Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Could Johnson Refuse to Hold a Vote on a Bill as Popular as the Foreign Aid Bill?

Now that the Senate has passed a $95 billion bill providing aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, along with some humanitarian aid, all eyes are on the House. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has said he will not even bring it up for a vote (because he knows it would pass and then the Freedom Caucus would depose him). Democrats are trying to force his hand. They have signed onto a shell discharge petition that is ready to go as soon as they have gotten four Republicans to sign. So far, none have agreed. There are at least four sane Republicans who are retiring and have nothing to lose by bucking Johnson and Trump, but such is Trump's power over them that it may be tough for the Democrats to get them to sign up.

Johnson has said he wants money for beefing up the border in the bill. But it is likely he is negotiating in bad faith. When the Senate was considering the Lankford-Murphy bill, which had that, why wasn't he out there saying: "Hey senators, vote for that bill and I'll bring it up for a vote over here as soon as it arrives"? Johnson is presumably just stalling until everyone forgets about the bill and Russia has conquered Ukraine.

However, one Republican House member, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), is calling Johnson's bluff. Fitzpatrick is working with a few Democrats to craft a House version of Lankford-Murphy. Fitzpatrick said his bill might even be released today. If he and some Democrats come up with a bipartisan bill—which shouldn't be so hard, just add $40 billion to the new Senate bill—then Johnson will have to come up with a different excuse. In reality, he doesn't want to provide funding for Ukraine because Donald Trump wants Russia to win the war.

An interesting question is whether it has ever happened that a popular bill passed the Senate with a large bipartisan majority and public support and the House simply refused to act on it. The answer is: Yes, but rarely. In the past 25 years, it has happened only four times on major bills. In 1999, 73 senators voted to require background checks for gun purchases at gun shows and the House didn't take up the bill. In 2009, the Senate passed a bill with 61 votes to increase the size of the House to 437, giving D.C. a House seat for the first time but also giving Utah an extra seat, so as not to change the partisan balance of the House. It failed. In 2013, the Senate passed an immigration bill 68-32. The House didn't even take it up. Last year, the Senate passed a bill 66-30 to repeal the authorization for the Iraq War. You wouldn't think that was so controversial, but apparently it is. The House hasn't voted on it yet.

The nominal reason for not considering Senate bills, even Senate bills passed with dozens of Republican votes, is the "Hastert Rule," which states that a bill should not be considered unless a majority of the House Republican Conference supports it. In other words, bills that would pass primarily with Democratic votes are a no-go zone for Republicans. It doesn't matter what is good for the country. All that matters is what is good for the Republican Party. The Senate bill doesn't have majority support in the House Republican Conference because Donald Trump opposes it.

Yesterday, a little flap developed when Johnson said he has tried repeatedly to have a one-on-one meeting with Joe Biden. Biden has repeatedly said Johnson should take up the Senate bill and hold a vote on it. Biden is apparently worried about a meeting with Johnson in which the Speaker makes all kinds of new and impossible demands and then blames Biden for the talks failing. Biden probably believes—with good reason—that Johnson would not negotiate in good faith because he does not want to fund aid to Ukraine and no amount of Democratic concessions will change that. Biden is probably thinking that even if he concedes everything Johnson asks for, he'll then just come back with more requests and then more. Negotiating with someone who wants the negotiations to fail is never a good strategy and Biden has been around the track enough times to know this. (V)

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