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Hakeem Jeffries Mike Johnson
Democrats credit the party’s public unity with getting four bills out of Republican leadership that, for the most part, members are happy with. Alex Brandon/AP

Democrats Are Quietly Celebrating Their Wins on Foreign Aid Bills

No one wants to brag too much publicly, but Democrats say Republican dysfunction has given them leverage and the ability to stay united.

Democrats got almost everything they wanted in Mike Johnson’s proposed aid plan: There were no added “poison pill” provisions, billions of dollars for humanitarian aid were included and, ultimately, the package looks largely similar to the version the Senate passed in February.

But don’t expect many Democrats to be taking a victory lap — yet. Members said they will look to leadership for how to vote on a procedural rule vote if it comes to the floor, and leadership, in turn, is being quiet on what they’ll ultimately do.

“This is a member-driven process,” Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar said following a caucus meeting Thursday morning to discuss the four national security bills introduced Wednesday.

“When we have a rule in front of us, if we have more clarity on the timelines, then later, we’ll have more conversations with the caucus. And my job is to facilitate and guide those discussions,” he said.

Given the infighting among his own party — the House Freedom Caucus has already said they will oppose the rule on the floor — Johnson will have no choice but to get Democrats on board. It’s not the first time this Congress that Democrats have provided the needed votes to get critical bills over the line, but this week few Democrats want to frame it as a win publicly.

“Everybody’s calling it a victory for the Democratic caucus, but I see it as a profound defeat for the people of Ukraine, who have been waiting for several months for desperately needed domestic strategic and military assistance,” Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin told NOTUS.

“Obviously, the right thing is about to happen, and let’s hope it’s not derailed at the last minute,” he said.

Over the course of this week, since Johnson announced his plan to bring national security supplemental funding to the floor, the Republican conference has been in disarray, publicly airing details of closed-door meetings and putting grievances on full display.

That hasn’t been the case for House Democrats. Democrats who spoke to NOTUS credit the party’s public unity — even as they may disagree on policy privately — with getting four bills out of Republican leadership that, for the most part, members are happy with.

“To be exact in terms of what came out of the Senate would be better, but this is pretty darn close, and I think at the end of the day, acceptable,” Rep. Salud Carbajal said of the bills.

“The fact that Democrats were able to present a united front here was what allowed us to arrive at this moment,” Rep. Chris Pappas said.

Even progressives who want to see Democrats take a harder stance on Israel over the war in Gaza are still backing leadership.

“There’s still a famine in Gaza, so we need an immediate cease-fire. We need humanitarian trucks in there right now. We need a pathway to free Palestine,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman told NOTUS. “So if we’re not doing that, I’m not pleased.”

Bowman said despite the differences, he’s still in support of how Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries has led the caucus.

Turning the party unity into policy progress is in large part because of the majority party’s disunity, Democrats said.

“A lot of that Republican infighting has resulted in their border bill; they killed their own border bill,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s a combination of both Republican dysfunction and Democratic unity that’s allowed us to minimize some of the damage here while also being able to preserve our differences, too, as a caucus as well.”

Ocasio-Cortez has been an advocate for separating Ukraine and Israel into two separate bills, allowing progressive Democrats to vote for Ukraine funding without supporting Israel, a bill she says she’ll be voting against.

Rep. Eric Swalwell said he views the bills as a win for the party and that their unity works as leverage for Johnson.

“You have never seen a Congress before, and you may never see it again, where on every vote of consequence in that Congress, the minority party delivered the majority amount of votes. So the debt ceiling, every shutdown, even the [George] Santos expulsion, and now you’ll see it on these, like the majority votes will come from us,” Swalwell said.

“As we think about November, is this something you can evangelize to voters, in a way that voters think, ‘Oh, yeah, so we should just put you guys in charge if functionally you’re doing it, should you also be doing it formally.’”

As much as the national security package is a win for Democrats, it’s also a win for Jeffries, who, for months, has been trying to win over progressive members of his caucus who’ve been dismayed by the overall approach toward the conflict in Gaza.

With both the Ukraine and Israel supplementals, he took a more laid-back approach, letting his caucus have the final say on how they wanted to vote as opposed to directing them to a particular stance. This worked with progressives.

“I never really get intense pressure from Leader Jeffries or leadership. They’re going to state the case, and they’ll let members do what they want to do,” Rep. Maxwell Frost told NOTUS. “It’s part of what makes our leadership so good.”

Katherine Swartz and Tinashe Chingarande are NOTUS reporters and Allbritton Journalism Institute fellows.