US House Republican infighting threatens to further delay Ukraine aid package

US House Republican infighting threatens to further delay Ukraine aid package
US House Republican infighting threatens to further delay Ukraine aid package

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) walks to the House Chamber, ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's State of The Union Address on Capitol Hill in Washington March 7, 2024. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, April 5 — Infighting among Republicans who control the US House of Representatives, and a threat to oust Speaker Mike Johnson from his leadership role, have put him under pressure to further delay action on a long-sought aid bill for Ukraine, Israel and other key allies.

With Kyiv running short of munitions as it fights off a Russian invasion, its Republican allies in Washington hope to see Johnson unveil an aid package that can move swiftly through the House and the Democratic-led Senate, and onto Democratic President Joe Biden’s desk soon after lawmakers reconvene on Tuesday following a two-week break.

But hardline Republicans are demanding border security provisions and spending cuts to offset aid to US allies. And they want Johnson to hold off until he has legislation that can win support from most of his narrow 218-213 majority.

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Republican firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene — a staunch ally of Republican presidential candidate Donald who passionately opposes Ukraine aid — has also turned up the rhetorical heat over her threat to force a vote to vacate Johnson’s position as speaker in a series of media interviews and social media posts this week.

“Mike Johnson is not working for Republicans, he’s not helping Republicans, he’s not even listening to Republicans. Mike Johnson is doing the Deep State’s dirty work,” Greene said on X. “We need a new Speaker of the House!”

She told multiple US media outlets that she expected to speak to Johnson privately on Friday.

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“I respect Marjorie ... We do have honest differences on strategy sometimes but share the same conservative beliefs,” Johnson said in a statement provided to Reuters. “In spite of our Republican majority of just a single seat in just one chamber of Congress, we are still fighting this administration every day to make policy changes.”

Almost two months have passed since the Senate approved a US$95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other allies in a bipartisan 70-29 vote. Johnson has so far refused to bring that bill up for a vote, which some lawmakers have said would likely secure enough votes to pass despite opposition by some hardline Republicans as well as growing Democratic concern about providing more money to Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Some warn it could take months to build a consensus in order to reach a deal that would win the support of a majority of Johnson’s Republicans.

“This could be delayed,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, a former senior House aide, adding he would not be surprised if the negotiations dragged on to early July.

Congress is expected to have few productive weeks left before lawmakers turn most of their attention to campaigning for the November 5 elections, when control of the House, Senate and White House are up for grabs.

And they have other priorities, including providing funds to rebuild the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge over Baltimore Harbour and renewing authority for one of America’s most hotly debated domestic surveillance programmes.

The White House believes these spending measures separately have large, bipartisan support, but is aware that Johnson also has to satisfy hardline members of his caucus, according to two officials familiar with conversations, who were granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Democrats to Johnson’s rescue?

A number of Democrats have suggested they could reject a motion to oust Johnson, if the Ukraine aid package provides adequate relief for the war-torn nation. House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries has toyed with the idea publicly.

Johnson told Fox News this week that the House will move forward on a new package “when we return after this work period” and that he expects to include aid in the form of a loan, provisions to allow the seizure of Russian assets and a resumption of US liquefied natural gas exports.

There is little evidence of support for Greene’s ouster threat among Republicans, including the hardline House Freedom Caucus, whose members helped oust Johnson’s predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, in October.

“I haven’t heard anyone verbalise support for that action,” House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good said. “I think Ms. Greene is operating in isolation.”

But others warned that things could change quickly if Johnson brings a bill to the floor that prohibits amendments and draws more support from Democrats than Republicans — following the pattern of two bills last month that averted government shutdowns.

“It depends on when it happens and what happens on Ukraine,” said hardline Representative Ralph Norman, who added that he does not support Johnson’s ouster.

“Ukraine is a lightning rod ... for the speakership of Mike Johnson,” Norman said.

The House took up a small US$300 million Ukraine aid bill under McCarthy in September and passed it by a vote of 311-117, with support from 210 Democrats and only 101 Republicans. Most of Johnson’s conference — 117 members — opposed the measure.

Representative Don Bacon, a retired US Air Force general, said he believes his fellow Republicans’ support for quick action on Ukraine aid has grown in recent weeks as Kyiv’s position has worsened in the absence of new American assistance.

“I don’t think we have weeks,” said Bacon. “We want to be on the right side of history on this.” — Reuters

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