Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

House leaves for a two-week break — without addressing Ukraine aid

By 37ci3 Mar23,2024

WASHINGTON – After the vote a government shutdown On Friday, the House left town for a two-week Easter break without passing critical military aid Ukraine as a war-torn nation dangerously low in ammo in the fight against Russian occupation.

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said he wants to finish defunding the government before turning his attention to foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, three U.S. allies. And he rejected calls from other leaders A $95 billion aid package passed the Senate He said he was preparing his own Ukraine package on the floor of the House of Representatives.

But this means that the lower house will not resolve the financial issue for Kyiv until mid-April – at the earliest. Johnson gave few hints about how he might build an additional aid package, though he said it was a priority.

“There are a number of ways we’re looking at solving this,” Johnson told reporters this week, adding that US government funding should come first. “And now that we’ve done that, we’re going to focus on it and not be late.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that his country cannot tolerate more delays. He told congressional leaders that Ukraine can do this without additional US assistance He lost his two-year war against Russia. US officials on Friday condemned Russia’s “brutal” attack on Ukrainian cities and civilian targets overnight, describing it as “the largest series of airstrikes by Russia on Ukraine’s energy grid since the start of this war.”

For months, the debate over whether to send new aid to Ukraine has vexed the divided government in Washington. President Joe Biden, along with two Senate leaders – Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y. and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. – has been Pressures Johnson To quickly pass the bill in the Senate, which provides for 60 billion dollars for Ukraine.

But Johnson, who had been on the job for five months, had to look into the matter carefully. Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee this fall, criticized the Senate package and a far-right Trump ally, Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., threatened for to force a vote ousting the speaker, warning that linking border security with Ukraine funding was his “red line.” On Friday, Greene made a so-called appeal motion to vacate as he opposes the government’s spending package, giving him an opportunity to force an early vote next month if he disapproves of Johnson’s Ukraine strategy.

Other House conservatives urged Congress to secure the southern border before sending more aid to Ukraine, while rejecting a bipartisan deal from senators that included provisions aimed at strengthening border security.

“If I was calling the shots, I’d say we’re going to secure the border; we’re not going to make another dollar for Ukraine,” said GOP Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, which represents a border state. From Texas.

A number of options

U.S. officials believed that by the end of March, the Ukrainian military could face catastrophic shortages of supplies and ammunition. That was the reinforced message to lawmakers attending the Munich Security Conference and visiting Ukraine last month.

However, so is Johnson keeps his cards close to his vest. He did not specify whether aid to Ukraine would be a stand-alone bill separate from aid to Israel and Taiwan, or whether it would be added to the border security provisions demanded by his right wing.

An official briefed on Johnson’s thinking told NBC News that the speaker has instructed task forces to use the two-week recess to hammer out multiple options for a foreign aid package raised by multiple members. There are many ideas on the table; some are more popular than others at the conference.

Johnson said he was open to the idea of ​​non-military aid to Ukraine first floated by Trump. loan to be repaid. Another idea on Johnson’s radar is a bill by Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, that would seize the assets of Russian oligarchs and use the proceeds to pay for the Ukrainian war effort, the REPO Act. The Democratic-led Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a version of the bill, but top Democrats are hesitant to move it as a stand-alone measure until the House begins to tackle foreign funding.

Other options include additional sanctions against Russia, forcing the Biden administration to reverse course export of liquefied natural gas and border protection provisions.

Like Johnson, who oversees the floor plan, Louisiana Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise said, “There are a lot of ideas being talked about” and nothing settled. “We are first looking at what we can do to address border security, and then helping our friends around the world.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave assurances this week six more years in power after he claimed to have won an election with no real opposition. House Democrats, who joined bipartisan Senate leaders in urging Johnson to bring up the Senate-passed bill, blasted GOP leaders for dropping the Ukraine issue after a long hiatus. Rep. Greg Meeks of New York, the top Democrat on the foreign affairs panel and its former chairman, said the GOP-led House was in dereliction of duty when it went home for spring break without helping an ally.

“Ukraine is close to being completely disarmed. … They choose now to give up territory because they don’t have enough ammunition to fight, and then they decide to go somewhere else to use and keep what they have,” Meeks said in an interview on the floor of the House of Representatives.

If Congress funds Ukraine and “we continue to do so, Putin’s aggression will stop,” Meeks said. “If we don’t do it, Putin’s aggression will continue not only in Ukraine, but also in other parts of Europe.”

Johnson listens

Due to the impasse on the ground and the House dragging its feet, the White House had to act unilaterally. Pentagon rushed $300 million for lethal aid after finding cost savings in contracts earlier this month. But without additional resources from the agency that oversees the nation’s checkbook, U.S. military readiness could deteriorate, senior Defense Department officials have warned.

A source close to the speaker said Johnson has been briefed in a safe environment and understands that the situation in Ukraine is important and timely, but does not rise to the level of an imminent military collapse. The source added that he also accepts that most of the money allocated to finance the Ukrainian military will be used to increase US reserves.

Some top Democrats, desperate to unlock aid, have said they will consider eleventh-hour ideas floated by House Republicans, but most prefer the lower house to table the Senate-passed package, saying most of them will pass.

Even those who said the proposals might be worth discussing, including Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar of California, concluded it was a “bad idea.” And it’s not even clear that a credit-based approach to non-lethal aid to Ukraine can be applied, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said, “The only viable way forward is for House Republicans to take up the bipartisan and comprehensive national security bill sent by the Senate a few weeks ago and put it on the House floor for an up-or-down vote,” DN.Y. , said Thursday. “Republicans must stop knee-jerk reaction to the growing and rising pro-Putin faction in their party. … The Senate bill is bipartisan, it’s comprehensive, and it’s the only viable way forward.”

It’s not just Democrats who have informed Johnson of the urgent need for a Senate-passed bill. On Wednesday, McConnell repeated his calls for Johnson to drop the package.

“I’ve said over and over again that we’re running out of time and the best way to get the help Ukraine needs is for the House to pass the Senate bill. The problem with changing it, as you all know, is that it can take three days to do the simplest thing here in the Senate. We don’t have time,” McConnell said at his weekly leadership press conference.

“So I continue to advocate for the speaker to put the bill on the floor and let the people vote,” he said.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are circulating a discharge petition to defeat the Senate-passed bill, bypassing Johnson and GOP leaders. The petition requires 218 signatures, which a handful of Republicans need to get on the ballot; Democrats have a total of 188 signatures. Separately, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Jared Golden, D-Maine, are collecting signatures. own bipartisan dismissal petition It would fund Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, while also including some border protection provisions. So far, he has only 16 followers.

On Thursday, Rep. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., signed both impeachment petitions Friday, one of his last acts before resigning from Congress. His signature will remain on the petitions until his seat is filled.

Rep. Don Bacon, a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Ukraine bill, said McCaul is working closely with GOP leadership to change the legislation to make it more palatable.

“I ask that you make sure it is bipartisan and bicameral,” Bacon said.

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