Speaker Johnson unveils plan for Ukraine, Israel at closed-door GOP meeting

Speaker Johnson unveils plan for Ukraine, Israel at closed-door GOP meeting

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has unveiled an outline of his plan to move foreign aid through the House, pitching four separate bills to address aid for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other national security priorities that he says will all get votes before the end of the week.

The strategy sparked an immediate backlash from some conservative lawmakers who have demanded that any additional Ukraine aid be accompanied by tougher security on the U.S.-Mexico border — proposals excluded from Johnson’s legislative blueprint — raising questions about the viability of the Speaker’s plans.

“A lot of conservatives are very upset about how this is going down,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). “He’s literally broken his promise.”

Johnson rolled out his proposal during a closed-door House GOP conference meeting in the Capitol basement on Monday, after months of delaying any decisions on a politically prickly topic that’s splintered his party and threatened his gavel.

The plan is first to move a procedural rule governing all four bills — Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan each get their own, with the fourth focusing on national security priorities. Each proposal would then be voted on separately, in contrast to the Senate’s $95 billion foreign aid legislation that combined the various elements into a single package.

The fourth national security-related bill, according to Johnson, will include a proposal to help pay for Ukraine aid by seizing Russian assets; a plan to provide some of the aid in the form of loans; and new sanctions on Iran in the wake of Tehran’s weekend strikes on Israel.

Another GOP lawmaker said it would also include a TikTok ban and convertible loans for humanitarian relief.

Johnson’s piecemeal strategy offers the unique advantage of allowing lawmakers the opportunity to pick and choose which pieces of the Senate bill they’d like to support and which ones to oppose. To sweeten the deal further, he’s allowing for amendments to be offered on each proposal.

“My phone melted over the weekend, with all the members letting me know all of their ideas,” Johnson told reporters after the closed-door meeting. “There was a consensus that was recognized, in my view, from all the opinions that were shared, and that is that it really was the will of my colleagues to vote on these measures independently and not have them all sandwiched together as the Senate had done.”

Johnson said the text of the bills would be released “sometime early” on Tuesday, and he would adhere to a House rule allowing lawmakers 72 hours to examine the bills before they’re asked to vote on them — a timeline that would keep the House in Washington at least until Friday, which is a day later than is scheduled.

Still, the plan remains very much in flux, and there are plenty of questions swirling around the legislation, including how far the House proposals will stray from the Senate’s top-line spending numbers and whether the four bills would be sent to the upper chamber separately, or recombined and delivered as a single package.

Another key wild card is how Democrats will react to Johnson’s proposal. Democrats in both chambers have been adamant that they want to see the House take up the Senate-passed supplemental, a position House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) re-upped as recently as Monday morning.

Some top Democrats, while still waiting to see the details of the bills, expressed early reservations about Johnson’s strategy, not least because it means additional aid for Ukraine’s beleaguered forces will be delayed while both chambers are in recess next week.

“They haven’t come up with [legislation] yet, and we don’t have time. We don’t. So I’m highly skeptical,” said Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.  “Ukraine’s on life support, and it’s like they’re getting ready to pull the plug here. Not even so much pulling the plug. They’re tripping over the plug. It’s not even necessarily intentional, it’s just not understanding the seriousness of the situation and the importance of the timing.”

The Republican reaction to Johnson’s foreign aid gambit was a mixed bag on Monday, with some hard-line conservatives lauding his decision to detach the priorities into separate bills and including an open amendment process, while also railing on the exclusion of border security.

“I do like the fact that Johnson separated them,” Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) said after departing the closed-door GOP conference meeting, before calling the omission of border security “horrible.”

“The border should be the priority,” he added. “How many times did you hear leadership and other Republicans saying hey, this is the hill we’re gonna die on, right. And now it’s just gone. So I don’t like that.”

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, echoed that sentiment, lauding the separation of the priorities and the plan for an amendment process while criticizing the lack of border security.

“The American people are gonna be very disappointed if we don’t require border security in order to fund Ukraine, because we have basically said we were going to do that for the last six months,” he said.

During Monday’s GOP meeting, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) urged Republican leaders to hold onto the foreign aid bills — even if they pass this week — before sending them to the Senate to pressure Democratic leaders in the upper chamber to adopt the House-passed border reforms that Johnson excluded from the foreign aid debate.

“We should not send over any aid to any other countries until the Senate takes up HR-2,” Gaetz said afterward, referring a GOP border bill passed through the House last year.

Other Republicans joined in the criticism, including Greene, who has threatened to force a vote on ousting Johnson over Ukraine aid.

Speaking to reporters after the conference meeting, Greene said, “I am firmly against the plan as it stands right now,” but did not reveal any details on when — or if — she plans to trigger her resolution to remove Johnson.

“I haven’t decided on that yet,” she said, but argued that Johnson is “definitely not going to be Speaker next Congress if we’re lucky enough to have the majority.”

Asked if he will be Speaker for the rest of this Congress, Greene responded: “That is to be determined, like I said, I’m still processing what I heard in there.”

And some kept their cards close to their chests, not revealing where they stand as they process the proposal and wait to parse through particulars.

“We’ll see,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) told reporters when asked for his thoughts on the plan.

Johnson’s foreign aid plan will face its first test when the House holds a procedural vote to open debate on the bills. Votes on rules — which govern debate for legislation — are typically mundane, party-line proceedings, with the majority party voting in support and the minority party voting in opposition.

But hard-line conservatives throughout this Congress have been tanking rule votes to protest various decisions made by GOP leadership, a possibility as the House prepares to weigh in on the foreign aid legislation.

Crane, who has opposed rules on the floor in the past, told reporters “we’ll see” when asked if he will support the procedural vote, and Good said “I’m gonna wait to see what the rule looks like.”

Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.) said he will not support the rule unless the foreign aid legislation addresses the situation at the southern border and includes H.R. 1, the House GOP’s sprawling energy package that he said could help pay for the foreign assistance.

Updated at 9:58 p.m.

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