A buzz saw of Republican opposition in the House is threatening to kill the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine and Israel that the Senate overwhelmingly passed early Tuesday, leaving proponents of the emergency aid legislation scrounging for unorthodox ways to push the bill over the finish line.
Hours before the Senate approved the bill in a lopsided 70-to-29 vote, Speaker Mike Johnson suggested he would not allow the aid package to receive a vote on the House floor. The measure would provide an additional $60.1 billion for Kyiv — which would bring the total U.S. investment in the war effort to more than $170 billion — as well as $14.1 billion for Israel’s war against Hamas and almost $10 billion for humanitarian aid for civilians in conflict zones, including Palestinians in Gaza.
“House Republicans were crystal clear from the very beginning of discussions that any so-called national security supplemental legislation must recognize that national security begins at our own border,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement on Monday night, adding: “In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Johnson rejected a bipartisan border bill crafted in the Senate, saying the crackdown at the U.S.-Mexico border needed to be more severe.
Senators often hope that an overwhelming vote on a bill in their chamber will jam the House to take up its legislation. And hours after the Senate approved the aid package, President Biden sought to ratchet up pressure on Mr. Johnson, urging him from the White House to bring the bill “to the floor immediately.”
“I call on the speaker to let the full House speak its mind, and not allow the minority of the most extreme voices in the House to block this bill even from being voted on,” Mr. Biden said.
He added: “This bipartisan bill sends a clear message to Ukrainians and to our partners, to our allies around the world: America can be trusted. America can be relied upon, and America stands up for freedom.”
Passage of the bill in the Senate reflected a critical mass of support in Congress for continuing to arm Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression, even as the Republican Party is increasingly turning away from its traditional hawkish posture and belief in projecting American power and democratic principles around the world.
But Mr. Johnson, who has himself opposed aiding Ukraine, has so far appeared unwilling to allow a House vote on whether to do so, in a reflection of how toxic the issue has become for his conference. A small handful of ultraconservative lawmakers have said they will move to oust Mr. Johnson if he allows a vote on Ukraine aid without stringent immigration measures attached.
The hostile landscape in the House means that the foreign aid bill’s only path through the House may be for a bipartisan coalition like the one in the Senate — including more mainstream, national security-minded Republicans — to come together and use extraordinary measures to force action on it.
Proponents of sending aid to Ukraine in recent days have discussed the idea of steering around opposition from Mr. Johnson and the far right by using a maneuver known as a discharge petition. That allows lawmakers to force legislation to the floor if they can gather the signatures of a majority of the House — 218 members — calling for the action.
Dozens of House Republicans, including the leaders of the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees, have supported sending tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, but it is not known how many of them — if any — would be willing to take the extraordinary step of defying the rest of their party and teaming with Democrats in a bid to force action on the matter. Even if they are, the process is convoluted and time-consuming.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a letter to his colleagues on Tuesday that Democrats would “use every available legislative tool to get comprehensive national security legislation over the finish line.”
“The stakes are high and failure in Ukraine is not an option,” Mr. Jeffries wrote. “Traditional Republicans must now put America first and stand up to pro-Putin extremists in the House who apparently want Russia to win.
Representative Abigail Spanberger, Democrat of Virginia, who traveled late last week to Ukraine to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky as part of a bipartisan delegation, said in an interview that conversations about using a discharge petition to force a vote on the aid package were happening “on both sides of the aisle.”
At the meeting with Mr. Zelensky, Representative Mike Turner of Ohio, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, assured the Ukrainian leader that the Republican-controlled House, which has been increasingly skeptical of more aid, would come through with additional money to help Ukraine fight off the Russian invasion, Ms. Spanberger said.
“The reality is, we know that if the speaker were to bring it for a vote, it would have the votes to pass,” she said, adding later: “All options are on the table for how to move it forward.”
Mr. Zelensky, in a video posted to social media, thanked senators on Tuesday for making a “morally strong choice,” saying their vote was “important not just for Ukraine, but for all nations whose independence is a target for Russian attacks — either now or in the future.”
“The next step is a vote in the House of Representatives,” he said. “This is extremely important. We anticipate an equally strong moral choice.”
The possibility of a bipartisan coalition muscling through conservative opposition in the House has infuriated hard-right Republicans, who have pledged to try to block any such efforts.
“We’re going to fight this Senate Defense Contractor Caucus effort to hand the House floor to Dems,” Representative Chip Roy of Texas, an influential conservative, wrote on social media. “Buckle up.”
Mustering the support of 218 lawmakers could be complicated if liberal House members balked at the inclusion of aid for Israel in the legislation. A handful of progressives in the Senate voted against the bill, saying they could not support approving billions of dollars’ worth of offensive weapons for Israel.
It would also require Republicans to buck former President Donald J. Trump, who has railed against the legislation from the campaign trail. In recent days, he has argued on social media that it is “stupid” for the United States to offer foreign aid instead of loans, and encouraged Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO members that did not spend enough money on their own defense.
Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, suggested that enough Republicans in the House who are set to retire at the end of this year could help pull the bill across the finish line,
“Last time I checked, there’s about 40 of them that aren’t coming back,” Mr. Tillis said.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Tuesday after the bill’s passage that he hoped to speak privately with Mr. Johnson and urge him to put the aid package to a vote.
“I will say to Speaker Johnson I am confident that there is a large majority in the House who will vote for this bill,” he said.
Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.