Apr 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats grumble over Mike Johnson's Ukraine aid proposal

Mike Johnson, wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt, blue tie and glasses, flanked by fellow members of Congress.

House Speaker Mike Johnson. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Democrats are groaning at a plan floated by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to pass aid to Ukraine — including some key moderates.

Why it matters: With an aid bill likely to require a two-thirds majority and Republicans largely opposed to Ukraine aid, the vast majority of Democrats will likely need to support the package for it to pass.

  • Democratic votes would also likely be needed to save Johnson from being ousted in a motion to vacate that some GOP members have threatened as retaliation for a Ukraine aid vote.

Driving the news: Johnson, in a Fox News appearance on Sunday, floated "important innovations" that would be included in the Ukraine aid package.

  • That includes the REPO Act, a bill supported by some Democrats to confiscate frozen Russian assets in the U.S. Those assets could be used to help fund the aid to Ukraine, Johnson said.
  • Johnson also raised the ideas of structuring the aid package as a loan and reversing the Biden administration's pause of liquified national gas export approvals — neither of which have significant Democratic buy-in.

What we're hearing: A House Republican close to Johnson confirmed to Axios the ideas he floated are "a thing" and said Ukraine aid "may be its own bill" separate from other components of the Senate national security package.

  • That means that aid to Israel and Taiwan — which have far more GOP support — would be voted on separately.
  • Johnson has refused to hold a vote on the $95 billion Senate bill, much to the chagrin of Democrats.

What they're saying: "All the Speaker has to do is let the House vote on the already passed bipartisan Senate bill. That may be the only way, certainly the quickest way to get this to the president's desk," centrist Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) told Axios.

  • Landsman noted that a modified House bill would have to go back to the Senate, which he said "may or may not pass it," thus delaying the process.
  • Rep. Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.) told Axios of Johnson's plan: "I don't see how you'd get 200 Dems. The only real path is the Senate bill as-is."

Between the lines: Both centrist, swing-district lawmakers declined to commit to voting for Johnson's proposal.

  • "I'd just need to see the shape of the bill," said Nickel.
  • A spokesperson for Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), another swing-district moderate, said he is "open" to the idea but "the details of the complete package really matter."
  • A Democratic leadership source told Axios it is "highly unlikely" it would get enough Democratic support to pass.

Yes, but: Other Democrats said they are on board.

  • "I believe I would support it," said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). "Time is of the essence. ... I hate the time that we are going back and forth and back and forth and more and more people are dying in Ukraine."
  • Another House Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, expressed frustration about the idea but said "personally, I would be a yes."
  • "I think probably enough Dems would vote yes despite heavy lobbying" by the League of Conservation Voters against lifting the LNG export freeze, the lawmaker added.

Between the lines: As is often the case with House Democrats, the pivotal factor will likely be the opinion of House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

  • "I'm sure what Hakeem does [will] affect the caucus, and he hasn't announced what he would do in this situation," said Cohen.
  • The Democratic leadership source said they are not aware of Johnson and Jeffries discussing the proposal.

What's next: Johnson has suggested to colleagues that the House will vote on Ukraine aid when it returns from its Easter recess next week.

  • "When we return after this period, we'll be moving a product," he said in his Fox News interview.
Go deeper