The House’s foreign aid power play is about to begin

The Senate is set to approve its $95 billion national security funding package at some point between late tonight and Wednesday, delivering long-stalled aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Then the House will take its turn — and there will be a multi-directional battle to decide the fate of the bill.

That’s because the GOP’s thin margin of control leaves Speaker Mike Johnson with few politically palatable choices as he considers a Senate aid bill that many in his party want to scrap. But if Johnson tries to ignore the bill, a potential rebellion could begin to brew among rank-and-file members in the ideological middle who still want to see Ukraine aid pass.

A quick recap of the players or blocs who are positioned to grab power over the aid measure once it reaches the House:

Johnson: The speaker may shrug off the foreign aid package after the Senate clears it, focusing instead on a second attempt to pass the standalone Israel aid plan that he tried and failed to push through on a bipartisan basis last week.

But it’s hard to see that type of response quieting the eagerness among establishment and centrist Republicans to vote on the legislation anyway.

“There’s a general belief that we need to get it done” shared by House Republicans, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said over the weekend. “Hopefully this is something that Speaker Johnson will just take up, because I believe you’d have significant support for it in the Republican conference. Whether or not it’s the majority, I don’t know.”

Johnson has expressed support for Ukraine generally but has not said whether he’d slate a House vote on the Senate’s aid bill, which many conservatives oppose. His spokesperson Raj Shah told our Playbook friends in a statement that Johnson wants to consider the bill “on its own merits.”

“The speaker merely conveyed that each component of the supplemental must be evaluated on its own merits and can potentially be considered separately,” he said in a statement.

Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether that means an attempt to design a House rule that might separate out the different component parts of the Senate-passed bill. Even if Johnson goes that route, he’ll face trouble in the Rules Committee, where conservatives hold enough seats to wield an effective veto power over any bill that the House tries to consider under a rule for debate.

Democrats: Most, if not all, House Democrats want to approve more Ukraine aid ASAP. Caucus leaders have already signaled they’re open to using any legislative tools that could get that done.

The most likely such tool is the long-shot option of a discharge petition, which requires a majority of House members (218) to sign on in order to force a floor vote despite opposition from GOP leaders. That means at least a few Republicans would have to sign the petition.

There’s already a shell petition with every single Democratic lawmaker attached that can be used to force a vote on the Senate aid bill – although some progressives could peel off out of opposition to its unconditional aid for Israel.

Some House Democrats have already held quiet conversations with Republicans about a pathway forward for the Senate aid package. But if Republicans are feeling any pressure to act on a bill that their presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump wants to kill, they’re not showing it yet.

And it’s tough to underscore just how rarely a discharge petition is successfully used in the House, where even slim majorities still tend to rule the day. Recall that Democrats floated a discharge petition as a Hail Mary option to circumvent Republican leadership on the debt limit last year, to no avail.

Centrist Republicans: A handful of more moderate Republicans (led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick) have indicated they’re open to writing a new national security package with Democrats that would include funding for Ukraine and the southern border, among other priorities.

That makes centrist pro-Ukraine Republicans the most important lawmakers to watch this week when the House returns on Tuesday night. The louder they push for new aid to Ukraine after the Senate passes the supplemental funding package, the more likely it is that Johnson takes up the bill in some way, shape or form.

Another influential centrist in the mix, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), said last week that he was pushing for a Ukraine aid package that’s more narrowly focused on helping defeat Russia: “There’s a handful of us pushing for military aid. We might not be able to do all the other stuff, but let’s do military aid,” he said.

Of course, it’s arguable that a split vote on the Senate aid bill – taking it up in separate buckets for Ukraine, Israel, and more — means no one has claimed power over the matter. By making that move, Johnson will have essentially avoided forcing conservatives in his conference to accept Ukraine aid that would likely win a Democratic-dominated majority of the House.

— Daniella Diaz and Nicholas Wu, with assist from Jordain Carney

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GOOD EVENING! Welcome to Inside Congress, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Monday, Feb. 12, where your Huddle host is embarrassed to admit (as a non-Swiftie) that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s relationship shows love wins.

WHAT TRUMP AND MARSHALL TALKED ABOUT AT MAR-A-LAGO

Donald Trump’s presidency was defined by a dynamic rarely seen before or since: He constantly met with and dialed up individual lawmakers, around the clock, to talk politics. Eight months before Election Day, it looks like Trump’s not changing his habits.

In between political events, attacking the Senate’s foreign aid bill and raising big questions about his commitment to NATO, Trump met privately over the weekend with Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), an early endorser. It happened while many Republicans were near Mar-A-Lago for an NRSC fundraiser in Florida.

Marshall said Trump wanted to thank him for his endorsement, but the senator didn’t quite get a chance to pitch him on his policy goals.

“It was all political discussion, no policy — to my disappointment,” said Marshall, who wants to slash credit card swipe fees. “I would have liked to talk about my credit card bill with him. I would have liked to have talked about agriculture a little bit more.”

Our guess? Statistically speaking, there’s a pretty good chance Marshall will get another chance to bend Trump’s ear on his policy priorities.

