepped in to counter conservative defections.

The contentious panel vote tees up the four-bill plan for floor consideration on aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as well as a fourth bill of related GOP policy priorities meant to entice otherwise skeptical Republicans to at least vote to allow debate on the package.

The bundle still needs to clear a so-called rule vote on the House floor before lawmakers formally begin debate and move to votes on passage of the individual bills. Though the House will hold separate final votes on each of the four bills, which is expected to occur on Saturday, they’ll be merged into one bill before being sent to the Senate.

Reps. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) voted against teeing up the bills for the floor. Normally opposition from three conservatives would be enough to scuttle Johnson’s plan in the committee. But Democrats on the panel on Thursday night helped move the package to the floor — a step that typically the minority party doesn’t do in the House.

Democrats are also expected to need to help formally start debate on the House floor, where Republicans can only lose two of their own members before needing help from across the aisle.

Johnson is expected to lose at least several of his own members on the rule vote on the floor, amid skepticism in his right flank over more money for Ukraine and angst because GOP leadership didn’t link the foreign aid package to new U.S. border provisions.

Johnson had intended to bring up a GOP border bill separately this week but it derailed in the Rules Committee on Wednesday amid Republican frustration on his strategy. Instead, GOP leadership announced on Thursday night they will bring the border bill up under suspension on Friday. That will require it to meet a higher two-thirds threshold in order to pass, which it is not expected to meet.

Norman said on Thursday that it was “tough” to vote no in the Rules Committee on bringing the foreign aid package to the floor, but that he would oppose it.

“We met with Speaker Johnson yesterday. … Our only ask was to include a border bill in this rule, not a stand-alone, which the Senate will sit on, give us something,” Norman said on Thursday.

Linking the border to the foreign aid package would likely scuttle its chances of passing in the Senate, which also has to pass the House package before it can go to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Johnson has defended his strategy on the foreign aid package, but it also comes with a major risk to his speakership with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) threatening to trigger a vote to oust him.

She told reporters this week that she won’t call up her resolution to try to strip Johnson of his gavel before the foreign aid package comes to the floor. Johnson has publicly brushed off the motion to vacate threat, telling reporters: “If I operated out of fear over a motion to vacate, I would never be able to do my job.”

But Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, acknowledged that Johnson has “had a lot of pressure on him.”

“I was with him the night before he made his decision and I know he takes it very personally,” McCaul said. “He told me the next day ‘I want to be on the right side of history.’”