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Biden Backs House's Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel While Speaker Johnson Battles to Retain Position
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By Associated Press
Published 1 month ago on
April 17, 2024

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden expressed strong support for House Speaker Mike Johnson's proposal to offer aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he strongly supports a proposal from House Speaker Mike Johnson to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Republican Speaker Johnson, facing a choice between losing his job and funding Ukraine, notified lawmakers earlier that he would forge ahead for votes on the package later this week. Shortly after Johnson released the funding proposals, Democrat Biden offered his support for the package.

“The House must pass the package this week, and the Senate should quickly follow,” the Democratic president 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.”

Package Approved After Days of Waiting

After agonizing over how to proceed on the package for days, Johnson notified GOP lawmakers Wednesday that he would push to hold votes on three funding packages for Ukraine, Israel and allies in the Indo-Pacific, as well as a several other foreign policy proposals in a fourth bill.

Johnson is proposing that 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 bills “will fund America’s national security interests and allies in Israel, the Indo-Pacific, and Ukraine,” Johnson wrote in a text message to members, which was shared by two Republican lawmakers.

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

How Do Democrats Feel About This?

The speaker will need Democratic support on the procedural maneuvers to advance his complex plan of holding separate votes on each of the aid packages.

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

Crucial to Democratic support, the House proposal kept in tact roughly $9 billion in humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza and other conflict zones.

Speaker Johnson Tries to Keep Conservative Support

Meanwhile, the threat to oust Johnson from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia, gained support 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 already 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.”

Vote on Foreign Policy Proposals Promised

As part of the foreign aid push, Johnson also said House members would 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.

The precarious effort to pass the foreign aid comes as lawmakers who are focused on national security warn that the House must act after waiting for nearly two months for Johnson to bring up the foreign aid.

In the House Intelligence Committee, the Republican chairman, Rep. Mike Turner, and top Democrat, Rep. Jim Himes, issued a joint statement Tuesday saying that they had been informed in a classified briefing that there was a “critical need” to provide funding for Ukraine this week.

“The United States must stand against Putin’s war of aggression now as Ukraine’s situation on the ground is critical,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

Intelligence Says Ukraine and Israel Need Weapons

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.

The House bill would also redouble the oversight of aid and equipment sent to Kyiv, including in-person monitoring requirements.

Still, there was a growing 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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