Explainer-Can Ukraine supporters force a US House vote on foreign aid?

By Thomson Reuters Mar 12, 2024 | 1:05 PM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson refuses to allow a vote on the $95 billion foreign security aid bill passed by the Senate, supporters are turning to rare and complicated procedural tools to try to force a vote.

Democratic Representative Jim McGovern filed a discharge petition on Tuesday and has started to collect signatures and according to media reports, Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick also has a petition in the works.

Fitzpatrick’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Here is an explanation of the discharge petition and other legislative maneuvers advocates for Ukraine aid might try.


The House “discharge rule,” which is generally the only procedure by which members can secure consideration of a bill without cooperation from majority party House leadership, requires at least 218 signatures, a majority of the House’s members, according to the Congressional Research Service.

If the petition gets 218 signatures, the House must vote on a motion to discharge. If that passes, the House would then vote on the Senate bill.


It would be close.

Many Republicans favor the foreign aid bill – estimates are that about 70% of the House would vote yes if Johnson allowed a vote – but signing a discharge petition would be a major, public break from party leadership in an election year with every House seat up for grabs and Republicans fighting to protect a slim majority.

Former President Donald Trump, the favorite to be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, has criticized aid for Ukraine and his endorsement or opposition can make or break a Republican’s campaign.

Johnson, a close Trump ally who voted against Ukraine aid before becoming speaker, has insisted that any package of international assistance must also include measures to address security at the U.S. border with Mexico, despite Senate Republicans rejecting legislation to do so at Trump’s urging.

There are also an unknown number of Democrats – estimates are four to eight – who might refuse to sign because of the $14 billion in aid to Israel included in the bill. Some have criticized the bill given the high number of civilian deaths tied to Israel’s campaign in Gaza, and difficulties getting aid to Palestinians.

Members from both parties also question whether Washington should be sending money abroad rather than focusing on domestic needs and warn against potential involvement in broader conflicts.


They do, but only rarely. The last time was in 2015, when 42 Republicans defied party leaders to join Democrats who favored reauthorizing the then-shuttered Export-Import Bank. In 2002, a discharge petition was successfully used to pass the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which became known as McCain-Feingold.


Democrats are also considering another procedure, known as “defeating the previous question,” where a majority of lawmakers can force an immediate vote on a bill that leadership has not brought to the floor.

Every time the House brings a bill to the floor under a rule, such as one limiting the number of amendments, there is a vote on “moving the previous question.” If that is defeated, Democrats can amend the rule to bring up any bill.

That procedure would work quickly and requires only a majority of House members voting and present – not the full 218 needed for a discharge petition. But it has almost never been successful and also would require perhaps two dozen Republicans to break with leadership.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, editing by Don Durfee and Marguerita Choy)