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House opens debate on foreign aid as Dems save Johnson

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The House officially opened debate Friday on Speaker Mike Johnson’s multi-part foreign aid plan after Democrats stepped in to help overcome conservative defections.

The House voted 316-94 to bring up the four-bill package, which includes aid for Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel, as well as GOP policy sweeteners. But underscoring deep intra-party frustrations with Johnson’s strategy, 55 Republicans voted against advancing the package — a once unheard-of GOP rebellion that has grown more common given their single-digit margin.

Normally that would be enough to scuttle Johnson’s plan, but 165 Democrats voted to bring up the bills. It’s the first time they’ve done so during Johnson’s speakership — an alliance that is likely to fuel calls from his most vocal critics to strip him of his gavel.

The House is now slated to vote on the bills early Saturday afternoon, and Johnson will once again need substantial help from Democrats to get them over to the Senate. Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Friday that he plans to support the package, while Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) declined to state his position when asked.

“I’m pleased that we were able to come to a bipartisan agreement,” said House Appropriations Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.). He added: “It’s working out the way the speaker wanted it to, which is that every member is free to vote their conscience … in a way they usually aren’t.”

The House structured the package so as to ease its consideration in the Senate, requiring less time and procedural votes to pass the upper chamber. While senators are scheduled to be out of Washington next week, there’s ongoing discussion about canceling that recess to take up the House plan if it passes.

Democrats waited to back the rule Friday morning until they got a signal from their leadership. They trickled into the chamber Friday morning and mostly held back their votes on the question of whether to start debate. But the floodgates opened when party leaders walked up to the dais and turned in their green voting cards, indicating they would vote yes.

The procedural victory for Johnson comes after the Rules Committee signed off on the structure of debate close to midnight on Thursday after a marathon meeting. Reps. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) voted against teeing up the bills for the floor, but Democrats joined the remaining Republicans on the panel to advance the bills out of committee — an unusual step for the minority party in the House.

“It’s not satisfactory,” said Rules Chair Michael Burgess (R-Texas), noting that Republicans should have been able to provide the votes for the rule on their own.

Burgess said it’s up to the speaker as to whether the three conservatives should remain on the committee and continue to ensnare GOP legislation.

Three of the bills largely mirror the Senate-passed $95 billion foreign aid package, which previously stalled out in the lower chamber.

The Israel aid measure would provide more than $26 billion for the country. That includes $4 billion to replenish the Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defense systems and about $9.2 billion in humanitarian aid.

The Ukraine aid bill would provide $60.8 billion to assist in the ongoing war against the Russian invasion. The bill includes about $10 billion in repayable economic assistance – with the expectation that the money likely won’t be repaid, doing little to placate conservative Ukraine aid critics.

The third bill includes more than $8 billion in Indo-Pacific assistance, while the fourth would enact a host of policy provisions, including revised legislation that would force the divestiture of TikTok by its Beijing-based parent company.

Olivia Beavers, Burgess Everett and Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.