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Unraveling Diplomatic Threads: Mike Johnson's Bold Move to Diverge Israel and Ukraine Aid 2024-05-21 04:00:44

Washington—In a strategic move fraught with political implications, House Speaker Mike Johnson unveiled a bold proposal on Monday aimed at addressing wartime aid for both Israel and Ukraine, a maneuver designed to navigate the turbulent waters of a potential right-wing revolt threatening his leadership. The Louisiana Republican outlined his plan to introduce four distinct bills on the House floor, distinctly segregating aid allocations for Israel from those earmarked for Ukraine, a divisive issue stirring dissent within his own party ranks.

Johnson's proposed legislative agenda encompasses separate bills catering to the aid requirements of Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, and other foreign policy imperatives championed by Republicans. "We won't be voting on the Senate supplemental in its current form, but we will vote on each of these measures separately in four different pieces," Johnson asserted during a press briefing following discussions with House Republicans.

Anticipating the bills' imminent release, Johnson committed to upholding a 72-hour rule, affording lawmakers adequate time for scrutiny and potential amendments before proceeding to a vote. Pending clearance from the House Rules Committee, voting on the measures could transpire as early as Friday. While deliberations persist regarding the amalgamation of the individual bills into a consolidated package for Senate consideration, Johnson expressed a preference for their individual transmission.

Despite mounting pressure from bipartisan defense hawks, Johnson remained steadfast in his reluctance to advance a $95 billion aid package encompassing Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, a measure previously endorsed by the Senate in February. Negotiating a path forward has proven arduous for Johnson amidst internal discord within both Republican and Democratic factions concerning emergency aid disbursement to Ukraine and Israel.

The recent escalation in tensions following Iran's drone and missile attack on Israel, in retaliation for an earlier strike on an Iranian consulate in Syria, intensified the urgency for Johnson to schedule a vote on the Senate bill. While proponents of the Senate legislation remain optimistic about its prospects in the House, the decision to prioritize Ukraine aid risks imperiling Johnson's six-month tenure as speaker, characterized by pervasive GOP discord precipitating legislative gridlock.

Johnson's precarious hold on the speakership, necessitated by the House Republicans' slender majority, has compelled him to forge tenuous alliances with Democrats to shepherd pivotal legislation—a dynamic viewed unfavorably by certain conservative factions. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a vocal critic of Johnson's leadership, issued veiled threats of initiating a vote to oust him should he proceed with the Ukraine aid package. Greene denounced the proposal as "another wrong direction" for Johnson, though her definitive stance on a potential leadership challenge remains undisclosed.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia stood resolute in her opposition to the proposed plan following Monday's conference meeting, denouncing it as a "scam" in unequivocal terms. When pressed about his prospects amidst mounting dissent, Speaker Johnson remained undeterred, emphasizing his focus on governance and expressing uncertainty about the outcome of potential motions to remove him. In contrast, Representative Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, leader of the Republican Study Committee, offered his endorsement of Johnson's strategy, affirming that it aligned with the party's interests.

Earlier in the day, the conservative House Freedom Caucus, while supportive of aid to Israel, cautioned Johnson against exploiting the Israeli emergency to expedite Ukraine aid without fiscal offsets or border security assurances. While the decision to compartmentalize aid into separate bills may assuage conservative concerns, it introduces uncertainty regarding passage in the Senate, a sentiment echoed by the White House, which expressed opposition to a standalone Israel bill.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri responded with astonishment upon learning of Johnson's proposal, remarking on its complexity. Meanwhile, progressive voices within the Democratic Party voiced opposition to increased aid for Israel, citing concerns over its conduct during the Gaza conflict, particularly in light of a recent strike that claimed the lives of seven aid workers.

Despite deferring consideration of Ukraine aid, Johnson has advanced discussions on Israel aid, with previous attempts in the House to allocate $14.3 billion in funding for Israel met with opposition due to proposed cuts to the IRS budget. Efforts to circumvent Johnson's leadership and force votes on foreign aid have been met with mixed success, including House Democrats' unsuccessful discharge petition aimed at the Senate bill and a bipartisan initiative for a smaller foreign aid bill garnering limited support.

Scott MacFarlane and Alejandro Alvarez contributed to the reporting, with Caitlin Yilek providing insights as a politics reporter at cbsnews.com, based in Washington, D.C., and drawing from her extensive experience in political journalism with organizations like the Washington Examiner and The Hill. Yilek was also a participant in the 2022 Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowship with the National Press Foundation.

In the complex landscape of congressional deliberations over foreign aid, Speaker Johnson's proposal emerges as a focal point of contention, drawing both support and criticism from within the Republican ranks and beyond. As the debate unfolds, the path forward remains uncertain, with divergent perspectives reflecting broader ideological divides within the legislature. Against this backdrop, the fate of Johnson's leadership and the trajectory of U.S. foreign assistance policies hang in the balance, awaiting the resolution of intricate political maneuvering and the outcome of impending legislative battles.

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