The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on April 18, 2024. (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Friday moved one step closer to approving billions in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, with Democrats providing crucial support to Republican leaders after defections by their hard-right members.

Lawmakers in the broadly bipartisan 316-94 vote approved a rule that sets up the procedure for debating a handful of amendments and passage of the three separate bills on Saturday, in a rare weekend session. All four of Iowa’s Republican representatives voted for the rule.

That rule also sets up debate on a so-called sidecar bill that would implement sanctions against China, Iran and Russia; ban the social media site TikTok unless Chinese owner ByteDance sells it; approve a bipartisan bill to address fentanyl; and numerous other measures.

The House is set to take separate votes to approve all four bills, before bundling them together and sending one package to the U.S. Senate. That chamber could vote to approve the measure as soon as next week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Friday that chamber “will move expeditiously” to take up the package once it comes over.

President Joe Biden has said he’ll sign the package, a move that would end months of stalemate over whether the United States would aid Ukraine and Israel among ongoing wars. The assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan totals $95 billion.

‘Rational and thoughtful debate’ urged

House debate on the rule was broadly bipartisan, though several Republicans bemoaned Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, for moving forward with aid to Ukraine, while some Democrats argued the process should have wrapped up months ago.

Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, said he hoped that on Saturday, lawmakers will “have rational and thoughtful debate, knowing that we will have disagreements and knowing that some of us will have different ideas on how we should proceed forward.”

“This is the United States House of Representatives. We are supposed to debate issues,” McGovern said. “We are supposed to vote on things. And unfortunately, this has become a place where trivial issues get debated passionately and important ones not at all.”

McGovern said he has “deep, deep problems about the unconditional aid to Israel,” but said  Johnson’s decision to break up the bills into separate votes will allow each lawmaker to vote their conscience.

“I believe that Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu is putting Israel on a path that quite frankly undermines his own country’s security,” McGovern said. “And I’m outraged by his cruelty and his inhumanity toward the people of Gaza and the West Bank.”

McGovern added that nobody is questioning that “Israel has a right to defend itself,” but said he believes Israel’s conduct against civilians is “outrageous and unconscionable.”

Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the rule “creates a full and fair process for floor consideration of these measures.”

“It grants ample debate time on these bills and makes in order a series of amendments, ensuring that the entire body has the opportunity to work its will and make our voices heard,” Cole said. “It ensures that members have a full 72 hours to review these bills before the vote.”

The bills the House will vote on Saturday, Cole said, are crucial to democracy.

“Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan are on the front lines of the struggle to preserve democracy and freedom around the world,” he said. “In the case of Ukraine and Israel — these two nations are quite literally in harm’s way.”

Border security surfaces again

Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy argued against approving the rule, saying GOP lawmakers must hold out on key issues until they are able to move border security changes into law.

“We want to get the border closed and secured first. To that I say amen. And where is that, Speaker Johnson?” Roy said.

A trio of senators — Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy and Arizona independent Kyrsten Sinema — spent months negotiating a bipartisan border security and immigration bill before releasing it in February. Senate Republicans then blocked it from moving forward after demanding it in exchange for foreign aid.

Johnson has been on thin ice with several members of the far-right Freedom Caucus, including Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Kentucky’s Thomas Massie, who have both called for him to resign and may press for a motion to vacate Johnson from leadership.

Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar became the third co-sponsor of the resolution after the rule vote, writing in a statement that he wants Johnson to do more on border security and immigration policy.

“Our border cannot be an afterthought,” Gosar wrote. “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.”

Other members of that group, including Chairman Bob Good of Virginia, are frustrated with Johnson, though they don’t want another prolonged public display of GOP disunity before the November elections.

Foreign aid

House Republicans unveiled the assistance bills for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan on Wednesday. The vast majority of that funding would go to the U.S. departments of Defense, Energy and State, which would in turn use the funding to assist the three entities as well as others.

Those bills are similar to the $95 billion spending package the Senate approved on a broadly bipartisan vote in February.

The rule approved Friday barred amendments from being considered to the Israel aid bill, but approved four amendments to the Ukraine bill, one amendment to the bill for the Indo-Pacific and two amendments to the TikTok and sanctions sidecar.

When the House approved the rule, the two amendments to the TikTok bill were deemed approved.

House lawmakers proposed 137 amendments to the Ukraine bill, 84 amendments to the Israel bill, 30 amendments to the Indo-Pacific spending bill and 68 amendments to the sidecar bill.

The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy on Friday urging both chambers of Congress to swiftly approve the foreign aid bills.

“The world is watching what the Congress does. Passing this legislation would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment,” it said. “The Administration urges both chambers of the Congress to quickly send this supplemental funding package to the President’s desk.”

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