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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Necessity gives rise to bipartisanship — for now

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., gets ready to talk to the press after the House passes the foreign aid bills to fund Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan on Saturday, April 20, 2024. The far right finds itself marginalized in the House as Speaker Johnson pushes through aid to Ukraine and Israel by relying on Democrats. (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times)

By Carl Hulse

When Congress convened in 2023, an empowered far-right Republican faction in the House threatened to upend Washington and President Joe Biden’s agenda.

But the intransigence of that bloc instead forced Republicans and Democrats into an ad hoc coalition government that is now on the verge of delivering long-delayed foreign military aid and a victory to the Democratic president.

The House approval Saturday of money for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan over angry objections from the extreme right was the latest and perhaps most striking example of a bipartisan approach forged out of necessity. The coalition first sprang up last year to spare the government a catastrophic debt default, and has reassembled at key moments since then to keep federal agencies funded.

Unable to deliver legislation on their own because of a razor-thin majority and the refusal of those on the right to give ground, House Republicans had no choice but to break with their fringe members and join with Democrats if they wanted to accomplish much of anything, including bolstering Ukraine in its war against Russia.

“Look at what MAGA extremism has got you: nothing,” Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., told Republicans on the House floor as lawmakers took their first steps toward approving the aid package. “Nothing. Not a damn thing. In fact, it has empowered Democrats. At every critical juncture in this Congress, it has been Democrats who have been the ones to stand up for our country and do the right thing for the American people.”

The moments of bipartisan coming-together are hardly a template for a new paradigm of governing in polarized times. The grudging GOP collaboration with Democrats has only come about on truly existential, must-pass legislation — and typically only at the last minute after Republicans have exhausted all other options, making the coalition unlikely to hold on less critical bills and the social policy issues that sharply divide the two parties.

And the political incentives are stacked decisively against it. The cooperation with Democrats has placed Speaker Mike Johnson at risk of losing his post, making him the second GOP speaker to face a threat to his job for reaching across the aisle, after Kevin McCarthy was toppled last year.

With its legislative power diluted, the furious right has been left to wield the motion to vacate the speaker’s chair as its only remaining weapon.

“This is a sellout of America,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has taken steps to try to force Johnson from the speakership, after the vote.

The few instances of coalition governing also have come about grindingly slowly. Johnson delayed for months as he deliberated over whether to move forward with the Ukraine element of the legislation and put his speakership on the line. It had been clear for months that the aid would pass overwhelmingly if only it was put on the floor, and the lopsided vote totals Saturday were probably not substantially different than they would have been if the vote had been held many months ago.

“I call it failing through the day to a good conclusion,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who temporarily served as speaker after McCarthy was deposed. “The frustration here is that we are going through the worst set of policymaking and taking an excruciatingly long period of time to go through what is an inevitable result. It is long past frustrating.”

Democrats have not gotten all they wanted in their often difficult and halting negotiations with the Republicans that at times threatened the financial stability of the federal government.

Biden had to agree to spending caps to avert a federal default that would have been caused by breaching the debt limit last year, setting off a spending fight that was not resolved until March. Democrats also had to swallow some spending cuts to favored programs such as IRS enforcement. But in many respects, the spending parameters for the year — and in the military aid package — were shaped by Democrats, as evidenced by the strong support from the party in the end.

“I am glad to see the House finally moving forward to pass this critical legislation, which mirrors the package I negotiated and helped pass here in the Senate,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Appropriations Committee.

When it came to the money to sustain Ukraine, Democrats also had the advantage of strong support in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who was unyielding in his backing of the financial assistance despite dwindling support for it among his fellow Senate Republicans.

McConnell’s stance ensured a sufficient number of Senate Republicans would be on board. It also meant three of the four congressional leaders — himself; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the House Democratic leader — were all strongly behind the aid to Ukraine along with Biden, putting immense pressure on Johnson to join them.

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1 Comment

Oscar Melendez
Oscar Melendez
Apr 24

Far right is a term used by radical leftist democrats in the press. The federal government is already bankrupt and some republicans want the funds used in America, not foreign lands

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