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Johnson needs Democrats for Ukraine and gives them the power to shape the aid plan

WASHINGTON – Speaker Mike Johnson’s elaborate plan to funnel aid to Ukraine through the House of Representatives over his own party’s objections relies on an unusual strategy: He’s counting on House Democrats and their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, to provide the votes needed to clear the way for the word.

If Democrats provide those crucial votes, it would be the second time in two years that Republican leaders have had to turn to the minority party to save them from their own recalcitrant right-wing colleagues so major legislation can be debated and voted on .

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Given Republicans’ narrow margin of control, Johnson, R-La., will need their support for the aid itself. But before he even gets to that, he will need their votes on a procedural motion known as the rule to even bring up the legislation — an unconventional expectation from the minority party.

That again puts Democrats in an odd but strong position, wielding substantial influence over the measure, including which proposed changes, if any, can be voted on and how foreign aid is structured. After all, Johnson knows that if they are dissatisfied and choose to withhold their vote, the legislation risks imploding before it even comes into being.

The dynamic also increases the likelihood that Johnson will need Democrats again — to save his precarious presidency, which is now threatened by two members of his party, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. They are outraged by his strategy to send aid to Ukraine and appear to be getting closer every day to a vote to oust him from office.

“We’re going for whatever Chuck Schumer wants,” Massie said Tuesday, referring to the Democratic Senate majority leader from New York. (Without Democratic help, Johnson can afford to lose two Republicans if all members are present and voting, meaning legislation to send aid to Ukraine would be dead long before it arrives.)

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Republican leaders have yet to release the text of any of the four bills that will make up the aid package to aid Israel, Ukraine and other U.S. allies. And there are plenty of opportunities to derail the bipartisan coalition of support that would be needed to pass this through the House of Representatives.

But Democrats have started laying out their terms.

Jeffries told his caucus during a closed-door meeting Tuesday that he would not be willing to support a package that included less than the $9 billion in humanitarian aid that was part of the national security bill passed by the Senate.

Republicans in the House of Representatives previously pushed through an aid bill for Israel that left out humanitarian aid to civilians in the Gaza Strip, and some have recently suggested that further aid to Ukraine should be limited to military financing. But Jeffries called maintaining humanitarian aid a “red line” for Democrats, according to a person familiar with his private comments who described them on condition of anonymity.

“We need $9 billion in humanitarian assistance,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. “That’s what it takes to deal with Ukraine, Sudan, Somalia, Haiti and Gaza.”

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the new chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday he expected humanitarian aid to be included in the bill.

Democrats also said they were concerned about the possibility that Republicans would push to make changes to legislation they consider “poison pills” that would make it impossible for them to support it. That would include any attempt to address their tough immigration and border security law, which would revive some of the Trump administration’s harshest policies.

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Rep. For example, Chip Roy, R-Texas, has spoken out about the lack of border security measures in the foreign aid package.

For more than two decades, the “rule,” a piece of congressional secrecy that few outside Capitol Hill ever pay attention to, was treated as a foregone conclusion and a straight party-line vote. Even if lawmakers planned to break with the party on a bill, they would follow the rule of bringing it up, voting “yes” if they were in the majority and “no” for the minority.

But that peculiar tradition has been swept aside in this Congress, as insurgent Republicans in the House of Representatives have routinely tanked line votes to exert their influence and win concessions with narrow majorities where they have outsized power.

“It’s the only tool they have in their toolbox,” said Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn. “It’s legal; it’s in the rules.”

When the far right’s procedural resistance threatened to kill legislation that Democrats see as existential — a bill to neutralize the threat of catastrophic debt default, or someone to arm a Democratic ally against an invading dictator — they too show a willingness to break with convention on the rule.

Last year, 52 Democrats voted in favor of the rule to bring up the debt ceiling bill being negotiated by then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden, allowing the hamstrung Republican leader to pass the measure. Ultimately, 29 Republicans voted against the rule.

Far-right Republicans are furious about the results. After McCarthy made the debt deal, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said, “We’re going to force him into a monogamous relationship with one or the other,” referring to his cohort of right-wing Republicans or Democrats. “What we’re not going to do is hang out with him for five months and then watch him jump into the backseat with Hakeem Jeffries and sell out the nation.”

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Ultimately, McCarthy ended up in a relationship with no one; Democrats did not vote to save him when Gaetz called a snap vote to impeach him and seven Republicans voted to remove him.

Johnson also walks a delicate line. He must deal with the politics of his own fractured conference without alienating the Democrats he will need to pass the security package — and possibly save his job.

In an interview Tuesday morning with Fox News, Johnson accused Democrats of turning their backs on Israel and “appeasing the pro-Hamas wing of their party.”

For now, Democrats are willing to overlook such statements and seem inclined to do what they think is right: support Johnson’s Ukraine aid program, and the speaker himself. Although they have not yet seen the plan and are reserving judgment on it, many said they would like to find a way to make it work.

“I’m more optimistic than I was before,” Rep. Hillary Scholten, D-Mich., said about the House actually making progress on aid to Ukraine.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., said: “If what the speaker brings is the Senate bill in pieces — just procedurally different, but policy-wise the same — I don’t see why we should stand in the way of that. .”

They are also aware that their support in itself means a political liability for Johnson.

“There are plenty of people who would support him if that’s what he wants,” Rep. Dan Goldman of New York said of his Democratic colleagues. But about the Republican Party, he said, “There are probably more people who would be upset if Democrats helped keep him as chairman than there are people in the Republican Party who want him to go.”

For Johnson, he added, “there is no good option.”

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