United States

House Approves Long-Stalled Ukraine Aid

Author: Editors Desk, Natalie Andrews, and Siobhan Hughes Source: WSJ:
April 20, 2024 at 14:12
Speaker Mike Johnson, walking to the House floor prior to the voting, pushed the measure forward over sharp objections from some GOP colleagues. PHOTO: KEN CEDENO/REUTERS
Speaker Mike Johnson, walking to the House floor prior to the voting, pushed the measure forward over sharp objections from some GOP colleagues. PHOTO: KEN CEDENO/REUTERS

WASHINGTON—The House passed a $95 billion package of bills Saturday that would fund aid and weapons for Ukraine, after House Speaker Mike Johnsonput his political career on the line to push the long-stalled measure past intense Republican opposition.

Lawmakers voted on four separate measures for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, and another bill that would force the sale of TikTok by its Chinese-controlled owner. 

The first vote, on TikTok and sanctions related to Iran and Russia, passed 360-58, and aid for Taiwan also passed easily.  The vote on Ukraine–the most contentious of the four—passed 311 to 112 and one voting present, with all Democrats joined by less than half of Republicans in support. Israel aid then sailed through as well, despite objections from some Democrats over how Israel has handled the war in Gaza. 

The measures will be bundled together and sent to the Senate, where leaders have vowed to quickly take them up.

“Even though it’s not the perfect legislation, it’s not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House, this is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances,” Johnson (R., La.) said on Friday.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on social media he was “grateful to the United States House of Representatives, both parties, and personally Speaker Mike Johnson for the decision that keeps history on the right track.”

About $60 billion of the aid package is aimed at helping Ukraine fight off the Russian invasion while funding the U.S. defense industry. The measure also contains $26 billion for Israel, direct aid as well as money for replenishing U.S. stockpiles and supporting U.S. operations in the region. The proposal allocates about $8 billion to support Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific, as well as humanitarian aid for Gaza. The TikTok provision gives owner ByteDance up to a year to find a non-Chinese buyer.

 

Breakdown of the $95 billion aid package

 

Ukraine $60.0 billion

Israel $26.3B

Indo-Pacific $8.1B

Defensive 

activities

$13.0B

Deterrence

$5.6B

European Command operations

$20.5B

Security assistance

$15.8B

Humanitarian aid

$9.2B

Replenish U.S. stocks

$13.4B

Military financing

$2.0B

Forgivable economic loans

$9.5B

Security 

assistance

$3.6B

Shipyards

$300M

General expenses

$900 million

General expenses

$600M

General expenses

$300M

Note: Total doesn’t equal $95 billion due to rounding
Source: House Committee on Appropriations
James Benedict/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

 

The House votes came after months of delay, and as Johnson has spoken in stark terms about confronting America’s global adversaries. Johnson has a razor-thin 218-213 majority in the House, leading him to increasingly rely on Democratic votes to pass critical legislation, ranging from keeping the government open to controversial spying powers and now funding overseas allies.

The Senate passed its own foreign-aid bill with bipartisan support earlier this year, and President Biden, Republican defense hawks and many Democrats urged Johnson to take it up. But he put off making his decision, as his right flank insisted that any aid measure include a House Republican proposal cracking down on migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, a nonstarter for congressional Democrats. 

Delays in aid from Western allies has left Ukrainian forces trying to hold off a much larger army with dwindling resources. Russia eked out gains in the east of the country while slamming Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure with missiles to sap the country’s air defenses. The U.S. has spent more than $100 billion on the Ukraine war since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Johnson had indicated in recent weeks he was close to a decision, and events prodded him to move. Last weekend, Iran launched a wave of more than 300 drones and missiles toward Israel, putting the package front and center once again for members of Congress. Republican leaders ditched their planned agenda of partisan bills, with titles such as “Liberty in Laundry Act,” to instead respond to the attack. 

