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House's Ukraine, Israel aid package gains Biden's support as Speaker Johnson fights to keep his job

1 month 1 day 21 hours ago Wednesday, April 17 2024 Apr 17, 2024 April 17, 2024 4:41 PM April 17, 2024 in News - AP National
Source: APnews.com
By: STEPHEN GROVES and LISA MASCARO Associated Press
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., and the House Republican leadership meet with reporters following a closed-door Republican strategy session as Johnson pushes towards separate votes on aid for Israel and Ukraine, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Wednesday he strongly supports a proposal from Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, sending crucial bipartisan support to the effort this week to approve $95 billion in funding for the U.S. allies.

Ahead of potential weekend voting, Johnson was facing a choice between potentially losing his job and funding Ukraine. He notified lawmakers earlier Wednesday that he would forge ahead despite growing anger from his right flank. Shortly after Johnson released the funding proposals, Democrat Biden offered his emphatic support for the package.

"The House must pass the package this week, and the Senate should quickly follow," Biden said. "I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won't let Iran or Russia succeed."

After agonizing for days over how to proceed on the package, Johnson notified GOP lawmakers Wednesday that he would push to hold votes on three funding packages — to provide about $61 billion for Ukraine, $26 billion for Israel and $8 billion to allies in the Indo-Pacific — as well as several other foreign policy proposals in a fourth bill. The plan roughly matches the amounts that the Senate has already approved.

"A strong America is good for the entire world," Johnson told reporters. He asserted he had taken the Senate bill and "improved the process and policy."

Johnson emphasized that the bulk of the funding for Ukraine would go to purchasing weapons and ammunitions from U.S. defense manufacturers. The legislation proposes that $9 billion of economic assistance for Kyiv be structured as forgivable loans, along with greater oversight on military funding, but the decision to support Ukraine at all has angered populist conservatives in the House and given new energy to a threat to remove him from the speaker's office.

The votes on the package are expected Saturday evening, Johnson said. But he faces a treacherous path to get there.

The speaker needs Democratic support on the procedural maneuvers to advance his complex plan of holding separate votes on each part of the aid package. Johnson is trying to squeeze the aid through the House's political divisions on foreign policy by forming unique voting blocks for each issue and then sewing the package back together.

He said House members would also have an opportunity to vote on a raft of foreign policy proposals, including allowing the U.S. to seize frozen Russian central bank assets, placing sanctions on Iran, Russia and China, and potentially banning the video app TikTok if its China-based owner doesn't sell its stake.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries planned to gather Democrats for a Thursday meeting to discuss the package "as a caucus, as a family, as a team."

Crucial to the potential for Democratic support, the House proposal would keep intact roughly $9 billion in humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza and other conflict zones. However, progressive Democrats are opposed to providing Israel with funding that could be used for its campaign into Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians.

The top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, said in a statement of support that the three funding funding proposals for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan "mirror" the $95 billion foreign aid package that the Senate passed in February.

Meanwhile, the threat to oust Johnson from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia, gained steam this week. One other Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, said he was joining Greene and called for Johnson to resign. Other GOP lawmakers have openly complained about Johnson's leadership.

"You are seriously out of step with Republicans by continuing to pass bills dependent on Democrats," Greene wrote on the social platform X. "Everyone sees through this."

In an effort to satisfy conservatives, Johnson said he would hold a separate vote on a border security package that contains most of a bill that was passed by House Republicans last year. That bill has already been rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate, and conservatives quickly denounced the plan to hold a separate vote on it as insufficient. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas called the strategy a "complete failure."

The ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus posted on X that Johnson had was "surrendering the last opportunity we have to combat the border crisis."

With the speaker fighting for his job, his office went into overdrive trumpeting the support rolling from Republican governors and conservative and religious leaders for keeping Johnson in office.

"Enough is enough," said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on social media. He said "instead of bickering amongst themselves" the House Republicans should do their "job and vote on the important issues facing our nation."

At the same time, the speaker's office was tidying up after Johnson said on Fox News that he and Trump were "100% united" on the big agenda items, when in fact the Republican presidential nominee who had just hosted the House leader in a show of support opposes much overseas aid as well as a separate national security surveillance bill.

Johnson told CNN on Wednesday that he thought Trump, if elected president, would be "strong enough that he could enter the world stage to broker a peace deal" between Ukraine and Russia.

Yet Johnson's push to pass the foreign aid comes amid growing alarm in Washington at the precarious situation in Ukraine. Johnson, delaying an excruciating process, had waited for over two months to bring up the measure since the Senate passed it in February.

In the House Intelligence Committee, the Republican chairman, Rep. Mike Turner, and top Democrat, Rep. Jim Himes, issued a joint statement Tuesday saying, "The United States must stand against Putin's war of aggression now as Ukraine's situation on the ground is critical."

In a separate hearing on Wednesday, Pentagon leaders testified that Ukraine and Israel both desperately need military weapons.

"We're already seeing things on the battlefield begin to shift a bit in Russia's favor," said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The House's version of the aid bill pushes the Biden administration to provide long-range ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) to Ukraine, which could be used to target Russian supply lines.

The U.S. has resisted sending those weapons out of concerns Moscow would consider them escalatory, since they could reach deeper into Russia and Russian-held territory. The House legislation would also allow the president to decline to send the ATACMS if it is against national security interests, but Congress would have to be notified..

Still, there was acknowledgement in Washington that Johnson could soon be out of the speaker's office.

"This is a chance to do the right thing," Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican, said this week. "If you pay for it, you'll be known in history as the man who did the right thing even though it cost him a job."

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