House Democrats help Johnson avoid defeat on foreign aid bills, despite GOP defections

Final votes are set for Saturday, but a third Republican threatened to oust him.

April 19, 2024, 12:36 PM

The House on Friday cleared a key procedural hurdle in passing foreign aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, despite dozens of Republican defections, with Democrats helping Speaker Mike Johnson avoid a stinging defeat.

Soon after, a third Republican said he would join a threatened move to oust him.

The chamber voted 316-94 to advance the bills, setting up Saturday votes on final passage of $95 billion in foreign assistance that has been held up in a political fight in Washington for several months.

Procedural votes such as Friday's are typically passed by the House majority alone, but Democrats stepped in to help push the legislation forward after Republican hard-liners collectively opposed the measure. More Democrats voted to advance the bills than Republicans.

"Democrats, once again, will be the adults in the room," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., during debate ahead of the vote.

Leaving the House floor after the vote, Johnson said the four foreign aid bills are “the best possible product” under the circumstances. "We look forward to final passage on the bill tomorrow."

The individual bills provide roughly $26 billion for Israel, $61 billion for Ukraine and $8 billion for the Indo-Pacific. The measures are similar to legislation passed by a bipartisan group in the Senate back in February, which tied all aid together into one measure.

A fourth bill packaged into the foreign aid contains conservative priorities such as a TikTok ban bill, sanctions on Iran and legislation to seize Russian assets to help provide funding to Ukraine.

“Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan are on the frontlines of the struggle to preserve democracy around the world,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., during debate. “In the case of Ukraine and Israel, these two nations are quite literally in harm’s way.”

Pressure increased on lawmakers to pass aid after Iran's unprecedented attacks on Israel over the weekend.

Johnson has forged ahead with the foreign aid measures, calling them pivotal, despite pushback from the right-flank of his party and looming threats to his job.

A third House Republican, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, announced after Friday's vote his support for the motion to vacate the speaker's chair first introduced by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene last month. In a statement, Gosar expressed frustration with moving ahead on aid to Ukraine rather than providing resources to the souther border.

"We need a Speaker who puts America first rather than bending to the reckless demands of the warmongers, neo-cons and the military industrial complex making billions from a costly and endless war half a world away,” Gosar said.

Three Republicans supporting a motion to vacate would be enough to remove Johnson, unless Democrats decide to help defend the Republican speaker.

On his way to the House floor for the vote, ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Selina Wang asked Johnson if he was worried about possibly being ousted.

“I don’t worry," Johnson responded. "I just do my job."

PHOTO: U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol April 16, 2024 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol April 16, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

But GOP hard-liners aired their frustrations with Johnson and his approach to this issue during debate.

“I’m concerned that the speaker’s cut a deal with the Democrats to fund foreign wars rather than to secure a border,” Rep. Thomas Massie.

Massie, R-Ky., earlier this week called on Johnson to resign and joined Greene's motion to vacate.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, also took issue with "another $100 million to fund war, unpaid for, with zero border security -- under a rule which Republicans should oppose because it is a process predesigned to achieve a desired predetermined outcome, with no border security."

"This was all precooked," Roy said. "It's why President Biden and Chuck Schumer are praising it."

Democrats, meanwhile, criticized Republicans for bringing dysfunction to the chamber.

"I would just say to my colleagues, 'Look at what MAGA extremism has gotten you: nothing. Nothing, not a damn thing,'" Rep. McGovern said, who also told his colleagues,“You don’t get an award when you’re doing your damn job.”

"We are in a divided government. Nobody is going to get everything they want," he added. "I hope today's vote loosens the grip that MAGA extremism has on this body, and especially when it comes to supporting our allies."

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, also a Democratic member of the House Rules Committee, also condemned the delay in getting aid passed: “Congress is finally going to vote ... Why did it take us this long?"

The White House ahead of the vote released a statement of administration policy backing the bills, calling them "long overdue" and actions that would "send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment."

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