Members of the House and Senate usually like to gab.

But word of a cryptic, major national security threat against the U.S. cast a pall on Congress this week.

Loggorrheic lawmakers suddenly turned mute when they were sworn to secrecy considering the gravity of Russia potentially deploying a weapon in outer space.

“I can’t discuss this. I’m sorry,” lamented Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla.

“Absolutely no comment,” said Rep. Richie Torres, D-N.Y.


“We should be concerned. It’s serious,” offered. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., “That’s all I can say right now.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., was practically verbose when he chatted up reporters about the threat.

“I’m going to be very precise and I’m not going to take questions,” said Johnson.

But Johnson lent little detail into the disconcerting reports.

House Speaker Mike Johnson

(Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

“Steady hands are at the wheel,” said Johnson. “There’s no need for alarm.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said the White House “confirmed that, in their view, the matter was ‘serious.’”

This consternation is cast against the backdrop of the Senate approving a $95 billion international security bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. In other words, if there’s a pressing threat from Russia, this could impact Ukraine.

An eye-popping 70 senators voted in favor of the bill just before daybreak Tuesday morning. Twenty-two Senate Republicans voted yes. Three senators who caucus with the Democrats voted nay.


Twenty-two GOP yeas is not quite half of the 49 member Senate Republican Conference. But that’s still a substantial showing. And 70 votes is a robust figure from the Senate. Seventy yeas would make the bill hard to ignore in the House – under other circumstances.

“I think the House will face a moment of truth. This is a historical moment,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “You can also be sure our allies are watching, whether in NATO or East Asia, to see whether the United States surrenders, or betrays a partner.” 

Democrats demanded that Johnson take up the foreign aid bill. But he immediately resisted. 

“We are not going to be forced into action by the Senate who in the latest product they sent us over does not have one word in the bill about America’s border. Not one word about security,” said Johnson.

Texas southern border

(John Moore/Getty Images)

Even though Johnson – and Senate Republicans – mauled a bipartisan Senate compromise for the border.

“What is he afraid of to put national security first to help our country, to push back and push back against (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin, and to make sure that our country is protected?” asked House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.

It’s not often that House members can bypass the leadership and deposit a bill on the floor. But there is a way to do it. The gambit is called a discharge petition.

Here’s how it works:

A discharge petition requires a solid number of 218 House members to sign up to go over the head of the Speaker. The number is locked in at 218, regardless of the side of the House. The House has 435 members at full population. It’s currently at 431 members. Thus, the discharge petition provision wants at least half of the body to favor sidestepping the leadership.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee said he was “absolutely” for a discharge petition.

When asked if most Democrats would sign on, Nadler replied, “yeah, I do.”

But not so fast.

Many Democrats might push to advance the foreign aid package. But there are plenty of progressives who aren’t in favor of the bill at all because of concerns for Palestinians.


“I can’t support that bill with aid to Israel,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. “There’s also a lot of concerns about the restrictions on the aid to Gaza that the Senate put into the bill, including suspending aid to UNRWA, which is the only agency that can deliver aid in Gaza.”

Moreover, Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., thought it was “premature” to execute a discharge petition. He wanted the House to try to work through the issue and get it on the floor another way.

So certainly more Democrats favor of a discharge petition. But no one knows what might constitute that particular universe of votes. Therefore, a discharge petition certainly needs substantial GOP support.

A successful discharge petition will require the support of advocates for Ukraine and moderate Republicans. Someone in that wheelhouse is Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. When asked if he was open to signing a discharge petition, Bacon replied “not now.” He added he wouldn’t “lean too far forward” just yet.

The Nebraska Republican said “one or two” Democrats talked to him about signing the discharge petition. But he added a caveat.

“I’m interested in finding something we could all agree on,” said Bacon.

But that’s just the start.

Fitzpatrick, Kiggans, Bacon

House GOP defense hawks Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, Jen Kiggans and Don Bacon are all expressing concerns about the future of foreign aid in the House. (Getty Images)

“I’d never sign a discharge petition when we are in the majority,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., suggested that that signatories weren’t team players for the GOP.

“A discharge petition would be a betrayal on the part of anyone signing it,” said Gaetz.

This is why there have only been two successful discharge petitions in the House in the past 22 years.

One was on the House’s version of the famous “McCain-Feingold” campaign finance law, named originally after late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., in 2002. The other was on a measure to renew the Export-Import Bank.

So, this enterprise is challenging. And while it’s an intriguing parliamentary maneuver, the odds – and history – work against discharge petitions.

The House is now out of session until February 28. The Senate is done until the week after next. Another (yes, another) deadline to avert a government shutdown looms on March 1. A bigger one is barreling down the tracks for March 7. And the Senate must wrestle with an impeachment trial for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at the end of the month.

In short, a resolution to the international aid bill isn’t coming soon – if ever.

The threats loom – be a weapon from space for Russia. Threats at the border. Threats from China. The war in Ukraine. Instability in the Middle East.

The Senate finally acted – after a months-long circumnavigation into the border talks.

But there is no viable plan right now to pass the foreign aid package in the House.


It was long said that the Senate is where the House’s hot coffee cools.

In this case, the Senate served the House hot coffee.

And in today’s environment, it’s cooling instead in the House.

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