COMPASS: “Legislative blackmail” sails through the Senate

April 30th, 2024

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill.

The House and Senate are back in session after a brief recess. 

Last week, the Senate followed the House and passed their $95 billion Taiwan-Israel-Ukraine-TikTok supplemental spending bill. Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer blocked all amendments with the tacit acquiescence of Mitch McConnell and a majority of the GOP conference.

The bill sent over by the House for Senate consideration was effectively the same bill the Senate considered in February. Two months ago, only 22 of the 49 Senate Republicans voted for the bill, largely because it failed to include any language to secure the southern border. In other words, why vote to give the White House everything they wanted without major GOP priorities included in exchange? House Speaker Mike Johnson also said at the time that this issue – border security in exchange for more Ukraine funding – would be his “hill to die on.”

Yet in April, nothing had substantively changed about the legislation – but magically, the votes did! In February, less than half of the Senate Republican conference had supported the legislation. Last week, 10 of those senators flipped from no to yes: Senators Britt, Cotton, Fischer, Graham, Hyde-Smith, Lankford, Mullin, Ricketts, Scott (SC) and Daines.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, annoyed by the talking point that less than half of his colleagues supported his top priority in February, was reportedly whipping votes in favor of this Democratic bill – an odd move, considering that it did not need additional Republican votes to pass. 

Some Senate Republicans rejected the approach entirely, however. Senator Marco Rubio, who voted against the bill in February, retained his position against the legislation in April, calling it “legislative blackmail.”

“This bill is basically saying that if I don’t agree to drop my demands that the president secure our border,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor, “if I don’t agree to spend billions of taxpayer dollars all over the world to resettle people here, and other places, in the midst of our own migratory crisis, if I don’t agree to all of that, then Israel, Taiwan, and Ukraine do not get the help they need and that I support, and that TikTok does not get banned. This is not a compromise. This is legislative blackmail. And I will not vote for blackmail.”

His no vote is even more remarkable considering that Sen. Rubio is also the Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He spends most of his days receiving the highest level classified briefings. Leading up to the passage of this supplemental spending bill in the House, Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Mike Turner, as well as the House Speaker, emphasized the importance of classified briefings to compel votes in favor of the aid package. Sen. Rubio, who practically lives in a SCIF, apparently felt otherwise.

In any event, the bloody fight over this $60 billion installment of Ukraine aid (on top of the $75 billion already sent) is just an appetizer. According to The Hill, the “Department of Defense officials and European allies will begin putting together a new funding request for Ukraine in September and for it to come to Congress in the lame-duck session.”  For his part, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is trying to lock in a 10-year hard funding commitment from the US.

Finally, it is looking more likely that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene will call up the privilege on her motion to vacate. House Democrats have announced they will table that motion if presented, which will likely save the Speaker from being vacated. Chad Pergram has more on the implications of such a vote. 

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