The Last Redoubt

Sen. Thom Tillis talks with Sen. J.D. Vance on May 16, 2023, in Washington. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The surprising thing about the Senate’s new military aid package for Ukraine isn’t that it looks dead on arrival in the House.

The surprising thing is that it might not be.

Normally, a bill that passes the upper chamber with 70 votes, including 20+ from the minority party, would warrant consideration in the lower chamber and almost certainly sail through. All the more so in this case given the urgency with which Ukrainian troops need to be resupplied in order to fend off Russia’s creeping advance.

Instead, House Speaker Mike Johnson greeted the passage of the Senate package earlier this month by declaring that he won’t take it up, because the legislation lacks immigration provisions—an outcome that his own party orchestrated, by the way, because it thought it might gain an electoral advantage by doing so.

The insta-collapse of the bill in the House feels shocking, yet not shocking. Donald Trump’s GOP is dominated by populists; populists have turned against supplying Ukraine with additional aid for various complicated reasons; and so House Republicans, who have the most to fear from motivated populists in primaries, oppose further aid. That’s democracy for you. As the saying goes: The people have spoken, the bastards.

But that’s not what’s happening here. Despite populist antipathy to another aid package, there are assuredly enough Republican votes in the House for the Senate bill to pass comfortably with Democratic help.

According to Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, in fact, senior House Republican leaders told Volodymyr Zelensky himself that the aid will be approved if they can figure out a way to force a vote on it that doesn’t involve Johnson. The speaker won’t call a vote himself for fear that the populists in his conference will punish him by ousting him if he does, but there’s no question that a sizable bipartisan majority would vote yes if given the chance.

Which is strange under the circumstances, no?

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