GOP Infighting Continues as Senate Heads for Aid Vote

GOP Infighting Continues as Senate Heads for Aid Vote

The Senate is set to take up a $95 billion aid plan.
By Yuval Rosenberg
Monday, April 22, 2024

Happy Earth Day and our best wishes for a peaceful Passover to those celebrating the holiday.

The hush money trial of former President Donald Trump got underway today with opening statements and testimony from Devid Pecker, the longtime publisher of The National Enquirer who allegedly worked with Trump to kill negative stories about him. Tomorrow, the Senate is expected to take up the foreign aid plan passed by the House this weekend.

Here’s what you should know.

‘America Will Deliver Yet Again’: Senate Set to Vote on Foreign Aid Plan

After the House on Saturday approved a $95 billion, four-bill bundle of foreign aid legislation, the Senate is set to pass the package this week and deliver assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Saturday that the finish line was in sight. “Today’s vote is a watershed moment for the defense of democracy, and I applaud the House for stepping up. Our allies across the world have been waiting for this moment, and I assure them the Senate is on the path to pass the same bill soon,” he said. “To our friends in Ukraine, to our allies in NATO, to our allies in Israel, and to civilians around the world in need of aid: rest assured America will deliver yet again.”

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to battle each other over the foreign aid plan and the strategy surrounding it. Here’s a look at what it all means.

It's been a long road: President Joe Biden first requested a supplemental national security spending package back in October, just days before Mike Johnson was elected speaker.

Johnson had opposed funding for Ukraine before winning the gavel. After becoming speaker, he said it was important to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from prevailing in Ukraine — but he also resisted calls to move ahead quickly with an emergency spending package that would deliver fresh funding for Kyiv.

“We’re not going to abandon them,” Johnson said of Ukraine in a Fox News interview shortly after becoming speaker, “but we have a responsibility, a stewardship responsibility over the precious treasure of the American people and we have to make sure that the White House is providing the people with some accountability for the dollars.”

Johnson sought to separate the foreign aid for Israel and Ukraine, and he refused to allow a House vote on a bill the Senate passed in February. His approach to the foreign aid and border issues — influenced by former President Trump and pressured by far-right House members — delayed action for months.

Johnson wins praise: Proponents of the foreign aid bills have thanked and praised Johnson for ultimately relenting and bringing legislation to a floor vote.

“I want to thank Speaker Johnson, who has been under enormous pressure,” Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Saturday. “He has said he wants to be on the right side of history. And with this vote today, he absolutely is. He put the interest of the nation above himself. He is truly a profile in courage.”

McCaul had implored his colleagues to ask themselves whether they wanted to be like Neville Chamberlain, remembered by history for trying to appease Hitler, or like Winton Churchill. Johnson ultimately was willing to risk his job to stand up for Ukraine.

“His actions could save thousands of Ukrainian lives, even if Russia’s determination to win a bloody war in which it is targeting civilians shows no sign of fading,” CNN’s Stephen Collinson wrote over the weekend. “The accidental speaker makes an unlikely Churchill, but on Saturday he proved to be a far more daring and substantial figure than many of his Republican and Democratic critics previously believed.

And catches plenty of blame: “Guess what, Mr. Speaker? You don't get an award around here for simply doing your damn job,” Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, said last week.

The House vote on the Ukraine aid was broadly bipartisan, 311-112, though the no votes all came from the GOP and Republican opponents outnumbered Republican supporters, meaning that Democratic votes were needed in large numbers to get the bill through.

Still, the result suggested that the months of delay achieved relatively little, if anything, and may have had a significant cost. “It could have been done long ago, when President Biden requested the aid in October, had Johnson simply ignored the histrionics from pro-Putin House members who take their cues from Donald Trump,” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin writes. “A week … a month … six months ago, the vote to deliver critical aid could have prevented countless Ukrainian deaths.” The damage from months of delay, Rubin adds, also includes losses of territory, battlefield momentum and U.S. credibility.

“These losses to Ukraine and to U.S. national-security interests were entirely avoidable,” she writes.

The speaker defended his strategy: After Saturday’s vote, Johnson defended his course of action. Johnson said the House had a lot of important issues to address, including funding the government, and got to the foreign aid bills as quickly as it could. He also argued that his process gave House members a voice and ensured greater accountability over the aid money than in the Senate plan. He highlighted that the direct funding for Ukraine would be structured as a loan (which can be forgiven by the president) and the legislation allows seized Russian assets to be used to pay for part of the bill.

“I’ve done here what I believe to be the right thing and that is to let the House work its will,” Johnson told reporters after the vote. “I think we did our work here and I think history will judge it well.”

But Republicans failed to win major policy points: With Trump looking to keep the border crisis alive as a campaign issue, Republicans in February scuttled a $118 billion bipartisan deal that included similar foreign aid provisions as well as billions of dollars for stricter border security enforcement. In the end, Congress appears set to pass the aid funding Biden called for without substantively addressing the border problems Republicans had initially insisted must come first.

Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who was the main Senate negotiator on the border bill, acknowledged in an interview with Fox News last week that Trump’s desire to keep immigration as an election issue had swayed Republicans and helped derail the bipartisan deal.

“I get that. That’s a decision everybody makes,” Lankford said. “My issue is if we are pursuing everything, we often end up with nothing. If we are pursuing someone coming later to fix it, later seems to never come. When we have a moment to fix things, we should fix as many things as we can then, then come back later and fix the rest.”

And Biden is getting the best of this GOP-run House: “House Republicans came into the 118th Congress with big plans. They were going to cut taxes and spending, impeach President Joe Biden and members of his Cabinet and use their leverage to force Democrats to accept stringent new border security and immigration policies,” Andrew Desiderio, Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan write at Punchbowl News. Instead, “Biden has gotten pretty much everything he’s asked for from this Congress without having to concede much in return.”

Republicans, meanwhile, are battling each other as viciously as they are going after Biden.

Ukraine reflects a Reagan-vs.-Trump battle in the GOP: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Ohio Sen. JD Vance are the faces of the fight within the Republican Party, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes. McConnell continues to push for the party’s traditional emphasis on U.S. military might and global leadership, Bolton says, while Vance may be the “vanguard of a future Republican Party with ‘America First’ advocates in control.”

To gauge where the GOP is headed, keep an eye on how Republican senators vote on the foreign aid bill this week. As Bolton writes: “Getting a majority of GOP senators to vote for it Tuesday, now that Trump has softened his opposition to Ukraine funding and Iran attacked Israel with a barrage of drones and missiles, would be a major victory for McConnell.”

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