How Congress Could Bypass Republican Opposition to Funding Ukraine


Just after dawn on Tuesday, the Senate passed a $95 billion national security package with aid to Ukraine and Israel, setting up a showdown with the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson suggested he would not bring it up for a vote.

The bill passed the Senate 70 to 29, with 22 Senate Republicans breaking with their party and joining Democrats in pushing it through. But in the Republican-led House, right-wing opposition, fueled by former President Donald J. Trump, poses a steeper challenge.

Many hard-right Republicans have consistently voted against aiding Ukraine, and threatened to oust Mr. Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, if he brought up legislation to do so.

In a statement on Monday night in the hours before the bill passed the Senate, Mr. Johnson said the House would “continue to work its own will” on national security and border policies, which Republicans had insisted be a part of the foreign aid package, before killing a bipartisan deal to address them.

That may mean that the bill’s only path through the House is for a bipartisan group of lawmakers to use an obscure maneuver known as a discharge petition to force action on it.

Here’s how it would work.

A discharge petition is a demand signed by 218 members of the House — a majority of the body — to force consideration of a piece of legislation on the floor.

The leaders of the majority party in the House normally control the floor and all legislative business that receives a vote. But a discharge petition can circumvent the normal channels, forcing action on a bill that has the backing of enough members. Because neither party wants that to happen on a regular basis, it is by design an arduous and time-consuming process that has rarely seen success in recent decades.

When freshman lawmakers in the majority arrive on Capitol Hill for orientation, they are typically told by their leaders to never do two things: sign a discharge petition and vote against rules, which are procedural measures brought by party leaders that allow bills to be considered on the floor.

While there are dozens of Republicans in the House who support aiding Ukraine, it is not clear how many of them — if any — would be willing to defy party leaders and team with Democrats to try to force action.

Legislation must sit in a committee for 30 legislative days — days when the House is in session — before a discharge petition may be submitted. That process can be sped along if lawmakers take a related bill that has been languishing in committee for some time and add the measure they want acted upon. For instance, during a deadlock over raising the debt ceiling in the spring, Democrats readied a broadly encompassing shell bill in committee to serve as a vehicle for a measure to lift the debt ceiling, should it be needed. (It never was, because Representative Kevin McCarthy, then the speaker, joined with Democrats to push through the debt ceiling measure over his own party’s objections.)

Sponsors of a discharge petition must gather 218 signatures, which are made public in the Congressional Record. As of Tuesday, there were 219 Republicans and 212 Democrats in the House, meaning a discharge petition on the foreign aid bill would require a bipartisan coalition. Democrats are broadly supportive of the package, as is a bloc of more mainstream and national security-minded Republicans similar to the one that helped push the legislation through the Senate.

Once the petition has 218 signatures, a seven-day waiting period kicks in. (Again, only legislative days, when the House is in session, count.) After that, any signer of the petition can declare an intention to offer the measure, and the speaker must act within two legislative days to call it up. House leaders, in the meantime, could throw up procedural roadblocks.

If the effort were successful, a discharge petition would allow lawmakers to steer around Mr. Johnson and hard-right Republicans who have vowed to block action on a Ukraine aid bill — or oust the speaker for bringing one up — to force action on the floor.

Hard-right Republicans have repeatedly voted against sending military assistance to Ukraine, while even some Republican proponents of doing so insisted that the aid should not be considered without including measures to fortify the U.S. border with Mexico against an influx of unauthorized migrants. But Senate Republicans tanked a version of the bill last week that included measures to crack down on the border, which they cast as too weak and viewed as politically inconvenient for Mr. Trump.

That prompted Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, to strip out the border measures and push through the foreign aid package on its own.

On Monday, Mr. Johnson was still insisting on adding border restrictions.

In a statement, he said that House Republicans “were crystal clear from the very beginning of discussions that any so-called national security supplemental legislation must recognize that national security begins at our own border.” Mr. Johnson added that “in the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the right-wing Republican of Georgia, has threatened to bring up a motion to oust Mr. Johnson from the speakership if he puts legislation to aid Ukraine on the floor. But a discharge petition would take the decision out of his hands.



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