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House Democrats launch an effort to force a vote on Ukraine aid, but face long odds

By STEPHEN GROVES, Associated Press
Published: March 12, 2024, 10:56am

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats on Tuesday launched a long-shot effort to force a vote on $95 billion in aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, intensifying pressure on Speaker Mike Johnson to take up the foreign funding package.

Democrats, as the minority in the House, began gathering signatures for a “discharge petition” — a seldom-successful procedural tool that can circumvent the speaker’s control over which bills come up for a vote.

For the petition to trigger action in the House, it must be signed by a majority of lawmakers, or 218 members. With Republicans controlling the House 219-213, at least some Republicans would have to buck their leadership and sign for the petition to reach a majority. Plus, some progressive Democrats are unlikely to sign on because the legislation includes military aid for Israel.

The move underscored the stubborn impasse in Congress over the roughly $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine, with conservatives balking at providing more ammunition and weaponry for Kyiv. Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, has resisted taking up the package passed by the Senate last month and insisted that the House work its own will on the matter. He has suggested the House will turn to the package only after government funding is settled — and he still insists the money must be paired with policy changes at the U.S. border with Mexico.

At the same time, Ukrainian soldiers have suffered from shortages of ammunition as U.S. supplies have been shut off in recent months.

“We have made every single opportunity to engage with the speaker on bringing the bill to the floor as a bipartisan piece of legislation,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “Why not just bring it to the floor? You know, it would win overwhelmingly.”

Johnson has faced bipartisan calls to advance the foreign aid package. Some House Republicans are now trying to draft their own version of the bill in hopes of breaking the stalemate. Their version trims back the foreign aid to Ukraine so that it is only for the country’s military, not for the functioning of its government.

Johnson has encouraged Republicans to resist signing on to any discharge petitions and said he would eventually address Ukraine aid, but he has not come out with any clear plan.

A discharge petition was last successfully employed in 2015, when a bipartisan group forced a vote to revive the U.S. Export-Import Bank more than three months after its charter lapsed.