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Senate-passed foreign aid bill entangled in Johnson’s messy House GOP fight

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Speaker Mike Johnson won’t take the Senate-passed national security supplemental as is, insisting House Republicans will write their own legislation. Democrats are trying to plot a path around him.

Johnson in a statement late Monday dismissed the $95 billion Senate bill with aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan because it failed to include provisions to tighten border security. He said in a statement: “In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters.”

Previously, the Louisiana Republican and other conservatives had worked to kill a bipartisan border-foreign aid deal because they said it didn’t go far enough to stem the flow of migrants across the border. That compromise failed in the Senate last week, after Johnson said it was dead on arrival in the House. And legislation that has stricter border policies — like the conservative-favored H.R. 2 — would almost certainly run into Democratic opposition in the upper chamber. It all indicates that the months-long fight over foreign aid and border security still has a ways to go.

Still, a Johnson aide, granted anonymity to speak candidly, told POLITICO Tuesday that Johnson won’t be “boxed” into the Senate plan. Instead, House Republicans would find their own remedy to address the national security and border issues. Johnson is facing conservative pressure to oppose any Ukraine funding and fight for H.R. 2, a border bill the House passed last year on partisan lines, with some members hinting they would seek to oust him if the GOP leader put Ukraine aid legislation on the floor.

“He’s saying the current bill won’t be processed in the House and why,” the aide said.

Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping they can box Johnson in, pushing a procedural maneuver known as a discharge petition that would allow them to force a floor vote on the Senate-passed bill. Critically, though, Democrats need a majority of House members to sign on, including a handful of House Republicans. It’s unclear if they’ll get that backing.

Every House Democrat has signed onto a shell discharge petition that could be used to force a vote as soon as it has the necessary signatures. And some Republicans have held quiet conversations with Democrats about a path forward but, so far, no Republicans have joined.

Johnson has criticized that effort, saying Tuesday afternoon: “I certainly oppose it, and I hope that it would not be considered. The House has to work its will on this. There’s a deliberative process, and we’re engaged in that and we’ll see how it goes.”

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) told POLITICO last week that he was spearheading a bill with Democrats that would link foreign aid, including for Ukraine, to a border measure.

“I’m working with a few Democrats on it. It’s going to address the problem in a much more narrow fashion,” said the centrist Republican, who said they will “figure out a way” to get his measure to the floor.

Conservatives are supportive of Johnson’s moves to block the Senate-passed bill, even those who are typically critical of the GOP leader.

“The good news is that Johnson has publicly stated that we’ve got to do something on the border before we do anything like that,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said on “The John Fredericks Show” Tuesday morning.

But, the former Freedom Caucus chair was quick to note: “If it were to get to the floor, it would pass — let’s just be frank about that.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer implored Johnson to take up the legislation in a Tuesday press conference, saying “if the hard-right kills this bill, it would be an enormous gift to Vladimir Putin.” But the Senate Democrat deferred to Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries on how to pursue a discharge petition.

And it’s not just Democrats who want Johnson to act. Even as he embraces his right flank by refusing to take up the Senate bill, there are other corners of his conference who view more financial help for Israel and Ukraine as essential. And many of those lawmakers are sick of seeing leaders bow to conservative priorities that have no shot in a Democratic-controlled Senate.

Some Republicans have floated considering pieces of a foreign aid package separately. That would let Republicans vote for Israel aid and lean on Democrats to help pass Ukraine aid. Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told POLITICO last week that he’s discussing a stand-alone bill on Ukraine military aid with a group of lawmakers.

And Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) — who led a trip last week to Ukraine to try to reiterate the United States’ support — predicted that Johnson will ultimately allow for a vote on the Senate-passed bill. Notably, Johnson’s statement did not rule out the House eventually taking it up.

“The speaker will need to bring it to the floor,” he said.