Ukraine supporters lay path to try to force US House vote on aid bill

By Thomson Reuters Feb 23, 2024 | 12:38 PM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Democrats have begun laying the groundwork for a potential bid to sidestep Republican Speaker Mike Johnson and force a vote on a $95 billion security assistance package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, House aides said on Friday.

Representative Jim McGovern, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, filed legislation on Feb. 15 that could be used as a vehicle for a discharge petition, a rarely used procedural tool that eventually could force a vote on the bill if at least 218 House members – a majority of the chamber’s 435 voting members – sign it.

Under House rules, Ukraine backers could begin collecting signatures for the petition around March 1.

Months after Democratic President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve more foreign security assistance, the Senate last week approved the package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and to replenish U.S. weapons stocks by an overwhelming 70-30 vote. Twenty-two Republicans joined most Democrats in voting “aye.”

But Johnson, a close ally of former Republican President Donald Trump who voted against assisting Ukraine before he became Speaker, sent the House home for a two-week recess without bringing the measure up for a vote, leaving the aid in limbo as the war in Ukraine approached its second anniversary.

Trump, the frontrunner to be his party’s 2024 presidential nominee, has opposed aid to Kyiv.

Johnson told a party meeting on Feb. 14 that House Republicans would not rubber-stamp the Senate bill. Party leaders are considering writing new bills, amending the Senate legislation or dividing it into separate parts.

House Democrats are also considering another, even rarer, process, known as defeating the previous question, in which Ukraine backers could take control of the House floor before certain votes.

The exact number needed is not certain, because it would require only a simple majority of members present and voting.

So far, House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries has said only that he is leaving every legislative option on the table.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Ros Russell)