© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
Marjorie Taylor Greene
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Thomas Massie are attempting to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson for bringing the foreign aid bills forward. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Loud but Overruled: House GOP Sidelines Its Isolationist Wing on Ukraine Aid

After months of deadlock, the House overwhelmingly passed $95 billion for U.S. allies.

Isolationist House Republicans have plenty of power to spark chaos in Congress, but they can’t change the bipartisan consensus about America’s role in the world.

Lawmakers approved $60 billion in aid to Ukraine on Saturday with a vote of 311-112-1. (Rep. Dan Meuser, a Pennsylvania Republican, voted “present.”) Members also passed $26 billion in aid to Israel, with humanitarian assistance for Gaza, in a vote of 366-58, and $8 billion more to prepare American forces in the Indo-Pacific, and help Taiwan to defend itself against potential invasion by China, with a vote of 385-34-1. (On that bill, one member, Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, voted “present.”)

“The House is still representative of the American people, despite loud factions in both parties,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican, who will retire from Congress this week. “It suggests that the American people are in favor of standing with our allies and defending the free world.”

Each vote had a different coalition behind it: A group of progressive Democrats opposed the Israel aid, criticizing mass civilian casualties in Israel’s war against Hamas. And most Republicans opposed Ukraine aid, although the party was closely divided: 101 Republicans voted for it, while 112 voted against it. (No Democrats opposed the funding.)

When asked about the Republicans who were against more Ukraine aid, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican who backed the measure, told NOTUS, “There’s a lot of people who wanted to vote the opposite way.”

“That’s a question for their districts and them,” he said. “But I think we’re in good shape.”

The roughly $95 billion outcome looks a lot like the national security package passed by the Senate in February, which reflected a request from President Joe Biden last year to shore up weapons stockpiles and assist American allies. Another piece of the House legislation to impose sanctions on terror groups and Iran, seize Russian assets and target TikTok, passed in the House Saturday with a strong bipartisan tally of 360-58.

Lawmakers from both parties argued the legislation would defend democracy at a pivotal moment in history. If the Ukraine aid hadn’t passed, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the legacy of this Congress would “be the appeasement of a dictator, the destruction of an allied nation, and a fractured Europe.”

Democrats waved Ukraine flags on the floor — prompting a reminder from the chair that waving flags in the chamber is a violation of decorum — as the bill passed, celebrating with cheers. (Some of them booed the Republicans who voted against it.)

Top Republicans argued forcefully for the bill this week, with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul telling his colleagues they faced a choice to follow in the footsteps of Neville Chamberlain, who infamously appeased an ascendant Adolf Hitler before Nazi Germany invaded Poland, or Winston Churchill, who later led the United Kingdom through World War II.

It was a stark contrast to some of McCaul’s colleagues, such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Thomas Massie, two Republicans who are deeply skeptical of American involvement abroad.

Even as Greene and Massie are attempting to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson for bringing the bills forward, the votes showed they are on an island in Congress, despite being in a party that has increasingly embraced presidential candidate Donald Trump’s isolationist rhetoric. (An amendment from Greene before the bill’s final passage to slash every funding amount in the Ukraine bill to $0 failed with 351 members in opposition and 71 Republicans in favor.)

“As the geopolitical environment grows more threatening, it gets harder to make the argument that we should turn inward,” Gallagher told NOTUS.

And North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican who supports the foreign assistance, said in an interview this week that “isolationism never works.”

“In peacetime, it destroys opportunities for economic prosperity, and in times like we find ourselves today, it makes this country less safe.”

“Some of them, they genuinely believe it,” Tillis added of his GOP colleagues. “Some of them are really tapping into passions of some of our constituents.”

Sign up for the latest from NOTUS.

Those passions, inflamed by Trump when he first won the presidency in 2016, have made the Republican Party’s foreign policy somewhat incoherent. On Saturday, scores of them enthusiastically supported more funding for Israel while opposing Ukraine aid, even though Ukraine has also long been an American ally. (Twenty-one Republicans representing the most ardent isolationists in the party, including Greene and Massie, voted against the Israel funding as well.)

GOP arguments against Ukraine aid in recent months have ranged from wanting a more detailed strategy from the administration on what success looks like in Ukraine to questioning why the money couldn’t be used at home instead to brazenly pro-Russia comments from Greene.

Republicans on both sides of the party’s debate argued this week that Johnson’s foreign policy, which he described as aligning with Ronald Reagan’s vision of peace through strength, doesn’t contrast much with Trump’s — who is distrustful of allies, questions the merits of foreign aid, has repeatedly praised dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin and suggested he wouldn’t help NATO allies if Russia attacked them.

“I don’t think it overly differs,” said Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, who voted against Ukraine assistance. “I don’t think it’s a matter of Mike Johnson’s foreign policy, or Donald Trump’s foreign policy. I think it’s about having a sober and prudent foreign policy, no matter how you want to label it.”

And Florida Rep. Carlos Gimenez, who supported more Ukraine funding, said if you weigh Trump’s actions as president, such as military strikes against adversaries, rather than his rhetoric, he isn’t far off from Johnson’s approach.

Democrats see it as a clearer divide.

“Until Donald Trump took over the Republican Party, it has always been the bipartisan consensus, foreign policy of the United States, that we stand up against Soviet and now Russian aggression, that we lead the Transatlantic Alliance, that we are the biggest supporters of NATO and the leaders of NATO,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat. “Until Trump became the Republican leader and suddenly changed the base of that party almost overnight.”

Saturday’s vote, said Rep. Madeleine Dean, “shows how out of step they are — out of step with the American people.”

“They are isolated,” she added. “They should be the ones isolated.”

Haley Byrd Wilt is a reporter at NOTUS. Katherine Swartz is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.