Apr 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

GOP's discharge petition talk grows as Ukraine aid languishes

House Speaker Mike Johnson, wearing a blue suit, white shirt and red tie, walking through the Capitol with his security detail.

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

Growing uncertainty around the fate of House Speaker Mike Johnson's (R-La.) foreign aid plan is creating new threats from Republican Ukraine hawks to try to bypass him.

Why it matters: Johnson had aimed to hold a vote by the end of the week, but conservatives angered by the package have pressured him back to the table.

  • Johnson spent Tuesday afternoon in closed-door meetings with various GOP factions to try to cobble together a consensus.
  • As of Tuesday evening, text of the bills still hadn't been released. "I think people would like to see [the text], people would like to get it done this week," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho).

State of play: There are two discharge petitions – mechanisms that can force a House vote if 218 members sign on – currently in play.

  • One was introduced by Democratic leadership on the Senate's $95 billion Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan aid package, which is signed by 194 Democrats and former Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.).
  • Another was introduced by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) on his bipartisan $66 billion "munitions-only" aid bill to the three countries, which includes border security, signed by 10 Republicans and six Democrats.

What we're hearing: Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.), who hasn't signed either petition, said he prefers Fitzpatrick's but is considering signing both.

  • "There is an imperative to help Ukraine and Israel. And we have preferences, but getting there one way or another is an imperative," he said.
  • Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.), a leadership ally who also hasn't signed either petition, said he is thinking "all the time" about signing Fitzpatrick's petition because "I want to take a vote."
  • Another House Republican who previously dismissed the notion of Republicans signing onto the Democratic petition said "both" were being discussed on Tuesday.

What they're saying: "People have talked about it ... I think there is a big risk of it," House Appropriations Committee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told Axios.

  • Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) said there is "absolutely" a threat of Republicans signing onto the Democratic petition, including "Ukraine hawks and [members who are] national security-centric on Russia."
  • "If the Republican conference can't find a way forward, then unfortunately a discharge petition is a possibility," Zinke added.

Between the lines: Underpinning the threat is a belief from some GOP lawmakers that Ukraine's war effort could collapse if aid isn't sent soon. "A lot of people look at it and go, 'we could lose a war,'" Zinke said.

  • Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) signed onto a letter with 90 Democrats on Monday calling for a vote on the Senate bill.
  • House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and his Democratic counterpart said in a statement on Tuesday: "We must pass Ukraine aid now. Today, in a classified briefing, our Committee was informed of the critical need to provide Ukraine military aid this week."

Yes, but: Some notable Ukraine hawks, including Zinke and Wilson, dismissed the idea of personally signing onto a discharge petition.

  • "I want to see text before I consider anything like that," said Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.), calling it the "wrong team, wrong policies, wrong tactics."
  • Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) said "I don't do discharge petitions, not when I'm in the [majority]."

The other side: Democratic Ukraine hawks who have implored their Republican colleagues to join their discharge petition are divided on whether they are likely to sign on.

  • Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, told Axios: "I've tried. I don't see it happening."
  • But Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) said he's spoken to his GOP colleagues and "there are people who are absolutely working to ensure this gets to the floor one way or the other ... you may see that."
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