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House Speaker Mike Johnson says he will push for aid to Israel and Ukraine this week

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House Speaker Mike Johnson says he will push for aid to Israel and Ukraine this week
April 14, 2024
STEPHEN GROVES - AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Mike Johnson said Sunday he will try to advance wartime aid for Israel this week as he attempts the difficult task of winning House approval for a national security package that also includes funding for Ukraine and allies in Asia.

Johnson, R-La., is already under immense political pressure from his fellow GOP lawmakers as he tries to stretch between the Republican Party's divided support for helping Kyiv defend itself from Moscow's invasion. The Republican speaker has sat for two months on a $95 billion supplemental package that would send support to the U.S. allies, as well as provide humanitarian aid for civilians in Ukraine and Gaza and funding to replenish U.S. weapons provided to Taiwan.

The unprecedented attack by Iran on Israel early Sunday further ratcheted up the pressure on Johnson, but also gave him an opportunity to underscore the urgency of approving the funding.

Johnson told Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” that he and Republicans “understand the necessity of standing with Israel" and he would try this week to advance the aid.

“The details of that package are being put together right now,” he said. "We’re looking at the options and all these supplemental issues.”

GOP Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on NBC's “Meet the Press” that Johnson “has made it clear” that he sees a path for funding for Israel, Ukraine and allies in Asia to come to the House floor this week.

The speaker has expressed support for legislation that would structure some of the funding for Kyiv as loans, pave the way for the U.S. to tap frozen Russian central bank assets and include other policy changes. Johnson has pushed for the Biden administration to lift a pause on approvals for Liquefied Natural Gas exports and at times has also demanded policy changes at the U.S. border with Mexico.

But currently, the only package with wide bipartisan support in Congress is the Senate-passed bill that includes roughly $60 billion for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby called on the speaker to put that package “on the floor as soon as possible."

“We didn’t need any reminders in terms of what’s going on in Ukraine,” Kirby said on NBC. “But last night certainly underscores significantly the threat that Israel faces in a very, very tough neighborhood.”

As Johnson searches for a way to advance the funding for Ukraine, he has been in conversations with both the White House and former president Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

With his job under threat, Johnson traveled to Florida on Friday for an event with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club. Trump expressed support for Johnson and said he had a “very good relationship” with him.

“He and I are 100% united on these big agenda items,” Johnson said. “When you talk about aid to Ukraine, he’s introduced the loan-lease concept which is a really important one and I think has a lot of consensus.”

But Trump, with his “America First” agenda, has inspired many Republicans to push for a more isolationist stance. Support for Ukraine has steadily eroded in the roughly two years since the war began, and a cause that once enjoyed wide support has become one of Johnson’s toughest problems.

When he returns to Washington on Monday, Johnson also will be facing a contingent of conservatives already angry with how he has led the House in maintaining much of the status quo both on government spending and more recently, a U.S. government surveillance tool.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a right-wing Republican from Georgia, has called for Johnson's ouster. She departed the Capitol on Friday telling reporters that support for her effort was growing.

While no other Republicans have openly joined Greene, a growing number of hardline conservatives are openly disparaging Johnson and defying his leadership.

Meanwhile, senior GOP lawmakers who support aid to Ukraine are growing frustrated with the months-long wait to bring it to the House floor. Kyiv's troops have been running low on ammunition and Russia is becoming emboldened as it looks to gain ground in a spring and summer offensive. A massive missile and drone attack destroyed one of Ukraine’s largest power plants and damaged others last week.

“Russia is beginning to gain ground. Ukraine is beginning to lose the ability to defend itself,” Turner said. “The United States must step up and provide Ukraine the weapons that they need.”

The divided dynamic has forced Johnson to try to stitch together a package that has some policy wins for Republicans while also keeping Democrats on board. Democrats, however, have repeatedly called on the speaker to put the $95 billion package passed by the Senate in February on the floor.

Although progressive Democrats have resisted supporting the aid to Israel over concerns it would support its campaign into Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians, most House Democrats have gotten behind supporting the Senate package.

“The reason why the Senate bill is the only bill is because of the urgency,” Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said last week. “We pass the Senate bill, it goes straight to the president’s desk and you start getting the aid to Ukraine immediately. That’s the only option.”

Many Democrats also have signaled they would likely be willing to help Johnson defeat an effort to remove him from the speaker's office if he puts the Senate bill on the floor.

“I’m one of those who would save him if we can do Israel, Taiwan, Ukraine and some reasonable border security,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat.

___

Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed.

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