— Burgess Everett

GOP WILL TRY – AGAIN – TO IMPEACH MAYORKAS

House Republicans are preparing to take another whack at formally impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday night after last week’s embarrassing failed vote. This time they’re confident that the return of Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) will make the difference.

Good news in the Pelican State: Scalise will return to Capitol Hill this week after receiving cancer treatment that kept him away from Washington. Johnson posted on X that Scalise is in “complete remission” and Scalise announced he’d be back Tuesday.

Since last week’s vote was tied, even complete Democratic attendance won’t stop the House from impeaching Mayorkas once Scalise is back. After that, it’s the Senate’s time to act – and it’s all but certain that no trial of the DHS chief will happen.

Senators we spoke with in recent days are expecting either a quick dismissal of the impeachment articles or a vote to send them to the relevant committee, effectively shutting down the effort.

— Daniella Diaz, with assist from Jordain Carney and Ursula Perano

GROWING IN THE GOLDEN STATE: POLITICO California is growing, reinforcing our role as the indispensable insider source for reporting on politics, policy and power. From the corridors of power in Sacramento and Los Angeles to the players and innovation hubs in Silicon Valley, we’re your go-to for navigating the political landscape across the state. Exclusive scoops, essential daily newsletters, unmatched policy reporting and insights — POLITICO California is your key to unlocking Golden State politics. LEARN MORE.

YOUR HANDBOOK FOR A HOUSE SECRET SESSION

The House is gearing up for round two of a fight over a controversial government surveillance power. The public just might not be able to see all of it.

What you need to know: Republicans are aiming for a floor vote on legislation to change and reauthorize the warrantless wiretapping program known as Section 702 later this week. GOP lawmakers and aides say privately that they expect at least part of the House’s debate over the program to take place in a “secret” or closed, session — and they’re trying to raise public alarm over that prospect.

Why are they worried? A secret session would be an unusual step but not unheard-of. The last time the House held one was during a 2008 debate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the same law that set up Section 702 powers.

Now lawmakers are debating how to reauthorize Section 702, which is meant to target communications by foreigners abroad but has faced controversy because of its ability to sweep in Americans’ information.

A majority of the House will have to vote to go into closed session, after which members of the public, media and any staff not deemed essential will be cleared out of the chamber.

Which brings us to the part that has some Republicans concerned: Aside from potential leaks, it could take decades before details of the closed-door debate emerge — if they ever do.

The House could vote to release a transcript of the secret session. If that doesn’t happen, the National Archives is cleared to release the transcript after 30 years unless the House clerk determines that “would be detrimental to the public interest or inconsistent with the rights and privileges of the House.”

— Jordain Carney

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HUDDLE HOTDISH

Marco Rubio took credit for calling the play the Chiefs used to win the Super Bowl.

This takes the cake for best Super Bowl/Congress memes. This one came in close second.

Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) is waiting for Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to pay up on their bet.

Sesame Street is back. And we’re not having it.

YOUR GUIDE TO EMPIRE STATE POLITICS: From the newsroom that doesn’t sleep, POLITICO’s New York Playbook is the ultimate guide for power players navigating the intricate landscape of Empire State politics. Stay ahead of the curve with the latest and most important stories from Albany, New York City and around the state, with in-depth, original reporting to stay ahead of policy trends and political developments. Subscribe now to keep up with the daily hustle and bustle of NY politics. 

QUICK LINKS 

In the Land of George Santos, Machine Politics Fuels a G.O.P. Revival, from Nicholas Fandos at The New York Times

Heritage Action Scorecards Used to Strike Fear in Republicans. Not Anymore. From Oriana González at NOTUS

House Republicans request transcripts of Biden’s interview with special counsel, from Ryan Nobles, Rebecca Kaplan and Megan Lebowitz at NBC News

A message from Kroger and Albertsons Companies:

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TRANSITIONS 

Alexandra Seymour is now staff director for the House Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee. She previously was a professional staff member for the Senate Commerce Committee.

Tucker Akin will be an investigative counsel for the Senate Budget GOP. He previously was counsel for Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.).

John Watts is now senior counselor at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation. He previously advised Sen. Dianne Feinstein on water and environment issues for 21 years.

Manu Tupper is also joining Interior as an adviser in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. He previously was legislative assistant and press secretary for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Maryam Hassanein is now special assistant in Interior’s office of the assistant secretary for land and minerals management. She previously was legislative correspondent for Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.).

TOMORROW IN CONGRESS

The House is in session.

The Senate is ???

TUESDAY AROUND THE HILL

3 p.m. Chair Bob Good and the House Freedom Caucus will have a press conference on FISA reauthorization. (Studio A)

3:30 p.m. Reps. Marc Molinaro, Debbie Dingell and Norma Torres are having a press conference on the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). (House Triangle)

TRIVIA

FRIDAY’S ANSWER: It’s well known that President George Herbert Walker Bush did not like broccoli. President Harry S Truman hated brussel sprouts.

TODAY’S QUESTION: Before former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who was the last person to serve in Congress before becoming governor of Florida?

The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Inside Congress. Send your answers to insidecongress@politico.com.

GET INSIDE CONGRESS emailed to your phone each evening.

Follow Daniella on X at @DaniellaMicaela.

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