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Speaker Johnson is moving forward with foreign aid bills despite threat to oust him

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks during a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony on April 10.
Anna Moneymaker
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House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks during a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony on April 10.

Updated April 17, 2024 at 6:03 PM ET

House Speaker Mike Johnson is moving forward with a plan to vote on separate bills to provide assistance to Ukraine, Israel and U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific, despite growing criticism from within his conference and the looming threat of being ousted from his post.

The plan is to introduce the three individual foreign aid bills; a fourth bill placing sanctions on Russia, China and Iran; and a fifth bill including border security measures, Johnson said in a message to House Republicans Wednesday. Bill text for the foreign aid bills was posted Wednesday afternoon.

The addition of a border security bill comes after a number of House Republicans criticized Johnson for abandoning prior demands to tie Ukraine funding to border provisions. A Senate-passed package that included foreign aid with no border provisions has been languishing in the House. But the change may not be enough to assuage hardline conservatives, who swiftly came out in opposition of the plan.

What the GOP opposition is

The four bills related to foreign threats are being considered under one procedural "rule," while the border bill will be considered under its own. Rep. Ralph Norman, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and the House Rules Committee, said that the arrangement would mean the border bill was "set up to fail."

"With Ukraine funding in there, then it's got a shot," said Norman, R-S.C. "The thing [Democrats] want is Ukraine."

Norman suggested he would oppose the rule for the aid package if it did not include the border security bill. Republican Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky also sit on the Rules Committee and have spoken out against the plan. The three met with Speaker Johnson Wednesday to discuss their concerns.

Three Republican "No's" in committee could defeat the motion before it even comes to the floor. If the legislation does make it past the committee to the floor, Johnson has almost no wiggle room within his razor-thin majority there.

Roy, who opposes Ukraine funding, said he would vote against the rule because "the border 'vote' in this package is a watered-down dangerous cover vote," he wrote on social media.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Johnson reiterated his commitment to bringing the bills to the floor, even if that triggers his opponents to move forward with a push to oust him. Reps. Massie and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., have co-sponsored a motion to vacate the chair, and have said that Johnson passing aid to Ukraine without border provisions would be a betrayal of the conference.

"I could make a selfish decision. ... But I'm doing here what I believe to be the right thing. I think providing lethal aid to Ukraine right now is critically important," Johnson told reporters. "I'm willing to take personal risk for that because we have to do the right thing and history will judge us."

He added that he has not asked Democrats to help him if the motion to vacate comes to the floor, and that he plans to "let the chips fall where they may."

What Democrats are considering

Given the resistance from his right flank, Johnson will need Democratic votes to get his aid bills to the floor, and if he hopes to survive a motion to vacate.

President Biden said he strongly supports the package of aid bills, and urged the House to pass the package this week. Ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has also come out in support of the bills.

But typically, the minority does not provide votes to procedural rules. Johnson will likely need Democratic votes for the rule to pass out of committee and then again once it's on the floor.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said that his caucus is "in the process right now of evaluating" the substance of the aid bills. Democrats will meet Thursday morning to discuss next steps. He did not comment further on whether Democrats might vote in support of the rule, or to defeat a motion to vacate against Johnson.

"Once we've made a caucus-wide decision about the substance, then we'll be able to talk about the process and what may lie ahead," Jeffries said. "But we don't want to put the cart before the horse."

Democrats have been calling for Johnson to bring the Senate-passed foreign aid package to the floor, and say providing aid to Ukraine is their top priority. The bill containing military aid for Israel also includes $9 billion of humanitarian assistance to Gaza and other countries, which Democrats had previously said was a requirement for their support.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Lexie Schapitl
Lexie Schapitl is an associate producer with NPR's Washington Desk, where she does a little bit of everything. She can be found reporting from Capitol Hill, producing the NPR Politics podcast or running the NPR Politics social media channels. She has also produced coverage of the January 6th Committee hearings, Trump's first impeachment and the 2020 and 2022 campaigns.
Barbara Sprunt
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.
Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is a congressional correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk.
Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.