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Johnson Pushes Towards Aid Vote        04/16 06:10

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Speaker Mike Johnson is pushing toward action this 
week on aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, unveiling an elaborate plan Monday 
to break the package into separate votes to squeeze through the House's 
political divides on foreign policy.

   Facing an outright rebellion from conservatives fiercely opposed to aiding 
Ukraine, the Republican speaker's move on the foreign aid package was a 
potentially watershed moment, the first significant action on the bill after 
more than two months of delay. But Johnson's intention to hold four separate 
votes on parts of the package also left it open to being significantly altered 
from the $95 billion aid package the Senate passed in February.

   It's unclear if the House could end up with a package that is similar to the 
Senate's bill or something significantly different, which could complicate the 
months-long, painstaking effort to get Congress to approve military funding for 
Ukraine.

   "We will let the House work its will," Johnson told reporters.

   But as the House has struggled to act, conflicts around the world have 
escalated. Israel's military chief said Monday that his country will respond to 
Iran's weekend missile strike. And Ukraine's military head warned over the 
weekend that the battlefield situation in the country's east has "significantly 
worsened in recent days," as warming weather has allowed Russian forces to 
launch a fresh offensive.

   "There are precipitating events around the globe that we're all watching 
very carefully and we know the world is watching us to see how we react," 
Johnson said.

   President Joe Biden, hosting Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala at the White 
House, called on the House to take up the Senate funding package immediately. 
"They have to do it now," he said.

   Johnson and Biden spoke Monday, according to a person familiar with the call 
and granted anonymity to discuss it.

   Democrats in the House could be open to helping Johnson pass the aid in 
parts, and may even be agreeable to some of the additional measures being 
discussed by Republicans, such as providing some of the Ukraine economic 
assistance as loans.

   But Johnson would lose the Democratic support he needs if he strays too far 
into Republican-only priorities. Any overhaul to the package also risks 
setbacks in the Senate, where a bulk of Republicans oppose the aid for Ukraine 
and Democrats have become increasingly alarmed at Israel's campaign in Gaza.

   As House members returned to the Capitol Monday evening, Johnson huddled 
with fellow GOP lawmakers to lay out his strategy to gain House approval for 
the funding package. He said he would push to get the package to the House 
floor under a single debate rule that allows for separate votes on aid for 
Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other foreign policy proposals.

   Johnson said those proposals would structure some of the funding for Kyiv as 
loans, allow the U.S. to seize frozen Russian central bank assets and place 
other sanctions on Iran.

   The GOP meeting was filled with lawmakers at odds in their approach to the 
conflict with Russia: Republican defense hawks, including the top lawmakers on 
national security committees, are pitted against populist conservatives who are 
fiercely opposed to continued support for Kyiv's fight.

   As often happens, the meeting turned into a free-for-all of ideas as 
Republicans tried to put their own stamp on the package but rarely found any 
unity. Yet Johnson's plan won over significant Republican support, said Rep. 
Greg Steube, R-Fla., as he left the meeting.

   "I don't like it," he said. "But I'm clearly in the minority."

   Still, Johnson's support for Ukraine aid could further incite the populist 
conservatives who are already angry at his direction as speaker.

   Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is already threatening to oust him as 
speaker. As she entered the closed-door Republican meeting on Monday, she said 
her message to the speaker was simple: "Don't fund Ukraine."

   But Greene did not indicate whether she would move for a quick vote on her 
motion to remove the speaker if the Ukraine aid is approved.

   "I'm thinking it over," she said.

   Another unknown was how Donald Trump, the Republican presidential 
frontrunner who has railed against overseas aid, would respond to the proposal. 
Johnson met with Trump on Friday at his club in Florida.

   "I don't spend my time worrying about motions to vacate," Johnson said 
Monday. "We're having to govern here, and we're going to do our job."

   Democrats had pressured Johnson to simply take up the Senate-passed bill 
that would provide a total of $95 billion for the U.S. allies, as well as 
humanitarian support for civilians in Gaza and Ukraine.

   "The House must rush to Israel's aid as quickly as humanly possible, and the 
only way to do that is passing the Senate's supplemental ASAP," said Senate 
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

   House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries pledged in a letter to lawmakers to 
do "everything in our legislative power to confront aggression" around the 
globe, and he cast the situation as similar to the lead-up to World War II.

   "The gravely serious events of this past weekend in the Middle East and 
Eastern Europe underscore the need for Congress to act immediately," Jeffries 
said. "We must take up the bipartisan and comprehensive national security bill 
passed by the Senate forthwith."

   Democrats have also circulated a last-ditch option, known as a discharge 
petition, that could force a floor vote on the aid without the speaker's 
approval. The petition has gained 195 lawmakers' signatures, leaving it about a 
dozen votes shy of the majority it would need.

   But Republican supporters of the Senate's Ukraine package appeared 
encouraged by Johnson's plan, even though they hadn't yet seen the details.

   South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds said the House proposal could "significantly 
delay" the aid because it is four different measures that would have to be sent 
back to the Senate, and it's unclear whether the Senate could combine them into 
one. Still, he said, "It's OK because we can still respond to it."

   Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday afternoon urged the House 
to take up the Senate bill.

   He said in a floor speech, "We cannot hope to deter conflict without 
demonstrating resolve and investing seriously in American strength."

 
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