House Speaker Mike Johnson spells out bad news for Senate's foreign military aid bill
Washington DC - House Speaker Mike Johnson indicated Monday that his Republican-led chamber would not take up a bill to provide billions in new military assistance for Ukraine and Israel, despite its likely passage in the Senate with bipartisan backing.
The $95 billion package includes funding for Israel's brutal assault on Gaza and for key strategic ally Taiwan, but the lion's share – $60 billion – would help Ukraine restock depleted ammunition supplies, weapons, and other crucial needs as it enters a third year of war with Russia.
The bill, which could see a final Senate vote in the early hours Tuesday morning, does not include changes to US immigration policy. It does, however, ban any US funding of UNRWA, the UN refugee agency vital in providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians who are being bombed and starved in Gaza.
A previous Senate text that encompassed both draconian border measures and foreign aid was killed by members of Johnson's own party in the upper chamber, after he similarly vowed to kill it in the House over concerns it did not sufficiently address migration.
"House Republicans were crystal clear from the very beginning of discussions that any so-called national security supplemental legislation must recognize that national security begins at our own border," Johnson said in a statement.
He had previously promised that the Senate's first bill – which included some of the most ruthless attacks on immigration in decades but still did not go far enough for Republicans – would be "dead on arrival" in his chamber.
Johnson says House will go it alone
The rhetoric matched that of former President Donald Trump, who forcefully called for the bill to be rejected as he runs for office again and seeks to deny Joe Biden anything that could be perceived as a win. Despite months of bipartisan negotiations over the bill, Senate Republicans ultimately voted to block it from proceeding.
Another bill excluding the immigration provisions however gained enough support from Republicans to move forward in the Democratic-controlled Senate, making it almost certain it will pass a final simple-majority vote around midweek.
"The Senate did the right thing last week by rejecting the Ukraine-Taiwan-Gaza-Israel-immigration legislation due to its insufficient border provisions, and it should have gone back to the drawing board to amend the current bill to include real border security provisions," Johnson said.
"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," he added.
Mixed messaging from Republicans
The Republican logjam over the bill comes amid both disunity within the party and an apparent desire among some to keep the border an open issue leading into the election.
Johnson's opposition to the Ukraine funding bill also places him out of step with the top Republican in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Before voting Sunday to move forward with the $95 billion package, McConnell urged his colleagues to reject the isolationist approach of Trump – without naming him – and his right-wing allies in the House, and to think about the message it would send if the US failed to support Ukraine and other allies.
"Our allies and partners are hoping that the indispensable nation – the leader of the free world – has the resolve to continue. And our adversaries are hoping for something quite different," he said.
UPDATE, February 13, 7:30 AM ET: Senate approves funding deal
The Senate approved the $95-billion deal in an early-morning vote on Tuesday, by 70 votes to 29.
Its future remains, however, uncertain.
Cover photo: REUTERS