Israeli FM: Approval 'sends strong message to our enemies'

House okays $17 billion in military aid for Israel under major spending package

Some billions expected to go Gaza for humanitarian aid; total package of $95 billion in assistance to US allies, including Ukraine and Taiwan, passes after months of wrangling

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after the House voted to approve $95 billion in foreign aid for Israel, Ukraine and other US allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after the House voted to approve $95 billion in foreign aid for Israel, Ukraine and other US allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives on Saturday passed a $95 billion legislative package with broad bipartisan support providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, over bitter objections from Republican hardliners.

This included $17 billion in defense aid to Israel, and some $9 billion providing humanitarian relief to people in Gaza as well as other war-torn regions (the final decision on allocation was up to the White House, with analysts expecting roughly $2 billion would go to Gaza).

The legislation now proceeds to the Democratic-majority Senate, which passed a similar measure more than two months ago. US leaders from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell have been urging embattled Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote.

The Senate is expected to pass the measure next week, sending it to Biden to sign into law.

Of the aid to Israel, some $5.2 billion will go toward replenishing and expanding Israel’s missile and rocket defense system; another $3.5 billion will go to purchasing advanced weapons systems; $1 billion to enhance weapons production; $4.4 billion for other defense supplies and services provided to Israel; and some $2.4 billion to US operations in the region amid the Gaza war.

The bill will also prohibit funds going to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides support to Palestinian refugees.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the House’s approval of aid “sends a strong message to our enemies.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the bill “demonstrates strong bipartisan support for Israel and defends Western civilization. Thank you friends, thank you America!”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also thanked America for its “unwavering support” as Israel “faces threats from 7 different fronts including Iran.”

Biden praised the lawmakers of both parties, saying that “at this critical inflection point, they came together to answer history’s call.”

“This package will deliver critical support to Israel and Ukraine; provide desperately needed humanitarian aid to Gaza, Sudan, Haiti and other locations… and bolster security and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” Biden said in a statement.

While aid for Ukraine failed to win a majority of Republicans, several dozen progressive Democrats voted against the bill aiding Israel as they demanded an end to the offensive on Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel, that has killed thousands of civilians.

In a statement released after the vote, several of the representatives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Joaquin Castro, Pramila Jayapal and 16 others, said: “We believe strongly in Israel’s right to self-defense and have joined colleagues previously in affirming our shared commitment… All of us support strengthening the Iron Dome and other defense systems and we are committed to a sovereign, safe, and secure future for Israel.

But amid the “extraordinary suffering [inflicted] on the people of Gaza… we believe there is a moral imperative to find another path.”

They added: “Most Americans do not want our government to write a blank check to further Prime Minister Netanyahu’s war in Gaza. The United States needs to help Israel find a path to win the peace.”

Congressional action after months of dysfunction

The House pushed swiftly through a series of votes in the rare Saturday session, with Democrats and Republicans joining together after a grueling months-long fight over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s invasion.

Each segment of the aid package faced an up-or-down vote. The first, a national security bill that includes a provision forcing sale of the popular platform TikTok, along with other priorities, was overwhelmingly approved. The next, supporting the Indo-Pacific allies also quickly passed.

The unusual process allowed unique coalitions to form around the bills, pushing them forward.

“The eyes of the world are upon us, and history will judge what we do here and now,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

US President Joe Biden speaks to the National Action Network Convention remotely from the South Court Auditorium of the White House, Friday, April 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The weekend scene presented a striking display of congressional action after months of dysfunction and stalemate fueled by Republicans, who hold the majority but are deeply split over foreign aid, particularly for Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion. Speaker Mike Johnson, putting his job on the line, is relying on Democratic support to ensure the military and humanitarian package is approved, and help flows to the US allies.

The morning opened with a somber and serious debate and an unusual sense of purpose, Republican and Democratic leaders united to urge swift passage that would ensure the United States supports its allies and remains a leader on the world stage. The House’s visitor galleries were crowded with onlookers.

“Sometimes when you are living history, as we are today, you don’t understand the significance of the actions of the votes that we make on this House floor, of the effect that it will have down the road,” said New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This is a historic moment.”

Passage through the House clears away the biggest hurdle to Biden’s funding request, first made in October as Ukraine’s military supplies began to run low. The GOP-controlled House, skeptical of US support for Ukraine, struggled for months over what to do, first demanding that any assistance be tied to policy changes at the US-Mexico border, only to immediately reject a bipartisan Senate offer along those very lines.

Reaching an endgame has been an excruciating lift for Johnson that has tested both his resolve and his support among Republicans, with a small but growing number now openly urging his removal from the speaker’s office. Yet congressional leaders cast the votes as a turning point in history — an urgent sacrifice as US allies are beleaguered by wars and threats from continental Europe to the Middle East to Asia.

“The only thing that has kept terrorists and tyrants at bay is the perception of a strong America, that we would stand strong,” Johnson said this week. “This is a very important message that we are going to send the world.”

Opponents, particularly the hard-right Republicans from Johnson’s majority, argued that the US should focus on the home front, addressing domestic border security and the nation’s rising debt load, and they warned against spending more money, which largely flows to American defense manufacturers, to produce weaponry used overseas.

Still, Congress has seen a stream of world leaders visit in recent months, from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, all but pleading with lawmakers to approve the aid. Globally, the delay left many questioning America’s commitment to its allies.

At stake has also been one of Biden’s top foreign policy priorities — halting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advance in Europe. After engaging in quiet talks with Johnson, the president quickly endorsed Johnson’s plan this week, paving the way for Democrats to give their rare support to clear the procedural hurdles needed for a final vote.

“We have a responsibility, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans to defend democracy wherever it is at risk,” the House Democratic leader, New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, said during the debate.

Pro-Palestinian activists demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024, as the House prepares to vote on approval of $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

At the same time, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has loomed large over the fight, weighing in from afar via social media statements and direct phone calls with lawmakers as he tilts the GOP to a more isolationist stance with his “America First” brand of politics.

Ukraine’s defense once enjoyed robust, bipartisan support in Congress, but as the war enters its third year, a bulk of Republicans oppose further aid. Trump ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia offered an amendment to zero out the money, but it was expected to be rejected.

At one point, Trump’s opposition essentially doomed the bipartisan Senate proposal on border security. This past week, Trump also issued a social media post that questioned why European nations were not giving more money to Ukraine, though he spared Johnson from criticism and said Ukraine’s survival was important.

Still, the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus has derided the legislation as the “America Last” foreign wars package and urged lawmakers to defy Republican leadership and oppose it because the bills do not include border security measures.

Johnson’s hold on the speaker’s gavel has also grown more tenuous in recent days as three Republicans, led by Greene, supported a “motion to vacate” that can lead to a vote on removing the speaker. Egged on by far-right personalities, she is also being joined by a growing number of lawmakers including Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who is urging Johnson to voluntarily step aside, and Paul Gosar of Arizona.

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