US House moves closer to vote over aid for Ukraine and Israel

The US House of Representatives is expected to vote on sending additional aid to Ukraine and Israel on Saturday evening, in a move that could provide $95bn in critical support to Washington’s allies and end months of congressional inaction.

Mike Johnson, the Republican Speaker of the House and ally of Donald Trump, told fellow party members on Wednesday that he would publish draft legislation on three bills with additional military funding for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine.

President Joe Biden said in a statement on Wednesday he “strongly” supported the package and urged the House and Senate to get behind it. “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.”

House members will have 72 hours to study the legislation, setting the stage for a final vote on all three measures on Saturday evening that will be watched closely by US allies in Europe.

Johnson’s gambit comes at a critical time for Ukraine in its war against Russia, and follows months of lobbying by US allies who have warned that the country’s defences could be overrun by far superior Russian firepower without fresh military aid from Washington.

But the decision to send the legislation to the House floor comes with considerable political risk for Johnson. Rightwing opponents within his party have vowed to eject him as Speaker if he allows a vote on the aid, and Johnson is expected to need Democrats’ support to get the funding passed — and to stay on as Speaker.

Momentum to reintroduce the aid packages picked up after Iran’s weekend attack on Israel, with Biden calling it a “brazen” and “unprecedented” attack on one of the US’s closest allies in the Middle East.

The possible breakthrough on US funding for its allies follows months of inaction in the Republican-controlled House, which has refused to take up a Senate-approved $95bn national security supplemental aid package that included $60bn in funding for Ukraine, as well as billions of dollars for Israel and Taiwan.

US allies in Europe have been alarmed at the deadlock in Congress over more support for Ukraine, where Russian forces have threatened to gain more territory two years after President Vladimir Putin launched the full-scale invasion.

The Russian military has stepped up its bombardment of Ukraine in recent weeks, amid fears that Ukraine’s aerial defences are growing weaker.

Passage of the bill would unlock critical arms and ammunition that could help Ukraine better defend its cities from Russian missiles and drones that have targeted critical infrastructure in recent weeks. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week that the largest power plant in the Kyiv region had been destroyed in a Russian attack because his air defence forces had run out of missiles.

The bill’s approval could also help Ukraine’s beleaguered army halt Russia’s ground offensive and buy Kyiv’s weary troops time to regroup.

Ukraine’s commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrsky said this past Saturday that the situation on the battlefield had “significantly worsened” in recent days, with Russian soldiers overrunning Kyiv’s forces to capture more territory.

And Ukrainian commanders on the front line have told the Financial Times that they were severely outgunned by Russian forces, with their enemy firing five to seven artillery shells for every one of theirs.

While the EU has scrambled to put together stop-gap military funding packages in recent months, European diplomats admit they lack the defence capabilities and manufacturing capacities to replace those of the US.

The frozen funding stream has also spooked some European capitals that fear it is a harbinger for US policy towards Ukraine under a potential Trump presidency, should he win back control of the White House in November’s election.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, said on Wednesday he was “encouraged by indications that the US Congress may take up further aid to Ukraine in the coming days”.

“My message is clear: send more to Ukraine,” he added.

“Ukraine is in urgent need,” said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda on Wednesday. “We have to celebrate the time of delivery of our weaponry, and not the time of decision-making. Because sometimes the time gap between decision-making and implementation is few, or even more, months.”

Johnson’s plan, unveiled on Monday, splits the aid into three separate bills, including a $60.8bn Ukraine aid bill, a $26.4bn measure in support of Israel, and an $8.1bn package to send aid to Taiwan and other countries in the Indo-Pacific intended to deter Chinese aggression.

Johnson has said he would also publish a draft of a fourth bill that would seize Russian assets, impose additional sanctions on Russia, China and Iran, and ban TikTok from US app stores unless its Chinese owner divests ownership of the video-sharing platform. A fifth bill would seek to boost security on the US-Mexico border.

But passage of the bills is not guaranteed, given the Republican party’s small majority in the House.

Johnson’s leadership is on shaky ground after Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, threatened to hold a vote of no confidence in the speaker.

Johnson has vowed to fight on, telling reporters he considered himself a “wartime Speaker”, adding: “I didn’t anticipate this would be an easy path.”

Via

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