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New Speaker Johnson: Vote on separate $14.3B Israel aid bill this week

New Speaker Johnson: Vote on separate $14.3B Israel aid bill this week

Senators call it a 'poison pill' and 'non starter' because it doesn’t address Ukraine assistance

Reporting | Washington Politics

New House Speaker Mike Johsnon made good on a promise to bring a separate $14.3 billion Israel aid bill to the floor Monday, saying he'll pay for it by making cuts elsewhere in the budget.

This sets up a fight with the Senate and the White House, the first test for the newly minted Speaker.

The White House has proposed to combine $60 billion in aid for Kyiv with $14 billion for Tel Aviv — along with $14 billion for border security funding and $7 billion for the Indo-Pacific — into one emergency spending package, a plan that has received robust support from Senate leadership in both parties, but has created some controversy among House and Senate Republicans.

Johnson’s alternative is “a poison pill and non-starter. It’s just not the way we’re going to proceed,” according to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s got to be bipartisan. And the House has to realize they can’t work on a bill just with Republicans.”

Johnson, who emerged from a messy battle for the speakership last week, has been a quiet opponent of every Ukraine funding bill since May 2022. But his more recent rhetoric suggests that he may be more open to bringing a standalone funding package over the opposition of some of the more outspoken aid opponents in his party.

“We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine because I don’t believe it would stop there, and would probably encourage and empower China to perhaps make a move on Taiwan," Johnson told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday, during his first interview as the leader of the House GOP. "We’re not gonna abandon [Ukraine].”

Johnson, however, stressed the need for accountability. “We want to know what the objective there is. What is the endgame in Ukraine? The White House has not provided that,” he said.

Because House Republicans are still “working through” the conditions they want to attach to future Ukraine funding, and aid for Israel is more pressing, Johnson emphasized that the issues should be kept separate, telling Hannity that he had informed the White House that it was “consensus” within his conference that Congress needs to “bifurcate” the two issues.

Some in the Senate GOP conference agree, having urged Congress to split up the proposal. Nine Republican Senators wrote a letter to leaders McConnell and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) making the case, and Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), one of the leaders of the effort, circulated a memo detailing what he sees as the five major areas differentiating the two countries. "The administration seeks to link Ukraine and Israel funding. This is a grave error that betrays a lack of strategic focus. Each conflict is distinct and represents a different claim on U.S. interests," the memo reads.

Republicans in the Senate have largely been more supportive of Ukraine aid than their counterparts in the House, and McConnell has been a vocal advocate for Biden’s plan. According to Politico, the minority leader has abandoned “his typically cautious style when it comes to aiding Ukraine, shrugging off potshots at his leadership and expending political capital for the embattled country despite a painful rift in the party.” But Vance maintains that his colleagues agree that the question should remain separated from support for Israel.

“There’s actually pretty wide consensus that we should separate Israel from the package,” Vance told Politico. “Whether there are nine Republicans who are willing to break off and join the Democrats is an open question,” he added, referring to the number of GOP votes that would be required to avoid a filibuster.

As the Senate prepares to unveil its spending proposal, Johnson is moving ahead with funding for Israel. “We’re gonna bring forward a standalone Israel funding measure,” he said on Fox News. “We’re gonna find pay fors in the budget, we’re not just printing money to send it overseas. We’re gonna find the cuts elsewhere to do that.”

As Punchbowl News put it, seeking such cuts for aid for Israel is “unheard of.” The bill, which was released on Monday afternoon, contains $14.3 billion in money for Israel, offset by $14.3 billion in cuts to the Internal Revenue Service and the Inflation Reduction Act. By including these cuts, the House GOP is reportedly hoping to shore up Republican support and possibly push some Democrats to oppose the measure.

Given the GOP’s slim margin in the House, Johnson can only afford four defections if all Democrats oppose his legislation. Two Republicans have already said that will vote against funding for Israel. “I will be voting NO on all funding packages for the Ukraine war (as I have from the beginning) and now the Israel war," wrote Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on the social media platform X on Sunday.

"This week the House will vote on $14.5 billion foreign aid package for Israel, in addition to the $3.8 billion that already passed. I will be a NO vote,” added Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). "Less than 1/3 of the 49,000 people who responded to my poll today support this additional funding. We simply can't afford it."

Separating the two issues could eventually complicate efforts to pass Ukraine funding, even if Johnson proves more amenable than some of his colleagues. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — an enthusiastic supporter of the new Speaker — has used the fact that a majority of Republicans voted in favor of an amendment that stripped $300 million in security assistance to Kyiv from the defense appropriations, as evidence that a GOP speaker would go against the majority of his party by bringing such legislation to the floor.

“According to the Hastert Rule, which Speaker McCarthy agreed to in January, you cannot use Democrats to roll a majority of the majority,” Gaetz said earlier this month, “certainly on something as consequential as Ukraine.”

Rep. Mike Johnson speaks during House Judiciary Committee field hearing (Photo: lev radin via Shutterstock)

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