Stuart Anderson

Feb 15, 2024



When House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) insisted in October 2023 that a border bill be passed in exchange for aid to Ukraine, he never expected to pass immigration legislation. After months of fruitless effort in immigration negotiations, it is clear Johnson’s goal was to prevent the House of Representatives from voting on Ukraine aid. So far, he has succeeded.

Deadly Effects On The Battlefield

House Republicans’ refusal to pass aid to Ukraine has shifted the military balance in one or more theaters of the war, according to observers. “Russian advances in Avdiivka, which increasingly looks likely to become the first Ukrainian city to fall since the capture of Bakhmut last May, are the direct result of acute ammunition shortage—caused by the U.S. Congress withholding further military aid to Ukraine,” reported Yaroslav Trofimov, chief foreign-affairs correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

Supplies, manpower and logistics decide wars. “With few exceptions, the major power wars of the past several centuries were in the end decided by grinding exhaustion more than by the operational art of even the greatest of the modern great captains,” writes Boston University professor Cathal J. Nolan, author of The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost. After examining centuries of warfare, Nolan concluded that what appear to be “stalemates” are “broken only after attritional wearing turned wars into contests of endurance.”

House Republicans, whether they realize it or not, are choosing a side in the Russia-Ukraine war by preventing aid from reaching Ukraine. According to former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, “Blocking aid to Ukraine is giving aid to Putin.” Prior to 2023, no House speaker or political party conditioned support for a national security measure on passing far-reaching immigration legislation.

Two Kinds Of Bills

Those familiar with Congress understand there are two kinds of bills: messaging bills and those designed to become law. A messaging bill is intended to signal to supporters and constituents that a party or member of Congress cares about an issue, but there is no chance the bill will become law.

The bill contained many controversial provisions. Several Republican members from agricultural districts felt comfortable voting for it because they knew it would not become law. The Secure

the Border Act includes mandatory nationwide E-Verify, narrowing the scope of asylum and ending its availability in many circumstances, preventing the federal government from using parole programs, such as those for Afghans and Ukrainians, and mandating the building of Trump’s border wall, allowing the government to seize private property to do it.

A Meme Becomes A GOP Policy Position

In November 2023, Johnson stated the House would not vote on aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan unless it included H.R. 2. Whether because he personally did not want to provide Ukraine assistance to fight Russia’s invasion or feared for his speakership if he angered House Freedom Caucus members, Johnson adopted as GOP policy a meme: We shouldn’t defend another country’s border until we protect our own.

Johnson likely could not believe his good fortune when Republican senators adopted the meme and declared that any foreign assistance bill needed significant provisions to address illegal immigration. Some would argue the Biden administration made a mistake by including border funds in its national security supplemental spending request since it appeared to give tacit approval to connect the two issues, pointed out Zolan Kanno-Youngs of the New York Times.

A Bill Is Produced, But It’s ‘Dead On Arrival’

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tasked Oklahoma Senator James Lankford to negotiate border provisions with Democrats in the Senate. After several weeks, the two sides reached a deal. The Senate bill contained extensive asylum and border measures, including more asylum officers and raising the credible fear standard. The bill would have allowed the Secretary of Homeland Security to invoke “border emergency authority” to stop the processing of many individuals when reaching certain thresholds of inadmissible alien encounters. The authority was similar to the Title 42 expulsion authority exercised by both the Trump and Biden administrations.

The effort to negotiate and agree upon legislative text became time poorly spent. Likely GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump announced he opposed the bill and favored using border problems as a political issue. Other Republicans said they did not want to give Joe Biden a political “win.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson delivered the final blow to the bill when he declared it “dead on arrival.” Senate Republicans disavowed the bill they negotiated and blocked it in a procedural vote.

The Senate Passes A Bill, But It Also Appears To Be Dead

On February 13, 2024, the Senate passed on a 70-29 vote a bill to provide aid to Ukraine and Israel without immigration provisions. However, after Speaker Johnson declared a foreign assistance bill with the Senate-negotiated immigration measures would be dead in the House, he said the Senate-passed bill without immigration provisions also would be dead.

Johnson’s statements indicate that from the beginning, he insisted on tying immigration provisions to a foreign assistance bill to insert a “poison pill” to kill aid to Ukraine.

Johnson’s shifting positions have invited derision. “We’ve gone full circle and it’s now become somewhat absurd. As you say, the argument was we need a strong border security provision. That’s exactly what was negotiated. The minute it was released, it was declared dead on arrival in the House,” said Kim Strassel, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. “Now that the bill has no border provisions in it, we’ve apparently dropped that line again, and now we’re saying that we must have border provisions again and that the bill is dead on arrival because it doesn’t have border provisions in it. It’s really quite absurd.”

Strassel said it seems like Johnson is shifting with the wind with the “House Freedom Caucus and Donald Trump deciding on a whim day-by-day how they’re going to feel about this as an excuse not to pass it.”

Trump has floated the idea of turning aid to Ukraine into a “loan” with generous terms that would likely never be paid back. Senators ignored the suggestion, but it’s possible someone will promote Trump’s notion if it helps in the House.

Given Johnson’s opposition, supporters of Ukraine aid face an uphill battle to bring the Senate bill to the House floor. Options include a rarely invoked discharge petition. “The quicker option for Ukraine-aid supporters is defeating a previous question,” reports Punchbowl News. “Here’s how that would go: Every time the House Republican leadership brings a bill to the floor under a rule, there’s a vote on ‘moving the previous question.’ If that vote is defeated, the Democrat managing debate can amend the rule and effectively bring up any bill they want.”

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who opposes aid to Ukraine, said of the Senate-passed national security supplemental bill: “If it were to get to the floor, it would pass—let’s just be frank about that.” That is why Speaker Mike Johnson has not allowed Ukraine aid to receive a vote in the House of Representatives.