Apr 18, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats take "unprecedented" step to save GOP's foreign aid bills

Rep. Jim McGovern, wearing glasses and putting his hands together.

House Rules Committee top Democrat Jim McGovern. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

House Democrats made an extremely rare break with modern political norms on Thursday to rescue House Speaker Mike Johnson's (R-La.) foreign aid package.

Why it matters: It's the starkest evidence to date that the GOP's fractured and tiny House majority has effectively yielded to something resembling a bipartisan coalition.

What happened: The four Democrats on the House Rules Committee voted with five of the panel's establishment Republicans to advance the package of four bills to votes on the House floor.

  • The crossover was needed after three right-wing hardliners on the panel — Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) — voted against sending it to the floor.
  • The right-wing rebellion was enough to kill the package if Democrats did not step in.

Zoom in: The Rules Committee typically consists of leadership loyalists who dutifully vote along party lines on advancing legislation to the floor.

  • But former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) placed Massie, Norman and Roy on the panel last year to placate right-wing hardliners who rebelled against his bid for the gavel.
  • That put power in the hands of Democrats, who overwhelmingly support the package and are desperate to send aid to Ukraine.

What we're hearing: This kind of party crossover on the panel has not happened "in the time that I've been here," said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who has served in Congress for more than a decade.

  • Kildee, a member of Democratic leadership, said the move is "unprecedented."
  • "I think it's highly unusual ... I don't know that I've ever seen that happen," said Rep. Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.), a former member of the panel.

What's next: The committee vote sets up a vote of the full House on Friday to pass what is known as the "rule," a procedural mechanism setting the terms of debate on legislation.

  • Democrats will need to bail out the rule once again, with the House Freedom Caucus taking the rare step of endorsing a "no" vote.
  • That likely won't be a big deal, however, now that Democrats have already rescued the rule once: "In for a penny, in for a pound," said Kildee.
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