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Dueling discharge petitions aim to force vote on stalled US foreign aid bill

Frustrated by months of delays, a bipartisan group of House members have filed competing discharge petitions to bring a long-awaited foreign aid package to the floor, potentially circumventing Speaker Johnson’s opposition.
Mike johnson ukraine aid stalled republicans
The US House of Representatives speaker, Republican Mike Johnson. Photo: Mike Johnson via Instagram
Dueling discharge petitions aim to force vote on stalled US foreign aid bill

After months of urging Speaker of the House Mike Johnson to introduce a new supplemental aid package that would provide aid to Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, and other US foreign allies and partners, several members of the House haave decided to take matters into their own hands.

On March 12, two discharge petitions were introduced in an attempt to force the foreign aid bill to the floor.

A discharge petition is a legislative procedure that requires 218 out of 435 members of the House to sign it. If successful, the foreign aid legislation would be released from the committees considering it and presented for a vote on the House floor, bypassing the Speaker of the House.

The first discharge petition this week was introduced by Democratic Representative James P. McGovern. This petition calls for advancing a new foreign aid package to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, similar to the legislation that the Senate passed in early February 2024. Within a day, 177 congressional members had signed this petition.

But after this initial surge, the movement has stalled. It will take time to receive the required 218 signatures, and this is something that will not occur in quick succession. Members in the House are likely having meetings with one another to discuss the importance of this petition, and they are looking to persuade other members to sign onto the movement. To date, only members of the Democratic Party have signed this motion.

Meanwhile, Republican Representative Brian K. Fitzpatrick introduced his own version of a petition to force a vote on the foreign aid bill. Unlike the discharge petition introduced by Representative McGovern, the motion filed by Representative Fitzpatrick also includes border provisions and national security reform. To date, only 14 members have signed this petition, although it has bipartisan support. It has not gained additional signatures since 13 March.

The two motions show encouraging signs within the House of Representatives. They suggest that elected officials want to continue sending aid to America’s allies and partners and that they no longer want to play party politics on this foreign aid bill.

Based on the current numbers, the discharge petition introduced by Representative McGovern may be more likely to succeed, but both his motion and the one introduced by Representative Fitzpatrick will individually require 218 members of the House to sign. Otherwise, the bill on foreign aid will not bypass the current roadblocks within the House, which would require review by the various House Committees.

For five months, aid to American allies and partners has been stalled. While elected officials in the House and Senate debated the foreign assistance legislation, thousands have lost their lives in the Middle East and Ukraine, desperately awaiting this aid from the United States.

Now, with the Senate having passed the supplemental package, there seems to be a greater push in the House to finally present the bill for a vote.

Speaker Johnson has previously stated that he will not be pressured by the Senate to bring the supplemental aid package for a vote.

He also changed his position on the foreign aid bill on several occasions.

  • First, the House Speaker said this assistance could only be considered if Congress also addressed US border security matters.
  • Then, after months of deliberations between Democratic and Republican members in the House and Senate, discussions on border security broke down.
  • Following these events, the Senate opted to vote on the foreign aid package on its own without border security, and it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
  • Now, Speaker Johnson has returned to his initial position, stating that aid can only be considered with border security.

Nonetheless, the introduction of these two discharge petitions shows that there is urgency from numerous House members that this foreign aid needs to be passed. It also suggests that the House members who signed the petitions do not have confidence in the House Speaker.

While the motion introduced by Representative McGovern gained steam when it was first introduced, it is still unclear whether it will succeed.

  • At a minimum, the petition would need all 213 Democratic members of the House to support the motion. It would then need at least five Republicans to support it.
  • Additional challenges exist. According to Axios, some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have stated that they will not sign the discharge petition.
  • Finally, Speaker Johnson is working hard to try and disrupt the efforts on the petition.

In short, while it is encouraging that several House members are finally trying to force through a new foreign aid bill that would provide defense assistance to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan as they look to defend themselves from aggressive actors, there will still be a long way to go before they receive this aid. In its current state, it has not been successful.

But not all hope is lost. While the House begins its new battle on the supplemental aid package, the White House has undergone its own efforts.

On 12 March, President Joe Biden introduced an emergency $300 million defense aid to Ukraine. The new package includes anti-aircraft missiles, ammunition, artillery rounds, and anti-armor systems.

While the new aid will help the Ukrainians defend themselves against the ongoing Russian invasion, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that this new assistance would not “have enough ammunition [for the Ukrainians] to fire back.”

President Biden also submitted a request to the Department of State and the Department of Defense, asking them to monitor aid to Israel.

While these recent actions suggest that the White House is being proactive while the House of Representatives continues to debate new foreign aid, time is running out. The longer it takes the House to pass this new aid bill, the more time it will give aggressive actors to strategize and execute their attacks against American allies and partners. This will result in the further loss of life, and it will prolong the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine.

Now, with aid to American allies stalled for over five months, several members of the House of Representatives have decided that they will attempt to take matters into their own hands. With 177 signatures to date, these elected officials will now work hard to try and reach the required 218 threshold. Time will tell if the discharge petition will be successful.

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