Democratic leader shoots down discharge petition on Ukraine-border bill

Democratic leader shoots down discharge petition on Ukraine-border bill

The head of the House Democratic Caucus wasted no time Thursday shooting down a bipartisan proposal linking Ukraine aid to border security.

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said the supporters of that plan are “well-meaning” and “thoughtful” lawmakers.

“But I just don’t think this is the solution that is in front of us,” Aguilar told reporters in the Capitol.

The Ukraine-border package was introduced earlier in the month in an effort to break the impasse over military aid to Kyiv, which has been held up by opposition from House conservatives. And the supporters of the legislation are already seeking support for a discharge petition to force their proposal to the floor, according to Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a lead sponsor.

But many Democrats have hammered Fitzpatrick’s proposal both for provisions it includes, like a “remain in Mexico” policy governing would-be migrants, and for those it leaves out, like humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

And Aguilar made clear that Democratic leaders prefer a Senate-passed foreign aid bill, which includes new funding for Ukraine, Israel and humanitarian aid in Gaza — but no border security provisions — and will continue pressing Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to bring it to the floor.

“The solution is incredibly clear. It is the bipartisan solution that has 70 votes out of the United States Senate,” he said. “Getting the Senate to take up anything new would be weeks or months. So the importance of passing this national security supplemental is the focus and the priority of House Democrats. And we believe Speaker Johnson should put this on the floor.”

Former President Trump, however, opposes any new aid to Ukraine. And his influence has been conspicuous on Capitol Hill, where most Senate Republicans opposed the foreign assistance bill earlier in the month, and House conservatives are lining up in opposition, as well.

One of those conservatives, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), has threatened a vote of no confidence against Johnson if he even brings the aid bill to the floor.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is seen during a press conference on Tuesday, February 6, 2024 to discuss a new resolution to state that former President Trump did not engage in a insurrection. (Greg Nash)

Johnson, so far, has sided with Trump and his right flank, refusing to bring the Senate bill for a vote. He’s demanding that any foreign aid package also include tougher border security measures like those passed by House Republicans last year in their partisan border bill, H.R.2.

The Fitzpatrick bill incorporates some of the border provisions from that GOP bill, including the “remain in Mexico” policy that was put in place previously under Trump — and remains a non-starter with liberals in Aguilar’s caucus.

The impasse has caused Democratic leaders to begin seeking alternative strategies for bringing the Senate bill to the House floor, including the possibility of pushing their own discharge petition, which would force a floor vote if 218 lawmakers sign on.

Invoking other Democratic leaders, including Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Aguilar on Thursday said they’re not ruling anything out. But as they weigh their strategy, they’ll continue to press Johnson to stage a vote on the Senate package.

“Every option is available,” Aguilar said. “Any procedural step will take time. The most important thing, the fastest thing that we can do, is for the Speaker to put this bill on the floor.”

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Addressing the issue shortly before Aguilar spoke, Johnson said GOP leaders are also in discussions about how to move a foreign aid package through the House. But he maintained his insistence that it must include tough border provisions along the lines of those featured in H.R.2. And he cautioned that the lower chamber will prioritize several government spending bills to prevent a shutdown — a debate that’s expected to run until at least March 22.

“The House is actively considering options on a path forward, but our first responsibility is to fund the government,” Johnson said at a press conference in the Capitol.

Some Democrats, however, are already warning that the situation in Ukraine — where Russian forces are advancing and Ukrainian soldiers are short on ammunition — is too urgent to wait that long.

“We don’t have that kind of time,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Thursday morning.

Mychael Schnell contributed reporting. 

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