House Republicans finally announce vote on $61 bn aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan

AFP , Wednesday 17 Apr 2024

The Republican leader of the US House of Representatives on Wednesday announced a weekend vote on massive new military aid including some $61 billion in long-delayed support for Ukraine, as well as billions for Israel and Taiwan.

House Speaker
US speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on April 16, 2024. AFP


The vote -- set for Saturday -- could finally get much-needed help to outgun Ukraine in its war against Russia, and President Joe Biden swiftly called for Congress to pass it.

If it does, "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," he said in a White House statement.

But the vote also sets up a showdown with House Speaker Mike Johnson's own far-right wing, which for months has been steered by Donald Trump into blocking aid to Kyiv.

Along with the $61 billion for Ukraine, the bills would allocate more than $26 billion for Israel.

That includes $9.2 billion in humanitarian aid for civilian-packed Gaza, which had been a key requirement for Democrats.

The package also provides $8 billion for self-ruled Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory and has vowed to retake -- by force if necessary.

For months Johnson has faced huge pressure from the White House and much of Congress to allow the lower house to vote on aid to Ukraine and Israel that was already approved in the Senate.

Johnson had refused to let that $95 billion package through, as Republicans wrangled over Biden's immigration policies.

Instead, the speaker is pushing this separate package -- which the Pentagon also urged be passed "as quickly as possible," warning it has already seen a "shift" in Ukraine's ability to hold off Russian forces.

It remains unclear if Johnson's aid bills would pass the House or the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The speaker's majority is razor-thin, and he is facing a potential Republican revolt over his complex plan, with right-wing congressman Matt Gaetz denouncing it as "abject surrender" on CNN.

Conservatives have complained over the billions in aid already spent since the fighting began in February 2022.

They also insist the immigration crisis at the US southern border must be tackled first, despite largely rejecting the February package which included some of the tightest border restrictions in years.

Without the near-total backing of his party, Johnson would be left to rely on votes from Democrats to pass the package, with some such as Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut voicing her support.

Investing in America

Johnson announced the vote would be held Saturday shortly after Biden described Ukraine and Israel as two US allies desperate for help.

They both "depend on American assistance, including weaponry, to do it. And this is a pivotal moment," Biden wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Biden argued in the Journal that the aid is needed to help Ukraine, which is running out of ammunition, and Israel in the wake of last weekend's mass Iranian drone attack.

But he said the assistance is just as important for US security.

"Mr Putin wants to subjugate the people of Ukraine and absorb their nation into a new Russian empire. The government of Iran wants to destroy Israel forever -- wiping the world's only Jewish state off the map," Biden wrote.

"America must never accept either outcome -- not only because we stand up for our friends, but because our security is on the line, too."

Biden said the money would not be "blank checks."

The weaponry for Ukraine would be built in US factories, he said, writing: "We'd help our friends while helping ourselves."

He also sought to allay concerns within his own Democratic Party, where growing numbers of members oppose arming Israel's war on Gaza.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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