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House Speaker Mike Johnson not rushing to address foreign aid request while others weigh rewriting Senate-passed plan

<i>Leah Millis/Reuters</i><br/>U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) holds a press conference at Capitol Hill in Washington
Leah Millis/Reuters
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) holds a press conference at Capitol Hill in Washington

By Melanie Zanona, CNN

Speaker Mike Johnson is telling his House Republican Conference members that he is not rushing to respond to a bill sending aid to Ukraine and Israel, as GOP lawmakers weigh their options for how to handle the Senate-passed package.

Johnson told his members at a closed-door meeting Wednesday that there’s “no rush” in deciding how to handle foreign aid, according to GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and did not tip his hand on how he plans to proceed other than making clear he would not put the Senate package on the House floor in its current form.

Some rank-and-file members are drawing up their own proposals.

Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania said he has been drafting a bipartisan plan to provide aid for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the border, which he plans to release in the next 24 to 48 hours and brief the speaker on. He said it will include a border security component, but not HR 2, the conservative Republican-led set of border policy changes that the House passed last year, and military aid for Ukraine, but not humanitarian assistance.

“You see the conference that we have right now, this is this is essentially a coalition government at this point,” Fitzpatrick said of his strategy to work with Democrats on a plan.

While Fitzpatrick said he personally would have supported the Senate version, he recognizes it doesn’t have wide support in the House.

Fitzpatrick also said Johnson told members during a closed-door meeting that he has asked for a meeting with President Joe Biden on foreign aid but has so far denied the request.

GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas also echoed support for rewriting the foreign aid package so that it only includes military aid for Ukraine, adding the GOP needs to a better job of messaging that a large portion of that funding doesn’t even go overseas, it goes to the Pentagon.

But some conservatives say they won’t support any Ukraine aid, even if it’s just narrow military aid. Rep. Bob Good, the Virginia Republican and chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said his preference is to just completely ignore the Senate package. But he did say there’s a “possibility” Republicans could support Ukraine aid but only if it is paid for and also has HR 2, plus “enforcement mechanisms” – a high bar that would make it unpalatable in the Senate.

“There’s the possibility that the Republican majority would support Ukraine aid paid for, with real border security attached to it,” Good said.

Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, also a Freedom Caucus member, laid out a number of conditions he would need in order to support Ukraine aid. He said it needs to be paid for and be accompanied by a “strong” border security plan as well as a clear strategy from the White House.

“It starts with securing the border of the United States and paying for what we’re talking about, and then figure out where we go from there,” Roy said. “But again, I also want to see a clear mission.”

House Republicans debated several ideas to change the Senate-passed foreign aid package during a closed-door party meeting Tuesday night as well, including pairing back money to Ukraine, multiple attendees told CNN.

One option that was discussed during the meeting was stripping the aid package of its humanitarian assistance for Ukraine and only including military aid for Ukraine. The thinking is that this could be more palatable to the Republican conference, though some far-right Republicans might still think that’s too much.

“I’m looking forward to something we can all agree to. And I think we should have been focused on military aid,” Rep. Don Bacon, a swing district Republican from Nebraska, told CNN. “In my view, there’s a lot of support for military aid right now. The other $20 billion, sending cash over, that’s where you start losing support.”

Another idea talked about on Tuesday night was to incorporate some of the funding into portions of an upcoming annual spending bill for the Pentagon.

“There may be some chopping and dicing, here and there,” Rep. Ann Wagner, a Missouri Republican, told CNN. “There were three or four really good ideas about, you know, how we can do something?”

Johnson has made clear that he would not put the Senate aid package on the floor in its current form. But he may feel pressure to articulate a plan in order to head off potential Republican support for a so-called discharge petition, a procedural maneuver that allows 218 lawmakers who sign on to a petition to force a House floor vote.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries would not say whether he would support such a petition, but emphasized at a news conference Wednesday, “Mike Johnson simply needs to put the bipartisan national security bill on the House floor for an up or down vote. And it will pass. That’s it.”

When pressed again if that meant he would force the bill on the floor if Johnson does not act, Jeffries said, “We support an up-or-down vote, and we’ll work hard to make sure that happens sooner rather than later.”

“The Republicans are either going to stand with America’s national security or continue to stand with Vladimir Putin,” he added.

But so far, Republicans are signalling they’re not interested in that option. Wagner and Bacon both dismissed the idea.

“I don’t believe that signing a discharge petition — a Democrat-led discharge petition — that’d be like voting against the rule, which I just think is, I know some in our party do that now, but I — that’s just not how I think we should comport ourselves,” Wagner said, adding that she supports bifurcating the package.

“Not now,” Bacon told CNN’s Manu Raju when asked about a discharge petition. “I think right now, I’m going to talk and discuss and just figure out what’s the next step and not gonna leap too far forward.”

The comments underscore the uphill climb Democrats face in successfully circumventing House GOP leaders and forcing a vote on the floor.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, another supporter of aid to Ukraine, made clear he did not support such a move.

“I’ll never sign a discharge petition when we’re in the majority,” he said.

CNN’s Annie Grayer, Manu Raju and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.

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