As Ukraine aid languishes, 15 House members work to approve funds

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Standing by the fireplace in the House lobby, Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska paused and then said of the effort to pass funding for Ukraine in the House: “I think we’re playing a very good game of chess here .”

But it’s unclear who takes the next step.

Bacon and 14 House colleagues are attempting an unorthodox, novel and, critics say, risky effort to force a vote to provide emergency financial aid to Ukraine. The bipartisan group of House members has signed a formal “discharge petition” to help provide billions of dollars in aid for War-torn Ukrainewhere money and ammunition are increasingly scarce.

The discharge petition, organized by suburban Philadelphia Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, is the latest version of a rarely successful parliamentary technique forcing a House vote on a measure that House leadership opposes or otherwise blocks.

The petition needs 218 votes to induce a floor vote. Although only 15 signatures have been gathered so far, including Fitzpatrick’s, supporters are optimistic about their prospects. Speaking to CBS News, Fitzpatrick predicted a “dam break” that will spark a wave of support and signatures.

Fitzpatrick told CBS News: “It’s the best option available right now. Time is of the essence. Ukraine is destitute right now.” Fitzpatrick said if party leaders give their blessing to his petition, it would generate a wave of signatures in no time.

“I’m having constant conversations with people on both sides,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Democrats have been trying to get theirs discharge request to the floor, one that would force a vote on the Senate national security bill, which would provide funding for Israel and Taiwan, as well as Ukraine, but Johnson will not allow a vote on it, citing the absence of language to strengthen security in the Mexico-United States border.

As dysfunction grips the House this year, most contentious votes must be passed outside of traditional rules and protocols. To get around the obstacles and procedures that have hampered the House, Republican leaders have passed important legislation under what is known as suspension of the rules, bypassing normal systems. This requires a supermajority of nearly 290 votes (support from members of both parties) to pass the legislation.

The discharge plan drafted by Fitzpatrick would require just 218 votes to approve the money from Ukraine, which supporters say would dramatically improve the odds of passage. “If we do it by this (type) of order, it won’t pass,” Bacon said of a vote under suspension of the rules. “Now we will need only 218 votes.”

The petition, if it gains 218 signatures, could also be used as leverage to speed up slow-moving negotiations between congressional leaders. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana said House Republican leaders have had ongoing discussions about providing foreign aid to Ukraine, but did not specify a deadline for consideration. Johnson said: “There are a number of avenues we’ve been looking at to address that issue. And I’m not going to say today what it is.”

One idea that has gained traction among House Republicans is to send aid to Ukraine in the form of a loan. Former President Donald Trump floated the idea in a Truth Social post in February, and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he discussed the idea of ​​an “interest-free, waived loan” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a meeting. recent.

President Johnson seemed open to the idea of ​​a loan on Wednesday, telling reporters it was “a common sense suggestion” that made sense to “a lot of people.” But he noted that “the devil is always in the details and the legislative text.”

The House is expected to leave Washington for a two-week district work period starting this weekend. At a news conference Wednesday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell argued that the House should act urgently and quickly pass a Senate-passed bill that would provide tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine.

Some of the 15 signers of the House discharge petition expressed confidence to CBS News that a vote on financial aid to Ukraine would surely pass the House, once a vote is allowed. Rep. Jenn Kiggans, a first-term Republican who represents a large Navy community in southeastern Virginia, told CBS News that she hopes the petition will speed up the debate and decision on Ukraine. Kiggans said, “It’s the only mechanism I have right now. I’m hopeful our leadership will listen.”

“We are the world’s superpower,” Kiggans said. “We need to be there for our friends.”

The effort earned a new signature Wednesday, from Republican Rep. Brandon Williams, who represents a swing district in central New York.

Fitzpatrick told CBS News that his discharge request is designed to provide flexibility. Details of the aid package and proposal could be expanded before it goes to a vote in the House of Representatives, potentially expanding to include more border security provisions or aid to the Middle East. “I just have a tremendous sense of urgency and I wish my colleagues would join me.”

Bacon, who compared the strategy to a chess maneuver, said House leadership can also move the legislative pieces.

“They can look at our bill and do what they need to do,” Bacon told CBS News.

Ellis Kim contributed to this report.

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