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Long-delayed Ukraine, Israel aid bill could hit US House floor soon

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LA Post: Long-delayed Ukraine, Israel aid bill could hit US House floor soon
April 15, 2024
Patricia Zengerle - Reuters

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson is expected to decide this week on how he will handle President Joe Biden's long-delayed request for billions of dollars in security assistance for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific.

More than two months after it passed the Senate, the push for the $95 billion aid package, which includes $14 billion for Israel as well as $60 billion for Ukraine, gained new urgency after Iran's weekend missile and drone attack on Israel despite fierce opposition in the deeply divided Congress.

Israel faced growing pressure from allies on Monday to show restraint and avoid an escalation of conflict in the Middle East as it considered how to respond.

Johnson has declined to allow the Republican-controlled House to vote on the measure that the Senate passed with 70% bipartisan support in February.

Backers insist it would receive similar support in the House, but Johnson has given a variety of reasons not to allow a vote, among them the need to focus taxpayer dollars on domestic issues and reluctance to take up a Senate measure without more information.

Johnson also faces a threat from a hard-right Republicans to oust him as speaker if he allows the Ukraine aid to move ahead. Many on the right, especially those closely allied with former President Donald Trump, who has been skeptical of assisting Kyiv in its fight against Russia, fiercely oppose sending billions more dollars to Ukraine.

The House has not approved any of Biden's requests for emergency aid for Ukraine since before Republicans took control of the chamber in January 2023.

The issue is closely watched by industries, such as U.S. defense contractors who could be in line for huge contracts to supply equipment for Ukraine and other U.S. partners. Aid supporters stress that approving the Ukraine bill would create many American jobs.

ISRAEL-ALONE BILL?

Johnson said on Sunday he would try to pass assistance to Israel this week after the weekend attack by Iran, but did not say whether the legislation would also include assistance for Ukraine and other allies.

Republican House aides said on Monday Johnson had not yet indicated his plans for security assistance, after discussing it with national security committee leaders late on Sunday and planning more talks with members on Monday.

The White House has been pushing Johnson to allow a vote. And Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the top House Democrat, sent a letter to his caucus on Monday spelling out the need to support Ukraine as well as Israel.

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

Ukraine appealed again to allies on Monday for "extraordinary and bold steps" to supply air defenses to help defend against waves of Russian airstrikes that have targeted its energy system in recent weeks.

But underscoring the deep party divide in Washington, a letter released on Monday urging an immediate vote on the Senate bill was signed by 90 House Democrats and just one Republican.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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