Johnson on Monday announced he would move ahead with not only Israel aid, but a comprehensive foreign-aid bill. He effectively embraced the Senate approach but broke it up into four bills, with extra items thrown in, giving lawmakers a chance to vote for or against different slices of aid and policy. The plan offers one piece of assistance—$9.5 billion in economic aid to Ukraine—in the form of a forgivable loan, rather than a grant, to satisfy some critics’ demands.

Still, the plan sparked outrage from a swath of GOP colleagues, and some lawmakers said Tuesday they thought the approach was dead. But Johnson stuck to his guns and released the formal bill text Wednesday, daring his GOP antagonists to try to remove him. Democrats helped Johnson move the bill through procedural steps on Thursday and Friday, more than making up for Republican defections.

“I worry that we’ve been stringing Ukraine along for months and months, the president asked for this support in October,” said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D., Pa.). “It would have been catastrophic if we hadn’t been able to pull this off, assuming that we can.” Critics of more spending and the lack of border provisions weren’t sold.

“We should have negotiated a smaller, lethal-only Ukraine bill that was paid for, that had a border security provision to it, and forced the Senate to join us in securing the border,” said Rep. Bob Good (R. Va.).

Johnson, who previously had voted against helping Ukraine aid before becoming speaker, said he was motivated by intelligence he had seen on the war. House speakers are second in line for the presidency, behind the vice president, and privy to highly classified briefings. He also warned that if America doesn’t make an investment to stop Russia now, the U.S. may find itself involved in a deeper conflict down the road, while taking a swipe at opponents.

 

A Capitol Police K-9 officer works near the U.S. Capitol on Saturday. PHOTO: NATHAN HOWARD/GETTY IMAGES
A Capitol Police K-9 officer works near the U.S. Capitol on Saturday. PHOTO: NATHAN HOWARD/GETTY IMAGES

“Some of my colleagues who are the most adamantly opposed to this and have in some senses mocked the arguments of why this is so important have not availed themselves of the defense briefings,” Johnson said on Friday on The Ben Shapiro Show, not naming anyone. 

Johnson traveled to Mar-a-Lago earlier this month to meet with former President Donald Trump, who has regularly criticized foreign aid and said Congress should do more to secure the border. Speaking to reporters with Johnson by his side, Trump didn’t criticize the speaker, while insisting that aid to Ukraine should be in the form of a loan. 

The success of the Ukraine bill has come at a high cost to Johnson, energizing critics led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.). She filed a motion to vacate last month but hasn’t forced a vote. She has been joined by two colleagues on the measure, Rep. Paul Gosar (R., Ariz.) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R., Ky.), while others say they are watching developments closely.

 

Thomas Massie is one of the House Republicans endorsing an effort to remove Mike Johnson as speaker. PHOTO: NATHAN HOWARD/GETTY IMAGES
Thomas Massie is one of the House Republicans endorsing an effort to remove Mike Johnson as speaker.  PHOTO: NATHAN HOWARD/GETTY IMAGES

“I think that Johnson—I don’t know what’s going on with him, but this is not what he promised,” said Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R., Fla.), a Johnson critic.  

The rapidly approaching November election may save Johnson. Republicans feel that they have put their House majority at risk with their continued infighting. Even Johnson’s loudest detractors are loath to re-create the three weeks of speakerless mayhem they experienced in September when eight Republicans engineered the ouster of then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy. 

“The strategy all along has been to ask the speaker to resign…We’re looking for Mike’s notice,” Massie said. Johnson said he won’t quit.

Even those dissatisfied by Johnson admit to a crucial problem: It would be hard to replace him. 

“There is nobody in our conference today…that could get every single Republican vote to become the speaker of the House. So the thing they need to answer is, ‘Who’s your person?’ And they don’t have a plan,” Rep. Austin Scott(R., Ga.) said of those mad at Johnson.

Numerous Republicans even pushed Johnson to slip a rules change into the procedural vote for the security aid bill that would end the potential for mutiny. In the end, Johnson didn’t, saying he didn’t have the majority of Republicans with him.  

Katy Stech Ferek contributed to this article.

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