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Mike Johnson’s latest move is utterly weird — and what the Founders intended

The long-awaited votes on aid to Israel and Ukraine will allow a majority in the House to pass bills that the majority of members want, regardless of party.

It took a long, winding route to get here, but Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has finally done what few thought he would be willing to do. The House this weekend will vote on a series of bills to provide billions of dollars in emergency funding to U.S. allies including Israel and Ukraine. The Ukraine proposal has plagued Johnson for months. He’s been warned that without more aid Kyiv’s stand against Moscow would collapse. He’s also been told that allowing a vote on this critical funding would spark a revolt among the right-flank of his own caucus.

Johnson has now chosen to risk blowback in bringing up four separate bills for a vote on Saturday. It’s definitely a more complicated option than simply passing the bill that the Democratic-controlled Senate bill approved in February. It’s also the most small-d democratic choice that he could make: Just put the bills on the floor and whichever ones get a majority pass.

That may sound obvious, as it was always clear that the foreign aid supplementals that President Joe Biden requested last year would pass if allowed an up-or-down vote. But support among Republicans for funding to Ukraine has tanked since Russia first invaded in 2022, thanks in large part to former President Donald Trump’s opposition. Giving Biden a win without extracting concessions quickly became a nonstarter for the GOP leadership, especially given the slim majority that the party holds in the House.

It’s ironic that Johnson has realized that it’s only through decoupling the issues that any stand a chance of passing.

The result has been a series of attempts to link Ukraine aid to other issues that would force the other side’s hand. Johnson and other conservatives spent months insisting that the proposal was dead on arrival if not linked to a harsh “border security” bill the GOP had passed. Biden and the Senate’s leaders initially tried to link the Ukraine funding to assistance for Israel. The Senate eventually developed a package that would combine those three issues together, along with aid for Taiwan, before Trump insisted that the deal die to allow him to keep immigration as a campaign issue. The bill the Senate sent to the House in February instead only focused on foreign aid, bringing the matter back full circle as MAGA Republicans decried the lack of border security funding.

It’s ironic that Johnson has realized that it’s only through decoupling the issues that any stand a chance of passing. He announced on Monday that the House would split up the three main tranches of aid in the Senate’s bill and put them forward alongside a fourth bill featuring a grab-bag of Republican national security proposals. Earlier this week, he told his caucus that leadership will not be whipping these votes, allowing each member to vote their conscience. This makes the final tallies hard to predict, as each will garner a different number of votes from each side of the aisle, but all will likely end up with a majority.

The “Indo-Pacific Security” bill, aimed at countering China’s influence and defending Taiwan, is the least controversial of the four and will probably get the strongest bipartisan vote. The GOP will boost the numbers on their “21st Century Peace through Strength Act,” which includes using seized Russian assets in the U.S. financial system to aid Ukraine, new sanctions against Iran and Hamas, and a newly drafted TikTok ban giving its Chinese-owned parent company up to a year to sell the app to an American company. Together the bulk of both parties will offset any defectors on the Israel bill, including those on the left who want any military aid to be conditioned on safeguarding Palestinian civilians and potentially those on the right who wanted to see all humanitarian funding for Gaza cut.

That leaves the Ukraine funding, which has changed the most in comparison to the Senate’s version. House Republicans successfully demanded that some of the nonmilitary aid in the package become forgivable loans instead and a requirement that allies in Europe contribute at least half as much as the U.S. is providing to Kyiv. The bill also has the most amendments approved to be voted on before final passage, including an attempt to cut all nonmilitary funding in the bill. And yet it is still expected to pass, with Democrats providing the vast majority of the votes. A provision, known colloquially as the “MIRV rule,” means that any of the four bills that pass will be automatically packaged together before being sent to the Senate.?

The strangest part is that this is the House functioning the way the Founders intended.

Johnson’s reliance on Democrats to get these bills over the line can’t be overstated for its weirdness. The package had to go through the Rules Committee on Thursday, which in turn passed what’s called a special rule, which dictates how the debate over the four spending bills will flow and what amendments will be allowed. Republicans hold nine seats —?three of which are occupied by far-right members —?to the Democrats’ four; the majority is expected to provide all the votes in favor while the minority always votes against. In a twist that has pretty much never happened, the committee’s Democrats all voted in favor of the rule, countering the no votes from the three House Freedom Caucus members on the panel.

Earlier that day, the House Freedom Caucus put out a rare statement saying their members would all be voting no on the rule. That meant that Democrats’ support was needed to even begin to debate the bills in a vote Friday morning, which again almost never happens. The last time was when Democrats were needed to overcome opposition to the debt ceiling deal that Biden and then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., negotiated last year. And, also like last year, it will potentially lead to Democrats being forced to decide whether to step in to save a Republican speaker’s job.

The strangest part is that this is the House functioning the way the Founders intended. It is not the parties that are dictating what becomes law so much as the will of the majority. And the process, which has allowed for amendments rather than diktats from above and will allow members to vote as they please without repercussion from leadership, is exactly what archconservatives say they want. Despite that, it will likely place a target firmly on Johnson’s back from the MAGA-wing of his party. It is in effect a perfect illustration of how the Republican Party under Trump has been quick to turn its back on democracy when it doesn’t suit its authoritarian tendencies.

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