Breaking down the House endgames for the Senate’s foreign aid plan

The Senate is set to approve its $95 billion national security funding package as soon as Tuesday, delivering long-stalled aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Then the House will take its turn — and there will be a multi-directional battle to decide the fate of the bill.

That’s because the GOP’s thin margin of control leaves Speaker Mike Johnson with few politically palatable choices as he considers a Senate aid bill that many in his party want to scrap. But if Johnson tries to ignore the bill, a potential rebellion could begin to brew among rank-and-file members in the ideological middle who still want to see Ukraine aid pass.

Several players or blocs are positioned to grab power over the aid measure once it reaches the House — starting with Johnson himself.

The speaker may shrug off the foreign aid package after the Senate clears it, focusing instead on a second attempt to pass the standalone Israel aid plan that he tried and failed to push through on a bipartisan basis last week.

But it’s hard to see that type of response quieting the eagerness among establishment and centrist Republicans to vote on the legislation anyway.

“There’s a general belief that we need to get it done” shared by House Republicans, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said over the weekend. “Hopefully this is something that Speaker Johnson will just take up, because I believe you’d have significant support for it in the Republican conference. Whether or not it’s the majority, I don’t know.”

Johnson has expressed support for Ukraine generally but has not said whether he’d slate a House vote on the Senate’s aid bill, which many conservatives oppose. His spokesperson Raj Shah told Playbook in a statement that Johnson wants to consider the bill “on its own merits.”

“The speaker merely conveyed that each component of the supplemental must be evaluated on its own merits and can potentially be considered separately,” he said in a statement.

Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether that means an attempt to design a House rule that might separate out the different component parts of the Senate-passed bill. Even if he goes that route, he’ll face trouble in the Rules Committee, where conservatives hold enough seats to wield an effective veto power over any bill that the House tries to consider under a rule for debate.

Notably, House Democrats can also assert their own power over the aid bill once it passes the Senate. Most, if not all, of them want to approve more Ukraine aid ASAP. Caucus leaders have already signaled they’re open to using any legislative tools that could get that done.

The most likely such tool is the long-shot option of a discharge petition, which requires a majority of House members to sign on in order to force a floor vote despite opposition from GOP leaders. That means at least a few Republicans would have to sign the petition.

There’s already a shell petition with every single Democratic lawmaker attached that can be used to force a vote on the Senate aid bill – although some progressives could peel off out of opposition to its unconditional aid for Israel.

Some House Democrats have already held quiet conversations with Republicans about a pathway forward for the Senate aid package. But if Republicans are feeling any pressure to act on a bill that their presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump wants to kill, they’re not showing it yet.

And it’s tough to underscore just how rarely a discharge petition is successfully used in the House, where even slim majorities still tend to rule the day. Recall that Democrats floated a discharge petition as a Hail Mary option to circumvent Republican leadership on the debt limit last year, to no avail.

Then there’s the potential for more moderate Republicans to work their will on the foreign aid debate. A handful of them, led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, have indicated they’re open to writing a new national security package with Democrats that would include funding for Ukraine and the southern border, among other priorities.

That makes centrist pro-Ukraine Republicans the most important lawmakers to watch this week when the House returns on Tuesday night. The louder they push for new aid to Ukraine after the Senate passes the supplemental funding package, the more likely it is that Johnson takes up the bill in some way, shape or form.

Another influential centrist in the mix, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), said last week that he was pushing for a Ukraine aid package that’s more narrowly focused on helping defeat Russia: “There’s a handful of us pushing for military aid. We might not be able to do all the other stuff, but let’s do military aid,” he said.

It’s ultimately arguable that a split vote on the Senate aid bill — taking it up in separate buckets for Ukraine, Israel, and more — means no one has claimed power over the matter. By making that move, Johnson will have essentially avoided forcing conservatives in his conference to accept Ukraine aid that would likely win a Democratic-dominated majority of the House.