House Democrats and centrist Republicans launch separate efforts to force a vote on Ukraine aid

FILE - Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 29, 2024. House Democrats on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, launched a long-shot effort to push $95 billion in aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan to a vote. The move ramps up pressure on Johnson to take up the foreign funding package. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

FILE – Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 29, 2024. House Democrats on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, launched a long-shot effort to push $95 billion in aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan to a vote. The move ramps up pressure on Johnson to take up the foreign funding package. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats and a small group of centrist Republicans on Tuesday launched separate long-shot efforts to force a vote on tens of billions of dollars in wartime aid for Ukraine, intensifying pressure on Speaker Mike Johnson to take up the foreign funding package.

Democrats, as the minority in the House, began gathering signatures to force a floor vote on the Senate’s $95 billion package of aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan through a “discharge petition” — a seldom-successful procedural tool that can circumvent the speaker’s control over which bills come up for a vote. Shortly after, a group of Republicans launched their own signature drive for a proposal that would trim the package to $66 billion, mostly for military aid, and include border security provisions.

The moves underscored the stubborn impasse in Congress over the military aid for Ukraine, with conservatives balking at providing more ammunition and weaponry for Kyiv. Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, has resisted taking up the package passed by the Senate last month and insisted that the House work its own will on the matter. He has suggested the House will turn to the package only after government funding is settled — and he still insists the money must be paired with policy changes at the U.S. border with Mexico.

At the same time, Ukrainian soldiers have suffered from shortages of ammunition as U.S. supplies have been shut off in recent months.

“We have made every single opportunity to engage with the speaker on bringing the bill to the floor as a bipartisan piece of legislation,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “Why not just bring it to the floor? You know, it would win overwhelmingly.”

For either petition to trigger action in the House, it must be signed by a majority of lawmakers, or 218 members. With Republicans controlling the House 219-213, at least some Republicans would have to buck their leadership and sign the Democratic-backed petition, which includes $60 billion for Ukraine, to reach a majority. Plus, some progressive Democrats are unlikely to sign on because the legislation includes military aid for Israel.

“What Israel is doing — and I think the president is starting to express this is as well — is absolutely unacceptable,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus. “(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu cannot be doing that with United States aid. We are killing people in Gaza right now.”

Meanwhile, Johnson is facing pressure from within his own conference to take up aid for Ukraine, even as a contingent of hardline conservatives have vocally resisted sending more military aid to Ukraine.

A group of centrist Republicans began gathering signatures for their own discharge petition effort. Their proposal would provide $48 billion for Ukraine, mostly by sending ammunition and weaponry. It would also for one year require that asylum seekers remain in Mexico while their cases are decided. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, led that effort. It gained support from six Republicans and six Democrats on Tuesday.

Fitzpatrick said he was still working to finalize legislative text for the proposal.

“We’re going to expand both from the right and the left,” he said, adding that the discharge petition was the only “bipartisan option in the House.”

A separate group of House Republicans are also trying to draft their own version of a foreign aid package in hopes of breaking the stalemate. Their version also trims back the foreign aid to Ukraine so that it is only for the country’s military, not for the functioning of its government.

Johnson has encouraged Republicans to resist signing on to any discharge petitions and said he would eventually address Ukraine aid, but he has not come out with any clear plan.

Rep. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican who signed onto Fitzpatrick’s effort, said that House leadership had not contacted him to dissuade him from signing the petition.

“I want to send a message to the people of Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan that we’re for them,” he said.

A discharge petition was last successfully employed in 2015, when a bipartisan group forced a vote to revive the U.S. Export-Import Bank more than three months after its charter lapsed.

Rep. Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican who was part of the effort, said that it only worked because a group of GOP lawmakers, who held the majority at the time, instigated the discharge petition and were later joined by the minority party.

“It is nigh on impossible for the minority to instigate the discharge petition and make it succeed,” he said.

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