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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House approves $95 billion aid bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) talks to the press after the House passed a series of foreign aid bills, at the Capitol in Washington on Saturday April 20, 2024. After months of delay at the hands of a bloc of ultraconservative Republicans, the House voted resoundingly on Saturday to approve $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times)

By Catie Edmondson

The House voted resoundingly on Saturday to approve $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., put his job on the line to advance the long-stalled aid package by marshaling support from mainstream Republicans and Democrats.

In four back-to-back votes, overwhelming bipartisan coalitions of lawmakers approved fresh rounds of funding for the three U.S. allies, as well as another bill meant to sweeten the deal for conservatives that could result in a nationwide ban of TikTok.

The scene on the House floor reflected both the broad support in Congress for continuing to help the Ukrainian military beat back Russia, and the extraordinary political risk taken by Johnson to defy the anti-interventionist wing of his party, which had sought to thwart the measure. Minutes before the vote on assistance for Ukraine, Democrats began to wave small Ukrainian flags on the House floor, as hard-right Republicans jeered.

The legislation includes $60 billion for Ukraine; $26 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid for civilians in conflict zones, including the Gaza Strip; and $8 billion for the Indo-Pacific region. It would direct the president to seek repayment from the Ukrainian government of $10 billion in economic assistance, a concept supported by former President Donald Trump, who had pushed for any aid to Ukraine to be in the form of a loan. But it also would allow the president to forgive those loans starting in 2026.

It also contained a measure to help pave the way to selling off frozen Russian sovereign assets to help fund the Ukrainian war effort, and a new round of sanctions on Iran. The Senate is expected to pass the legislation as early as Tuesday and send it to President Joe Biden’s desk, capping its tortured journey through Congress.

“Our adversaries are working together to undermine our Western values and demean our democracy,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Saturday as the House debated the measure. “We cannot be afraid at this moment. We have to do what’s right. Evil is on the march. History is calling and now is the time to act.”

The vote was 311-112 in favor of the aid to Ukraine, with a majority of Republicans — 112 — voting against it and one, Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania, voting “present.” The House approved assistance to Israel 366-58, and to Taiwan 385-34 with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., voting “present.” The bill to impose sanctions on Iran and require the sale of TikTok by its Chinese owner or ban the app in the United States passed 360-58.

“Today, members of both parties in the House voted to advance our national security interests and send a clear message about the power of American leadership on the world stage,” Biden said. “At this critical inflection point, they came together to answer history’s call, passing urgently needed national security legislation that I have fought for months to secure.”

Minutes after the vote, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine thanked lawmakers, singling out Johnson by name “for the decision that keeps history on the right track.”

“Democracy and freedom will always have global significance and will never fail as long as America helps to protect it,” he wrote on social media. “The vital U.S. aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger.”

Outside the Capitol, a jubilant crowd waved Ukrainian flags and chanted, “Thank you USA” as exiting lawmakers gave them a thumbs-up and waved smaller flags of their own.

For months, it had been uncertain whether Congress would approve new funding for Ukraine, even as momentum shifted in Moscow’s favor. That prompted a wave of anxiety in Kyiv and in Europe that the United States, the single biggest provider of military aid to Ukraine, would turn its back on the young democracy.

And it raised questions about whether the political turmoil that has roiled the United States had effectively destroyed what has long been a strong bipartisan consensus in favor of projecting American values around the world. The last time Congress approved a major tranche of funding to Ukraine was in 2022, before Republicans took control of the House.

But after the Senate passed its own $95 billion emergency aid legislation for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan without any immigration measures, Johnson began — first privately, then loudly — telling allies that he would ensure the U.S. would send aid to Ukraine.

In the end, even in the face of an ouster threat from ultraconservative members, he circumvented the hard-line contingent of lawmakers that once was his political home and relied on Democrats to push the measure through. It was a remarkable turnabout for a right-wing lawmaker who voted repeatedly against aid to Ukraine as a rank-and-file member, and as recently as a couple of months ago declared he would never allow the matter to come to a vote until his party’s border demands were met.

In the days leading up to the vote, Johnson began forcefully making the case that it was Congress’ role to help Ukraine fend off the advances of an authoritarian. Warning that Russian forces could march through the Baltics and Poland if Ukraine falls, Johnson said he had made the decision to advance aid to Kyiv because he “would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys.”

“I think this is an important moment and important opportunity to make that decision,” Johnson told reporters at the Capitol after the votes. “I think we did our work here and I think history will judge it well.”

Johnson structured the measures, which were sent to the Senate as one bill, to capture different coalitions of support without allowing opposition to any one element to defeat the whole thing.

“I’m going to allow an opportunity for every single member of the House to vote their conscience and their will,” he had said.

In a nod to right-wing demands, Johnson allowed a vote just before the foreign aid bills on a stringent border enforcement measure, but it was defeated after failing to reach the two-thirds majority needed for passage. And the speaker refused to link the immigration bill to the foreign aid package, knowing that would effectively kill the spending plan.

His decision to advance the package infuriated the ultraconservatives in his conference who accused Johnson of reneging on his promise not to allow a vote on foreign aid without first securing sweeping policy concessions on the southern border. It prompted two Republicans, Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Paul Gosar of Arizona to join a bid by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia to oust Johnson from the top job.

Greene claimed the Ukraine aid bill supported “a business model built on blood and murder and war in foreign countries.”

“We should be funding to build up our weapons and ammunition, not to send it over to foreign countries,” she said before her proposal to zero out the money for Ukraine failed by a vote of 351-71.

Much of the funding for Ukraine is earmarked to replenish U.S. stockpiles after shipping supplies to Kyiv.

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