House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Nov. 5 defended the $14 billion Israel aid package that was approved by the House last week amid criticism from the Senate and White House.
Mr. Johnson’s proposal would allocate about $14 billion in aid to Israel, paid for by an equal cut to IRS funding—an offset that’s unpopular, particularly among Democrats.
Last week, in a mostly party-line vote with a handful of defections on both sides, the House agreed in a 226–196 vote to approve Mr. Johnson’s proposal. Two Republicans—Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who object to sending any foreign aid—voted against the bill. On the other side of the aisle, 12 Democrats broke ranks to support the package.
The package figures to face much tougher odds in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said that the chamber won’t take up the measure, which he called “deeply flawed.” Elsewhere, he’s called the proposal “not serious.”
President Joe Biden has vowed that he’ll veto any Congress-passed package that doesn’t also provide funding for Ukraine.
Last week, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby reiterated that position.
“The president would veto an only-Israel bill. I think we’ve made that pretty clear.”
Amid these hurdles, Mr. Johnson defended his legislative proposal in a Nov. 5 interview on “Fox News Sunday” program.
“Democrat and Republican leaders over in the Senate say there’s no way this standalone measure gets anywhere. The White House has said it would veto it anyway,” the show’s host, Shannon Bream, said, noting Mr. Schumer’s comments on the proposal, as well as reports that Mr. Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are divided on the issue.
“So with time of the essence, the urgency here, why waste time on a measure that has almost zero chance of actually aiding the Israeli people?”
Mr. Johnson replied: “It’s really surprising to hear Senator Schumer say that it’s not a serious proposal. It’s exactly what was requested: $14.5 billion.”
He argued that the Senate’s true opposition to the package is that the House was trying to offset the new spending with cuts elsewhere.
“What they don’t like is that in the House, we’re trying to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ resources,” Mr. Johnson said. “We offset that spending, instead of printing new dollars and or borrowing it from another nation. … We want to pay for it. What a concept!
“We’re trying to change how Washington works.”
Ms. Bream also addressed claims from the Congressional Budget Office that the proposal would increase the deficit.
“Only in Washington can you cut funding to pay for a new spending measure and they say that it’s terrible for the deficit,” Mr. Johnson said.
The White House has insisted on Congress linking Israel and Ukraine aid, a move that House Republicans staunchly oppose.
Since taking the gavel, Mr. Johnson—who as a member voted against almost all Ukraine assistance packages—has made it clear that he’s absolutely opposed to putting a dual aid package on the floor, despite President Biden’s threat to veto any standalone aid package.
Instead, Mr. Johnson plans to introduce Israel and Ukraine aid separately.
Republicans, including Mr. Johnson, have proposed a compromise deal that would entail more funding for Ukraine in exchange for provisions and funding to beef up security at the U.S.–Mexico border.
However, this plan also has faced pushback, particularly among Democrats who accuse Republicans of inappropriately using Ukraine to force U.S. border law changes that would likely fail under regular order.
But Mr. Johnson also defended that proposal.
“What this is about is advancing the agenda, and the first priority is the American people,” he said. “Securing our southern border is an essential priority to the American people. So [critics] are not listening to their constituents, [and] I think that’s a tone-deaf response.
“When you couple Ukraine and the border, that makes sense to people because they say if we’re going to protect Ukraine’s border … we have to take care of our own border first. And that’s what we’re saying, [these are] policy changes that are necessary.”
Mr. Johnson also argued that there is “a growing consensus in Congress” among members of both parties about the necessity of improving border security.
“We have to change what is happening. Over 6.3 million illegal crossings since Joe Biden took office—that’s more than the population of my state. We cannot continue this, and everyone knows it. The fentanyl that’s come over the border, human trafficking, the cartels making billions of dollars on our backs—we’re going to stop that.”
Congress will return to Capitol Hill this week with the fate of both assistance packages still very much in the air.
Meanwhile, a government shutdown is possible after Nov. 17 if lawmakers don’t pass appropriations bills or a second stopgap measure.