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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Ukraine aid in doubt as Johnson moves to drop it from Israel assistance bill

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who has a history of voting against assistance to Ukraine, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Johnson’s election as speaker has thrown the fate of U.S. assistance for Ukraine into doubt, as he resists President Joe Biden’s call to package money for Kyiv in a large emergency spending measure.

By Karoun Demirjian and Catie Edmondson

Rep. Mike Johnson’s election as speaker has thrown the fate of U.S. assistance for Ukraine into doubt, as the Louisiana Republican, a longtime opponent of funding the war effort, resists President Joe Biden’s call to package money for Kyiv in a large emergency spending bill to tackle global crises including Israel’s war against Hamas.

Additional aid for Ukraine, considered vital for sustaining that country’s campaign to beat back Russian aggression, has been in limbo since Sept. 30, when lawmakers averted a government shutdown with only hours to spare. Rushing to meet an urgent spending deadline and facing a revolt from House Republicans, congressional leaders left money for Ukraine out of a short-term bill to keep federal funding flowing. They believed at the time that they could come back to the issue once the threat of a shutdown was behind them, and strike a bipartisan deal to deliver the aid.

But the ouster days later of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., from the speaker’s post and the installation of Johnson, a right-wing Republican with a history of voting against Ukraine assistance, has shifted the dynamics. Now leaders are facing yet another shutdown deadline on Nov. 17, and congressional Democrats, White House officials and some leading Republicans are scrambling to salvage Ukraine aid.

They are working against Johnson’s own personal stance, and considerable pressure he is facing from rank-and-file House Republicans, many of whom have soured on sending additional funding to Kyiv and want to focus exclusively on arming Israel.

In the days since his election, Johnson has signaled that he will not seek to block aid to Ukraine altogether, but he has also made it clear that he wants to consider it separately from any assistance for Israel, and put tight restrictions on it.

“Our consensus among House Republicans is that we need to bifurcate those issues,” Johnson said of Ukraine and Israel assistance in an interview on Thursday with Sean Hannity of Fox News.

“We’re not going to abandon them,” Johnson added of the Ukrainians, “but we have a responsibility, a stewardship responsibility over the precious treasure of the American people and we have to make sure that the White House is providing the people with some accountability for the dollars.”

That approach is at odds with the one favored by the White House, congressional Democrats and many mainstream Republicans who believe that the best way to ensure funding for both wars is to keep them together in one large package. The $105 billion measure Biden has requested includes $14.3 billion for Israel and $61.4 billion for Ukraine, as well as funds for Taiwan and border security in the United States.

“At the end of the day, these are all going to be linked together, and we’re going to be voting on a package,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who has been working to persuade Johnson to embrace such a measure.

But McCaul conceded that, given the pressures inside his party, Johnson could act as soon as next week to push through an emergency spending bill covering only Israel.

Since the start of the war, Johnson has routinely offered praise and prayers for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, but he has voted against successive emergency spending measures. Scores of House Republicans have adopted a similar stance, and last month, a majority of them, including Johnson, voted against a bill to send Ukraine $300 million to arm and train its fighters.

Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, chair of the Intelligence Committee, McCaul, and other top national-security-minded Republicans have been trying to impress upon Johnson that his new post requires a different approach to foreign policy than he has taken to date. During a Thursday meeting in the Situation Room with their Democratic counterparts and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, they stressed to Johnson that if he moved ahead with an Israel-only funding bill, he must offer Ukraine some assurances that its plight against Russia would not be forgotten.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has pledged that his chamber will produce legislation to address multiple global threats, including Ukraine and Israel. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has also stressed the urgency of addressing multiple crises at once, arguing in several floor speeches and a rare television interview that Congress must approve assistance for both Israel and Ukraine in order to counter Russia, Iran and China.

But bands of both House and Senate Republicans have been trying to stop that from happening.

On Thursday, five Republicans led by Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida, a former Green Beret, wrote to Senate leaders warning them against including Ukraine funding in an aid package for Israel and the southern border.

“We are concerned that President Biden has used Israel’s existential struggle as an excuse to force billions more in additional spending through Congress, rather than address the nation’s most pressing emergencies,” they wrote.

A separate group in the Senate led by Sens. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., and J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, introduced legislation Thursday to provide military aid to Israel alone.

“Israel has an achievable objective,” Vance wrote in a memo he circulated among Senate Republicans before introducing the bill. “Ukraine does not.”

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