Apr 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Inside the operation to close Democrats' foreign aid rift

Photo illustration of a grid with blue, brown, and black squares, on which are an array of faces, including Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Pramila Jayapal, Jared Golden, Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi, and Marcy Kaptur

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photos: Anna Moneymaker, Alex Wong, Kevin Dietsch, Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Democrats are engaged in a widespread whip operation aimed at persuading progressive stragglers to sign onto a discharge petition to force a vote on the Senate's Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan aid bill, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Democrats want a display of party unity to strengthen their hand with Republicans ahead of potential votes on Ukraine and Israel aid as soon as next week.

  • But more than a dozen pro-Palestinian progressives have refused to sign on in protest of the military assistance for Israel in the Senate bill.

What we're hearing: "There is some whipping going on and I know of a couple people who have signed on as a result," one House Democrat told Axios.

  • The operation includes "multiple members who care about Ukraine," the lawmaker said, adding that "leadership has asked us to reach out to our friends within the caucus who haven't signed on yet."
  • A Democratic leadership source told Axios that "it's safe to say all hands are on deck."
  • Among those involved in the effort are former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Congressional Ukrainian Caucus co-chair Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).

By the numbers: The discharge petition currently has signatures from 193 of the House's 213 Democrats.

Zoom in: The discharge petition was launched nearly a month ago, but signatures have continued to trickle in over time.

  • Just this week, several Democrats signed on, including Reps. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.).
  • Gomez said he "wasn't sure how successful a discharge petition would be," but he and Pelosi "discussed the strategy" and he came away feeling "confident that it would be successful."
  • One senior House Democrat pointed to Pelosi as the discharge petition's most effective salesperson.

Yes, but: Many of the remaining progressive holdouts, incensed at Israel's treatment of human rights in Gaza, are likely un-gettable, sources involved in the whip effort say.

  • Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) said she spoke with leadership, but "I cannot, in good conscience, give another dollar to the [Israeli] administration."

The latest: Hoyer and Pelosi, in the House Democrats' whip meeting on Thursday, made the case for progressives to help force a vote even if they plan to oppose the bill itself, according to multiple sources.

  • They argued that the discharge petition should be treated like "rule" votes, which authorize debate and votes on legislation. Members of the majority party in past Congresses traditionally supported rules regardless of their feelings on the underlying bill.
  • The argument evokes a stark contrast with House Republicans, who have increasingly struggled to pass such previously routine procedural votes.
  • In an interview with Axios, Hoyer said he argued that Democratic unity on such votes was "the reason we were so successful in the last Congress."

What's next: House Speaker Mike Johnson's (R-La.) colleagues say they expect him to hold votes on Ukraine and Israel aid in some form next week.

  • "My understanding is we're going to vote on something," Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the Defense Appropriations subcommittee chair, told Axios.
  • But, much to Democrats' frustration, the Ukraine vote Johnson holds likely won't be on the Senate bill.

The bottom line: Asked about Democratic holdouts at a press conference on Thursday, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) instead called for "just a handful of Republicans, 20 or 25 at most ... to join House Democrats."

  • Still, the senior House Democrat who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Democratic unity means "every single Republican who won't sign is responsible" for Ukraine aid stalling.
  • "Arguably it's still the case if we're at 200 [signatures], but getting to a better number helps."
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