Updated April 19th, 2024 at 21:51 IST

Ukraine, Israel Aid Package Clears Key Procedural Vote in US House of Representatives

The Ukraine, Israel aid package that has been stalled in US Congress for months cleared a key procedural vote in the House on Friday with bipartisan support.

US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has struggled to advance the aid package past a growing resistance from his own party. | Image:AP
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Washington: With rare bipartisan momentum, the House pushed ahead Friday on a foreign aid package of $95 billion for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and humanitarian support as a robust coalition of lawmakers helped it clear a procedural hurdle to reach final votes this weekend. Friday’s vote produced a seldom-seen outcome in the typically hyper-partisan House, with Democrats helping Republican Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan advance overwhelmingly 316-94.

Final House approval could come this weekend, when the package would be sent to the Senate.

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It was a victory for the strategy Speaker Mike Johnson set in motion this week after he agonised for two months over the legislation.

Still, Johnson has had to spend the past 24 hours making the rounds on conservative media working to salvage support for the wartime funding, particularly for Ukraine as it faces a critical moment battling Russia, but also for his own job as the restless right flank threatens to oust him over the effort.

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“There's a lot of misinformation about what we're doing here and why,” Johnson told the conservative host of The Mark Levin Show.

“Ukrainians desperately need lethal aid right now. ... We cannot allow Vladimir Putin to roll through another country and take it," he said about the Russian president's invasion of Ukraine. “These are very serious matters with global implications.”

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After months of delay, the House worked slowly but deliberately once Johnson made up his mind this week to plough ahead. President Joe Biden sent a swift endorsement of the speaker's plan and, in a rare moment, Donald Trump, the Republican presumed presidential nominee who opposes most overseas aid for Ukraine, has not derailed the speaker's work.

“The world is watching what the Congress does," the White House said in a statement. "Passing this legislation would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment.”

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Growing Republican pushback and rare support from Democrats 

In an extremely rare step, the members of the House Rules Committee joined forces late Thursday in a near midnight vote, the four Democrats giving their support on a procedural step, to push past the Republican majority's three hardline holdouts to send the package to the House floor for debate on a 9-3 vote. It was a moment unseen in recent House memory.

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Johnson will need to rely on Democrats again Friday to clear the next procedural vote and turn back amendments Republicans have offered that could kill the package. One from hardline Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene would reduce spending for Ukraine to zero.

Greene has filed the “motion to vacate” the speaker from office, and has drawn at least one other Republican, Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky as a co-sponsor. It could launch a bid to evict Johnson from the speaker's office, should she call it up for a vote, much the way Republicans booted Kevin McCarthy from the position last fall.

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With one of the most narrow House majorities in modern times, Johnson can only afford to lose a single vote or two from his Republican ranks to pass any bill. That dynamic has thrust him into the arms of Democrats as he searches for votes to pass the package.

Without his Republican majority fully behind him, Johnson cannot shape the package as the ultra-conservatives demand lest he lose Democratic backing. It has forced him to leave behind tough security measures to clamp down on migrants at the US-Mexico border and other priorities.

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At best, Johnson has been able to carve up a Senate-passed version of the bill into separate parts, as is the preference among House Republicans, and the final votes will be on distinct measures — for Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific allies.

The package would also include a fourth provision that includes many Republican priorities that Democrats endorse, or at least are willing to accept. Those include proposals that allow the US to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organisations that traffic fentanyl, and potentially ban the video app TikTok if its China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake within a year.

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Republicans, even those who supported the process, were severely disappointed it had come to this.

“I'm concerned,” said Representative Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., who voted for the procedural step but, was nevertheless displease with the process. “This is reflective of the controversy in the country: How much aid?”

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Passing each bill, in votes expected Saturday, will require Johnson to form complicated bipartisan coalitions on each, with Democrats for example ensuring Ukraine aid is approved, but some left-leaning progressives refusing to back military aid for Israel over the destruction of Gaza.

The components would then be automatically stitched back together into a single package sent to the Senate where hardliners there are also planning procedural moves to stall final approval.

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Published April 19th, 2024 at 21:51 IST