House Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they’re ready to embrace Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) strategy of splitting an emergency foreign aid package into targeted pieces, but first want assurances that all the components of a Senate-passed bill are a part of the deal.

The Democrats have, for weeks, pushed Johnson to bring a vote on the $95 billion Senate package, which combines military aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with humanitarian assistance for Gaza and other global hotspots.

But this week, after Johnson announced his plan to vote on those four provisions separately, Democratic leaders said they’re ready to get on board — if all the major elements of the Senate package are included. 

“The important point is the substance of the legislation. The substance matters,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol. 

“We hope that we can get an agreement today on exactly what’s going to be in it,” echoed Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.), the Democratic whip.

The Democrats are waiting for Johnson to release the precise details of his plan, expected on Tuesday. At that time, Aguilar said, several top Democrats — including the heads of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Appropriations committees — will review the four bills to ensure they pass the substance “test” meriting Democratic support. 

“If those individuals indicate that the substance of the legislation that we are talking about meets that test to help Ukraine, to help our allies, to provide humanitarian assistance, then House Democrats and the leadership team will work to find the process that fits to deliver that,” Aguilar said. 

“We’re more concerned about the substance right now than we are the process.”

That message marks a shift for Democratic leaders, who have insisted for weeks that Johnson stage a vote specifically on the Senate bill, which passed through the upper chamber in February with a resounding bipartisan vote of 70 to 29. Anything less, they said, would cause an undue delay at a time of urgent need. 

“We continue to make clear that the only path forward is an up or down vote on the bipartisan, comprehensive, national security bill passed by the Senate,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said last week.

The Democrats’ openness to Johnson’s alternative strategy acknowledges the political dilemmas the Speaker is facing as he seeks to usher the foreign-aid package through a rebellious GOP conference, where scores of conservatives are opposed to major pieces of the Senate bill. 

It also reflects the urgency of the situations in Ukraine, where Kyiv’s beleaguered forces are said to be running low on ammunition, and in Israel, which was attacked by missile strikes from Iran over the weekend.

Some Democrats have hammered Johnson’s four-vote plan, voicing concerns that it provides no guarantees that the less popular proposals will make it all the way to President Biden’s desk. 

“I don’t think it’s good,” said Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.). “I think they’ll leave us out to dry on some of the components. We need to do a supplemental that’s comprehensive.”

Yet some liberal Democrats are actually welcoming Johnson’s piecemeal strategy, which will allow them to vote against parts of the Senate package they opposed: namely, offensive weapons for Israel. 

“I think it’s important that this not all be lumped together,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). “I’m a very strong supporter of Ukraine aid. I’m also a strong believer that I don’t want to be complicit with the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu.”  

In an effort to make the legislation more appealing to wary conservatives, Johnson and his leadership team have tweaked their messaging pitch with a new emphasis on the billions of dollars that will go to replenish U.S. weapons supplies.

“The lion’s share of that money — at least two-thirds of it — is money that really is used to backfill American stockpiles, American weapon systems,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Monday. “So it’s not money that would be going to Ukraine.” 

That message has done little to appease many GOP hardliners, who are furious that Johnson — after insisting for months that any Ukraine aid must be accompanied by tougher security measures at the southern U.S. border — abandoned that demand in unveiling his foreign aid blueprint. Fueling the conservative discontent, Johnson is also not allowing any amendments related to the border. 

“I’m fine with putting individual subjects as a matter of course on the floor,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas). “But when it’s all sort of predetermined, and it’s gonna leave border off, then you’ve given up the entire point of the fight.”

Democrats, meanwhile, appear most concerned that GOP leaders will scrimp on the humanitarian aid, particularly in Gaza, where Israeli strikes have killed more than 34,000 people. 

The Senate bill provided $9.2 billion for food, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid for Gaza, Ukraine and other global hotspots. Many Democrats on Tuesday morning said they’re prepared to oppose any foreign-aid package that falls below that number.

“If they take out the aid to Gaza and all the other places that need help, that’s a poison pill,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.). “We need to have humanitarian aid in this.”

“If Speaker Johnson’s version is missing one of these components, it’s highly unlikely Democrats would support it,” echoed Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), the vice chair of the Caucus.

Johnson is planning to bring the four bills to the floor under a single rule. If they all pass, then he’ll recombine them into a single package to send to the Senate.

That strategy is likely to present the Speaker with an early problem: How to pass the rule given that some conservatives will likely oppose it to block votes on the underlying bills?

The answer might be that he’ll have to lean on the minority Democrats to pass the rule and bring the four bills to the floor — a highly unusual scenario, but one that Democratic leaders are not ruling out.  

“There is no option off the table right now, from procedural measures that bring this directly to the floor, to any votes that are options,” Aguilar said. 

“We don’t want to sink any plan that delivers any aid to our allies,” he said.


Original story HERE.