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US House of Representatives to vote on Israel aid, despite objections

April 18, 2024 at 12:51 pm

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson does an interview at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on April 17, 2024 [Kent Nishimura/Getty Images]

The US House of Representatives will have its long-awaited vote on aid for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific as soon as Saturday, Republican Speaker Mike Johnson said on Wednesday, Reuters has reported. This paves the way for its possible passage despite fierce objections from the right wing.

The House Appropriations Committee unveiled legislation providing more than $95 billion in security assistance, including $60.84bn to address the conflict in Ukraine, of which $23.2bn would be used to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities.

The Israel bill totals $26.38bn, some of which will cover the cost of US military operations responding to recent attacks. Moreover, $9.1bn of the total is designated for humanitarian needs, something that Democratic representatives had demanded, although it bans any funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

The Indo-Pacific measure totals $8.12bn.

The security aid effort gained urgency following Iran’s weekend attack on Israel in retaliation for Israel’s deadly air strike on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus on 1 April.

Johnson said that he would give House members 72 hours — until midday Saturday — to review the bill and offer amendments before a vote on final passage. He also said that he would release a separate border security bill, meeting a demand from conservatives.

Democratic President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass the bills quickly. “I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed,” he said.

The three bills are similar to a $95bn foreign assistance package that the Senate passed in February with strong 70 per cent bipartisan support. However, Johnson declined to move ahead until this week, amid objections from hard-right lawmakers, some of whom threatened to try to oust him as speaker.

The Ukraine measure includes a provision that economic assistance to Kyiv — not military — should be repaid, which was a conservative demand. However, the Biden administration could waive that requirement.

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Late on Wednesday, House leaders introduced a fourth national security bill as part of the package. It includes several provisions not part of the Senate bill, including provisions to allow the transfer of frozen Russian assets to Ukraine and sanctions targeting Hamas and Iran.

The measure also would prevent app story availability or web hosting services in the US for applications controlled by China’s ByteDance, including TikTok, unless the applications sever ties to ByteDance or other entities “subject to the control of a foreign adversary.”

Democratic support for Johnson’s plan will be essential, given the slim Republican majority in the House and opposition from far-right Republicans. The plan got an important boost from Representative Rosa DeLauro, the top House Appropriations Democrat. “We finally have a path forward to provide support for our allies and desperately needed humanitarian aid,” she said.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Democrats would discuss the bills and decide. “We want to have that conversation, as a caucus, as a family, as a team,” he told reporters.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said that he would review the legislation before deciding how to respond. At least two House members had threatened to try to oust Johnson if he went ahead.

Aid to Ukraine is opposed strongly by many of the most conservative lawmakers, especially those allied with former President Donald Trump, who has been a Ukraine aid sceptic and hopes to win back the White House in November.

Hard-line Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, reiterated her threat to try to remove Johnson. “Joe Biden just announced he supports the House bill Johnson is forcing forward,” Greene said on X. “Johnson is not our Speaker, he is theirs. The question is how much longer will our conference tolerate this?”

Johnson said he would not let the threat influence him, saying it was critically important to support Ukraine. “I could make a selfish decision… but I’m doing here what I believe to be the right thing,” he told reporters.

There are also objections on the left, amid concern about sending money to Israel as it continues with its military offensive started after the 7 October cross-border incursion by Hamas, and calls for tighter controls on US weapons and taxpayer dollars, given the devastating toll on civilians of Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

Johnson also introduced a separate border security bill. Immigration is a top concern for conservatives ahead of the 5 November elections that will decide control of the White House and Congress. Some Republicans have insisted that they would not back foreign aid without more funding for security at the frontier with Mexico.

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