Ukraine aid bill faces hurdles in House amid GOP opposition

A flurry of Republican opposition in the House of Representatives threatens to derail the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine and Israel that the Senate overwhelmingly passed early Tuesday morning, leaving advocates of the emergency bill scrambling for unorthodox ways to push the bill over the finish line.

Hours before the Senate approved the bill in a 70-29 vote, Speaker Mike Johnson suggested he would not allow the aid package to get a vote in the House. The measure would provide Kiev with an additional $60.1 billion — bringing the total U.S. investment in the war effort to more than $170 billion — as well as $14.1 billion for Israel’s war against Hamas and nearly $10 billion for humanitarian aid to civilians in conflict zones, including Palestinians in Gaza.

“House Republicans have been crystal clear from the very beginning of discussions that any so-called national security amendment bill must recognize that national security begins at our border,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement Monday night, adding: “In the absence of the Senate received any change in border policy, the House will have to continue to work at will on these important issues.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Johnson has rejected a bipartisan border bill in the Senate, saying the crackdown on the US-Mexico border needs to be tougher.

Senators often hope that a supermajority vote on a bill in their chamber will prevent the House from taking up its legislation. And a few hours after the Senate approved the aid package, President Biden tried to increase the pressure on Mr. Johnson, urging him from the White House to “immediately introduce a bill.”

“I urge the speaker to let the entire House speak its mind and not allow the minority of the most extreme voices in the House to block even a vote on this bill,” Mr. Biden said.

He added: “This bipartisan bill sends a clear message to Ukrainians and to our partners, our allies around the world: America can be trusted.” America can be relied upon, and America stands for freedom.”

The Senate’s passage of the bill reflected a critical mass of support in Congress for continuing to arm Ukraine to fight Russian aggression, even as the Republican Party increasingly turns away from its traditional hawkish stance and belief in projecting American power and democratic principles around the world.

But Mr Johnson, himself opposed to helping Ukraine, has so far appeared unwilling to allow a vote in the House on whether to do so, reflecting how toxic the issue has become for his conference. A handful of ultra-conservative lawmakers said they would move to oust Mr. Johnson if he allowed a vote on aid to Ukraine without tough immigration measures attached.

The hostile landscape in the House of Representatives means that the only way for a foreign aid bill to get through the House may be for a bipartisan coalition like the one in the Senate — including more mainstream national security-minded Republicans — to come together and use extraordinary measures to coerce it.

In recent days, advocates of sending aid to Ukraine have discussed the idea of ​​bypassing Mr Johnson’s opposition and the far right by using a maneuver known as a discharge petition. That allows lawmakers to force legislation to the floor if they can get the signatures of a majority of lawmakers — 218 members — calling for action.

Dozens of House Republicans, including the heads of the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, have supported sending tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, but it’s not known how many — if any — would be willing to take the extraordinary step of defying the rest of their party and coming together with Democrats in an attempt to force action on the issue. Even if they are, the process is complicated and time-consuming.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a letter to his colleagues on Tuesday that Democrats “will use every legislative tool available to pass comprehensive national security legislation.”

“The stakes are high and failure in Ukraine is not an option,” Mr Jeffries wrote. “Traditional Republicans must now put America first and stand up to pro-Putin extremists in the House of Representatives who clearly want Russia to win.”

Representative Abigail Spanberger, D-Virginia, who traveled to Ukraine late last week to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky as part of a bipartisan delegation, said in an interview that discussions about using a discharge petition to force a vote on the aid package are happening “on both sides passes.”

In a meeting with Mr. Zelensky, Representative Mike Turner of Ohio, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, assured the Ukrainian leader that the Republican-controlled House, which is increasingly skeptical of more aid, would provide additional money to help Ukraine fight the Russian invasion, she said. Mrs. Spanberger.

“The reality is we know that if the speaker brought it up for a vote, he would have the votes to pass it,” she said, later adding, “All options are on the table to move it forward.”

In a video posted on social media on Tuesday, Mr Zelensky thanked senators for making a “morally strong choice”, saying their vote was “important not only for Ukraine, but for all nations whose independence is the target of Russian attacks – whether now or in the future.”

“The next step is a vote in the House of Representatives,” he said. “This is extremely important. We expect an equally strong moral choice.”

The prospect of a bipartisan coalition fighting through conservative opposition in the House of Representatives has enraged hard-right Republicans, who have vowed to try to block any such efforts.

“We will fight this Senate Defense Caucus to deliver the floor to House Representatives,” Texas Rep. Chip Roy, an influential conservative, wrote on social media. “Buckle up.”

Gathering the support of 218 lawmakers could be complicated if liberal members of the House oppose the inclusion of aid for Israel in the bill. Several progressives in the Senate voted against the bill, saying they could not support authorizing billions of dollars worth of offensive weapons for Israel.

It would also require Republicans to take on former President Donald J. Trump, who denounced the legislation from the campaign trail. In recent days, he claimed on social media that it was “stupid” for the United States to offer foreign aid instead of loans and encouraged Russia to “do whatever it wants” to NATO members who did not spend enough money on their own defense.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, suggested that enough House Republicans due to retire at the end of this year could help pull the bill over the finish line.

“Last time I checked, there are about 40 that are not coming back,” Mr. Tillis said.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Tuesday after the bill’s passage that he hoped to speak privately with Mr. Johnson and urge him to put the aid package to a vote.

“I will tell President Johnson that I am confident that there is a large majority in the House of Representatives that will vote for this bill,” he said.

Luke Broadwater contributed to the reporting.

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