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Iran attacks add urgency to stalled congressional aid effort for Israel

Iran’s drone and missile attacks on Israel this weekend added fresh urgency to the long-stalled congressional effort to secure more aid for a U.S. ally, but as the House returns to session on Monday, there is little clarity on what type of aid package Republicans will take up.

Sharp divisions within the Republican Party have kept a Senate-approved, bipartisan $95 billion national security package that includes aid to Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel from being taken up in the House. Although several lawmakers expressed optimism on Sunday that an Israel aid package will quickly pass in Congress, any legislation that is different from that version would have to go back to the Senate for approval. It’s unclear if such a new measure would garner enough support among a fractious House GOP conference, and it would be likely to face opposition in the Senate if passed via partisan margins, as it had before.

On Sunday morning, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) didn’t specify what kind of aid package the House would consider — whether the combined Senate package or a stand-alone Israel bill. He instead simply noted that Republicans are “going to try again this week” to pass some sort of aid package for Israel.

“The details of that package are being put together right now,” Johnson said on “Sunday Morning Futures” on Fox News. “We’re looking at the options and all these supplemental issues.”

House Democrats have said they would quickly help the speaker pass the Senate-approved supplemental package, but Johnson has been unequivocal against the House considering the Senate bill without also addressing border security and adding conditions on how Ukraine is funded — two issues that have greatly divided the GOP conference.

The uncertainty of how to address Ukraine funding — and the threat by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to oust Johnson from the speakership if he holds such a vote — is why Republicans began pushing for a stand-alone Israel bill. On Sunday, Johnson noted that one of his first acts as speaker was to pass an Israel funding bill with “offsets” including cuts to the IRS that a majority of House Republicans supported. Because of this provision, however, the Senate refused to take that bill up.

In a post rife with inflammatory language, Greene said there “should be separate bills.” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) echoed Greene, indicating the trouble Johnson could face if he tries to pass a supplemental package through the House Rules Committee that Massie and two far-right members sit on.

Johnson tried to pass a straightforward Israel bill several months ago under suspension because the far-right members of his party opposed the lack of IRS cuts, but that effort failed to garner enough Democratic support because the bill did not include humanitarian aid. Democrats also did not want to lose leverage by passing an Israel-only bill and to not have another mechanism to secure Ukraine funding.

National security Republicans, who will speak with Johnson late Sunday to brainstorm a path forward, broke with a majority of their colleagues by urging passage of bills aiding foreign allies facing immediate threats.

“I think it will have overwhelming support — both the Ukraine, Israel and Asia packages — not just because of what’s happened with Iran escalating the conflict in the Middle East, but because these are allies that need and deserve our support,” House Intelligence Chairman Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) said.

The House and Senate are in session for one more week before their next scheduled break from Washington, adding urgency to address the matter swiftly. Over the weekend, House Republicans appeared to be aware that time is running short.

In the wake of news of the attack, members of the Republican Study Committee, the largest faction of the five GOP ideological “families,” huddled during a previously scheduled retreat Saturday night to discuss the developments and how they could urgently address the matter. They agreed that the House must act immediately upon arriving back in Washington this week to pass a stand-alone Israel funding bill. That message was relayed to Johnson, who, according to multiple people familiar with the meeting and conversations, was described as being in listening mode as he received feedback from all corners of the conference.

By Saturday evening, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said on X that the House would change its legislative schedule for the week to prioritize considering “legislation that supports our ally Israel and holds Iran and its terrorist proxies accountable,” but added that “details on the legislative items to be considered will be forthcoming.”

And Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he and the chairs of other national security-adjacent committees in the House will meet with Johnson on Sunday evening to draft out a course of action for the week. But his goals for the aid package diverge deeply from some of the hard-line members of the GOP.

McCaul remained adamant that the House must fund Ukraine’s war effort alongside Israel’s.

“What happened in Israel last night happens in Ukraine every night,” McCaul said.

Securing aid to Israel but punting on Ukraine would still mark a victory for Iran, a staunch ally of Russia that has supplied many of the drones Moscow is launching on Ukraine, McCaul said. Moreover, sending aid to Taiwan is imperative to counter China’s encroachment on the nearby democracy. The fight against one is the fight against the other, he argued.

“Would I need to educate my colleagues that they’re all tied together?” McCaul said. “I mean, Iran is selling this stuff to Russia. Guess who’s buying Iran’s energy? China.”

He added that Republicans can’t just say “Iran is bad, but Russia’s okay and China is bad.”

“We can’t do that — they’re all in this together,” he said.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), who has long opposed further aid for Ukraine, argued in a Sunday morning interview with CNN that the United States can’t “possibly support Ukraine and Israel and our own defense needs” in the way Democrats and some House Republicans demand.

“Israel’s a much closer ally, is a much more core American national security interest,” he said. “If we pass the Ukraine and Israel supplemental and send a ton of weapons to Ukraine that the Israelis need, we’re actually weakening Israel in the name of helping them.”

But the $95 billion supplemental bill is not mutually exclusive — it includes funding for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. The measure would provide about $60 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, much of which would come in the form of weapons; about $14 billion for Israel; $9 billion in humanitarian assistance to Gaza; and $5 billion to aid the Indo-Pacific.

President Biden convened a call with the top four leaders of the House and Senate on Sunday afternoon, urging the passage of the supplemental bill “as soon as possible,” the White House said.

House Democrats and senators from both parties have been urging the House take up the Senate proposal since its passage two months ago. Even before Iran’s attack on Israel, House Democrats publicly and a contingency of House Republicans privately have been saying that there is no way Johnson can strike an agreement that appeases a fractious GOP conference on such contentious issues, let alone in one week.

Early Sunday morning, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said that the Senate-approved supplemental package should pass on Monday.

“The world is on fire. We should stand with our Democratic allies and push back against the enemies of freedom,” he posted on X. “The House must pass the bipartisan national security bill. Tomorrow.”

Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who has vowed to continue supporting Ukraine, earning him the moniker “Republican in Name Only” from Trump and other far-right Republicans — has signaled to Johnson that he should ignore the right-wing opposition within his conference and move ahead with the Senate-approval package.

“The national security supplemental that has waited months for action will provide critical resources to Israel and our own military forces in the region. It will provide overdue lethal assistance to Ukraine and equip vulnerable allies and partners in Asia,” McConnell said in a statement Saturday. “The Commander-in-Chief and the Congress must discharge our fundamental duties without delay. The consequences of failure are clear, devastating, and avoidable.”

House Democrats are largely united in their effort to pass the Senate package, launching a discharge petition last month that would override GOP leadership’s unwillingness to consider the legislation by forcing a vote on the measure if 218 lawmakers sign on.

According to multiple Democrats familiar with the discussions, Democratic leadership aims to get at least 200 to sign on since some in the far-left faction will not back it in opposition to funding Israel. Former speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has personally taken the initiative to whip more support, getting four more Democrats — including three liberals — to reach 195 signatures.

Some Republicans have privately said they would sign onto the Democratic petition, as well as a bipartisan one that also includes border security measures, if far-right Republicans block the conference from backing whatever Johnson proposes.

Yet if Johnson moves on the Senate bill and Greene triggers the process to oust him from the speakership, Jeffries said at a Thursday news conference “that there are a reasonable number of Democrats who would not want to see the speaker fall as a result of doing the right thing.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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