Speaker Searches for Compromise to Speed Ukraine Aid

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on March 20, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg News/TNS) — House Speaker Mike Johnson wants new Ukraine aid approved “right away” but is still grappling to soften opposition, leaving doubts about whether billions of dollars in assistance will reach front lines in time to make a difference.

Multiple members of the House Republican leadership said Monday the odds lawmakers would approve more assistance were no better than 50% and the speaker hasn’t made clear how much of his own political standing he is willing to put on the line.

Still, Johnson’s decision to set a timeline for approval and announce it publicly are the strongest signal yet he will move ahead with an assistance package.

It offered a favorable sign for more U.S. aid as stepped-up Russian missile strikes hit Ukrainian cities and energy infrastructure. On the front lines, delays in supplies of artillery shells from allies — especially the U.S. — have left Ukraine’s forces out-gunned by as much as six to one.

Johnson set expectations for quick action in a Fox News interview Sunday evening, declaring the House would take up Ukraine aid “right away” next week, when lawmakers return from a two-week break.

In the same interview, he indicated the House would attach new conditions to the aid, possibly including providing the assistance as a loan to eventually be repaid, seizing Russian assets as an offset or overturning a Biden administration freeze on new licenses to export liquefied natural gas that is opposed by Republican allies in the energy industry.

The prospects and timing remain uncertain. The speaker hasn’t yet settled on specific provisions he would insist on, the leadership officials said.

Senate Action

The Senate already passed its own Ukraine aid plan in February. If the House passed a new version instead, that would create a potentially lengthy delay, even if the Democratic-controlled Senate agrees.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who has repeatedly urged Johnson to bring up the Senate version for a vote, on Monday called the Ukraine aid “extremely important” and said he planned to focus on fighting growing isolationism particularly in his own party over the next few years.

“The Russians have become like the old Soviet Union,” McConnell said in a local radio interview in Kentucky. “I think this is the most dangerous time for the free world since the Berlin Wall fell down.”

McConnell said arguments of isolationists are easily refuted. “We’re not losing any of our troops,” he said. But if Ukraine falls, “some NATO country will be next and then we will be right in the middle of it.”

He also pointed to funding and jobs in 38 states from the Ukraine supplemental, with much of the funding going to replace weapons stockpiles with newer weapons.

Bipartisan Approach

Johnson aides on Monday wouldn’t address how deeply he has engaged with House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer about a bipartisan approach.

Any Ukraine aid package would need substantial Democratic support to pass the House because large numbers of Republicans oppose assistance.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his pleas for more military help last week in a conversation with Johnson. He said in a posting on social media afterward, “In this situation, quick passage of US aid to Ukraine by Congress is vital.” 

Johnson, however, faces a threat of being ousted from his leadership post over Ukraine aid.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia last month took the first procedural step to remove Johnson as speaker, though she so far hasn’t forced a vote on overthrowing him.

Johnson on Sunday dismissed the overthrow threat as a “distraction.” Yet Greene, in a posting on social media Monday, assailed Johnson’s talk of a bill to provide Ukraine some form of aid.

“If Speaker Johnson gives another $60 billion to the defense of Ukraine’s border after he FULLY FUNDED Biden’s deadly open border, the cruel joke would be on the American people,” Greene wrote.

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