GOP Speaker Johnson says House won’t be ‘rushed’ to approve aid for Ukraine as $95B package stalls

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BY LISA MASCARO AND STEPHEN GROVES

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Speaker Mike Johnson said Wednesday the U.S. House will not feel “rushed” to pass the $95.3 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other allies, signaling a further stall over sending military hardware and munitions Kyiv badly needs to fight Russia.

Johnson made the remarks behind closed doors at a morning meeting of House Republicans, who are largely aligned with Donald Trump, the party’s presidential front-runner, in opposing the Senate-passed foreign assistance for Ukraine’s fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

The speaker let colleagues know that the House will instead “work its will,” in considering the package, said a person familiar with the private remarks and granted anonymity to discuss them.

“The Republican-led House will not be jammed or forced into passing a foreign aid bill,” Johnson said at a press conference afterward.

Johnson, who rejected a border security compromise that was eventually stripped from the final product, said the Senate’s package “does nothing” to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, which has been the GOP’s priority.

He said he had requested a meeting with President Joe Biden months ago on these issues, and was still waiting for the opportunity to talk one-on-one.

The White House suggested that Johnson was in no position for productive talks after Republicans demanded that border security be attached to the national security aid and then he rejected the bipartisan package approved by the Senate.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Johnson basically needs to negotiate with himself on what to do, rather than the White House.

“What is there to negotiate?” she said at Wednesday’s news briefing. “What is the one-on-one negotiation about when he’s been presented with exactly what he asked for? So he’s negotiating with himself.”

The slow-walk of U.S. aid to an ally during the largest ground war in Europe since World War II shows how far Republicans have retreated from overseas leadership in line with Trump.

While Johnson has said he personally supports aid for Ukraine, he leads a far-right majority that is more closely aligned with Trump’s isolationist ideology and, increasingly, a hands-off approach to Putin’s aggression.

It’s increasingly clear the new speaker has no clear strategy for what happens next as the aid package that was approved by an overwhelming majority of senators this week falls into serious jeopardy.

Biden has warned that refusal to take up the bill would be “playing into Putin’s hands.”

Separately, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made his own push for Ukraine aid in a virtual session with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, some 50 countries that coordinate military support for Ukraine.

Austin conducted the online meeting from his home, where he is recuperating from complications following prostate cancer surgery.

In Congress, meanwhile, one last ditch effort coming from a number of lawmakers, Democrats and some Republicans, would be to employ an unusual procedure that would force the House to take up the bill for a vote over the objections of the GOP speaker and his leadership.

The so-called discharge petition is a cumbersome, long-shot approach, but it’s one way to leverage the political power of the more centrist Republican lawmakers in a coalition with Democrats to ensure aid to Ukraine and the allies. But it seems unlikely.

Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries would not comment Wednesday on using the discharge petition process to move the foreign aid package, but said he wants the speaker to put the package forward for an “up or down vote.”

“Republicans are either going to stand with America’s national security or continue to stand with Vladimir Putin,” Jeffries told reporters after his own morning meeting with his Democratic caucus.

Central to the $95 billion package has been the aid for Ukraine, a $60 billion allotment that would go largely to U.S. defense entities to manufacture missiles, munitions and other military hardware that is being sent to the battlefields in Ukraine.

It also includes some funds to help the government in Kyiv stay afloat during the war, but not as much as first proposed as Republicans balk at shoring up public services abroad when there are needs in the U.S.

The money for Ukraine, as well as for Israel and Taiwan, is largely military-related and spread in states across the U.S. that are home to domestic manufacturing for what supporters have called the “Arsenal of Democracy” — harkening back to last century’s language for the U.S. role abroad.

Other options for Johnson would be to break the package into various parts knowing, for example, that each section could likely be approved on its own, with various bipartisan coalitions of Republicans and Democrats.

But Johnson has not indicated his preferred approach and lawmakers have said many ideas are on the table.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday said that Biden remains determined to get the supplemental package through Congress.

He reiterated the White House position that failure to act could have huge consequences for U.S. relationships around the globe.

“Our allies are watching this closely. Our adversaries are watching this closely,” Sullivan said. “We know from history that when we don’t stand up to dictators, they keep going.”

__ Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Josh Boak and Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.

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