House lawmakers to offer their own Ukraine and border bill

Fitzpatrick said Johnson claimed during Wednesday morning’s House GOP conference meeting that President Joe Biden would not meet with him on border security measures, reiterating comments made by Majority Leader Steve Scalise
during a Tuesday interview
with CNN.

“We were just told that the president will not sit down with him,” said the Pennsylvania centrist, who also co-chairs the Congressional Ukraine Caucus. “So it’s kind of hard to negotiate when the president won’t sit down with him.”

The White House did not immediately respond to the allegation that Biden will not meet with Johnson.

The Senate on Tuesday
cleared a $95 billion international assistance bill
that includes aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. An initial draft included border security funding and bipartisan border policy provisions, but Democrats dropped those measures after nearly all Senate Republicans blocked the bill.

Johnson has vowed the Senate version of the package won’t see a vote in the House. He faulted the Senate for not approving tough border restrictions, even though Senate Republicans blocked the border deal and harsh measures endorsed by House GOP leaders stand little chance of becoming law. Instead, Johnson said the House “will work its own will.”

“They’re just looking for ways to be able to scratch some of those itches and we don’t know what that is,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.). “So, if there is a viable path, then leadership will pursue it. But that’s gonna be on them.”

Asked if the alternative proposal would contain humanitarian aid to Gaza, Fitzpatrick said “not likely in this one.” Limiting the scope of aid would reflect GOP arguments that the U.S. should only be funding the weapons needed for Ukraine to defeat Russia.

House Democrats, meanwhile, have floated using a discharge petition to bypass Johnson and force consideration of the measure on the House floor. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries hasn’t ruled out the push, though it is seldom successful and would require numerous Republicans to publicly defy party leadership.

The Democratic leader said there “certain ongoing conversations related to the national security package between Democrats and Republicans. And hopefully we’ll figure out a way to break the logjam sooner rather than later.”

“House Republicans are wasting time on national security issues that should be resolved by constantly injecting the issue at the border,” Jeffries told a small group of reporters.

Fitzpatrick would not rule out signing onto a discharge petition, saying “we will do what it takes to get a vote.” However, rank-and-file Republicans, even those who are generally supportive of aid to Ukraine, indicated they’re still skeptical of the long-shot procedural maneuver.

“No, no, no, no,” said Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Johnson is under pressure from his right flank to reject further Ukraine aid and pass strict border security and immigration measures.

Several members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus argued any legislation should prioritize border security and contain offsets for foreign aid. Some Republicans also contend aid should be limited to Israel. House Republicans have twice voted on Israel-only aid bills while ignoring Biden’s requests for Ukraine and the Pacific.

“The sentiment among people I talk to is they want to see a clean Israel bill go back with a pay-for and we need to do something on the border,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.). “My echo chamber [on Ukraine aid] is I don’t want to say ‘ignore,’ but they don’t support it.”

Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) said he supports the aid in the Senate package, broadly speaking, but argued the House should not accept it as-is.

“They finally got something through, but it’s not just a function of ‘the House accepts what the Senate does,’” he said. “You negotiate, and that’s my objective, to get support for Israel, for Ukraine.”

Questions are swirling over how much time Ukraine has in its war to repel Russia’s invasion, as it exhausts Western-supplied weapons. The House is due to go into recess at the end of the week, and will likely be consumed with overdue annual spending bills when it returns.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said the House could feasibly take a month to craft its own foreign aid bill.

“It’s a much longer complicated conversation about who’s where on the battlefield, but Ukraine’s not falling in the next month,” he said. “So we need to get this right.”