ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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US House speaker rips Ukraine, Israel aid package as senators forge ahead on bill

Senate leaders, trying to support US allies, look to vote on $95 million plan despite opposition from Republicans who say it’s lacking on border security; House future uncertain

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., stands outside his office during a meeting with the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Amir Ohana, at the Capitol in Washington, February 6, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., stands outside his office during a meeting with the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Amir Ohana, at the Capitol in Washington, February 6, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Mike Johnson sharply criticized a $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other countries late Monday, casting serious doubts about the future of the package just as Senate leaders were slowly muscling it toward a final vote.

Senate leaders, trying to send a message that the US remains committed to its allies, were looking to overcome marathon speeches from a determined group of Republican senators and hold a vote to pass the bill in the early morning hours Tuesday.

But Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, said in a statement the package lacked border security provisions, calling it “silent on the most pressing issue facing our country.”

It was the latest — and potentially most consequential — sign of opposition to the aid from House conservatives who have for months demanded that border security policy be included in the package, only to last week reject a bipartisan proposal intended to curb the number of illegal crossings at the US-Mexico border.

“Now, in the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters,” Johnson said. “America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo.”

The mounting opposition was a fresh example of how the Republican Party’s stance on foreign affairs is being transformed under the influence of Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee.

Even if the package passes the Senate, as is expected, it faces an uncertain future in the House, where Republicans are more firmly aligned with Trump and deeply skeptical of continuing to aid Ukraine in its war against Russia. The bill includes border security provisions and aid to Israel, both of which are largely supported by Republicans, in hopes of overcoming opposition to funds for Kyiv.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and 17 other GOP senators have provided the votes to ensure the foreign aid package stays on track to clear the Senate, but Johnson has shown no sign he will put the package up for a vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., right, arrives as the Senate moves closer to a final vote on an emergency spending package that would provide military aid to Ukraine and Israel, replenish US weapons systems and provide food, water and other humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, at the Capitol in Washington, February 12, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Support for sending military aid to Ukraine has waned among Republicans, but lawmakers have cast the aid as a direct investment in American interests to ensure global stability.

The package would allot roughly $60 billion to Ukraine, and about a third of that would be spent replenishing the US military with the weapons and equipment that are sent to Kyiv.

It would also provide $14 billion for Israel’s war with Hamas, $8 billion for Taiwan and partners in the Indo-Pacific to counter China, and $9.2 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza.

“These are the enormously high stakes of the supplemental package: our security, our values, our democracy,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as he opened the chamber. “It is a down payment for the survival of Western democracy and the survival of American values.”

Schumer worked closely with McConnell for months searching for a way to win favor in the House for tens of billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine. But after the carefully negotiated Senate compromise that included border policy collapsed last week, Republicans have been deeply divided on the legislation.

Sen. J.D. Vance, an Ohio Republican, argued that the US should step back from the conflict and help broker an end to the conflict with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He questioned the wisdom of continuing to fuel Ukraine’s defense when Putin appears committed to continuing the conflict for years.

Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, arrives as the Senate prepares a procedural vote on an emergency spending package that would provide military aid to Ukraine and Israel, replenish US weapons systems and provide food, water and other humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, at the Capitol in Washington, February 11, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“I think it deals with the reality that we’re living in, which is they’re a more powerful country, and it’s their region of the world,” he said.

Vance, along with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and other opponents, spent several hours on the floor railing against the aid and complaining about Senate process. They dug in to delay a final vote.

“Wish us stamina. We fight for you. We stand with America,” Paul posted on social media as he and other senators prepared to occupy the floor as long as they could.

Paul defended his delays, saying “the American people need to know there was opposition to this.”

But bowing to Russia is a prospect some Republicans warned would be a dangerous move that puts Americans at risk. In an unusually raw back-and-forth, GOP senators who support the aid challenged some of the opponents directly on the floor.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis angrily rebutted some of their arguments, noting that the money would only help Ukraine for less than a year and that much of it would go to replenishing US military stocks.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., speaks with reporters as he heads to the chamber during a test vote to begin debate on a border security bill, at the Capitol in Washington, February 7, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“Why am I so focused on this vote?” Tillis said. “Because I don’t want to be on the pages of history that we will regret if we walk away. You will see the alliance that is supporting Ukraine crumble. You will ultimately see China become emboldened. And I am not going to be on that page of history.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., became emotional as he talked about the drudgery of the Senate and spending time away from his family to get little done. “But every so often there are issues that come before us that seem to be the ones that explain why we are here,” he said, his voice cracking.

Moran conceded that the cost of the package was heavy for him, but pointed out that if Putin were to attack a NATO member in Europe, the US would be bound by treaty to become directly involved in the conflict.

Trump, speaking at a rally Saturday, said that he had once told a NATO ally he would encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to members that are “delinquent” in their financial and military commitments to the alliance. The former president has led his party away from the foreign policy doctrines of aggressive American involvement overseas and toward an “America First” isolationism.

Evoking the slogan, Moran said, “I believe in America first, but unfortunately America first means we have to engage in the world.”

Senate supporters of the package have been heartened by the fact that many House Republicans still adamantly want to fund Ukraine’s defense.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, traveled to Kyiv last week with a bipartisan group that included Reps. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, as well as French Hill, R-Ark., Jason Crow, D-Colo. and Zach Nunn, R-Iowa.

From left, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink, Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va. and Rep. French Hill, R-Ark. pose for a photo near St. Michael Monastery in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Vasilisa Stepanenko)

Spanberger said the trip underscored to her how Ukraine is still in a fight for its very existence. As the group traveled through Kyiv in armored vehicles, they witnessed signs of an active war, from sandbagged shelters to burned-out cars and memorials to those killed. During a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the US lawmakers tried to offer assurances the American people still stood with his country.

“He was clear that our continued support is critical to their ability to win the war,” Spanberger said. “It’s critical to their own freedom. And importantly, it’s critical to US national security interests.”

The bipartisan group discussed how rarely used procedures could be used to advance the legislation through the House, even without the speaker’s support. But Spanberger called it a “tragedy” that the legislation could still stall despite a majority of lawmakers standing ready to support it.

“The fact that the only thing standing in the way is one person who does or doesn’t choose to bring it to the floor,” she said. “The procedure standing in the way of defeating Russia — that’s the part that for me is just untenable.”

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