House passes contentious Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan aid package

House passes contentious Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan aid package

The House on Saturday passed military aid bills for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, more than six months after President Joe Biden initially submitted his massive foreign aid request to arm all three security partners.

The roughly $95 billion package includes $48 billion in Ukraine security aid, which passed 311-112 as some Democrats cheered and chanted “Slava Ukraini” while waving Ukrainian flags – prompting Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., to tell them to “put those damn flags away.” The exchange prompted Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., to chide both the flag-wavers and Luna for violating House decorum.

The package includes another $14 billion in Israel military assistance – passed 366-58 – and $4 billion in weapons funding for Taiwan and other Indo-Pacific allies passed 385-34. It also includes economic and humanitarian aid as well as a fourth bill – passed 360-58 – that contains Iran sanctions, Russian asset seizures to rebuild Ukraine and a provision that could potentially result in a ban on the popular social media app TikTok.

“China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are working together in a new axis of evil to harm our alliances and undermine our national security,” House Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said on the floor ahead of the vote, invoking former President George W. Bush’s 2002 reference to Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., also labeled China, Russia and Iran as an “axis of evil” earlier this week after reversing course on Ukraine aid.

“We’re in dangerous times,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday after deciding to advance the whole package. “I regard myself as a wartime speaker, in a literal sense.”

Johnson – who voted against previous aid packages for Kyiv – had resisted holding a Ukraine vote for months. He failed to pass a stand-alone Israel aid bill in February after the White House threatened to veto it given the lack of support for Kyiv. The speaker reversed course following Iran’s missile and drone attack on Israel last week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told senators to remain in town through the next several days to consider the package.

The Senate already passed similar legislation 70-29 in February. But increased Republican resistance to Ukraine aid from former President Donald Trump and others, as well as growing skepticism to unconditional Israel assistance from some Democrats, prompted Johnson to split the package up into multiple votes.

Nonetheless, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., have threatened to force a vote ousting Johnson from the speakership over the Ukraine aid bill when the House returns from recess later this month.

A band of right-wing Republicans successfully ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., with a similar move last year, plunging the House into weeks of chaos as the party struggled to select a new leader. But some Democrats have said they would be willing to help save Johnson’s speakership following his decision to advance Ukraine aid.

The White House has said Biden will ultimately sign the House package, stating “This funding would ensure that critically needed U.S. weapons and equipment continue to follow to the battlefield as the Ukrainian people defend their sovereignty against Russian aggression, while continuing to strengthen and modernize our defense industrial base here at home.”

Ukraine has received a cumulative $113 billion in economic and security aid since Russia’s 2022 invasion, while Israel receives an annual $3.8 billion in military assistance and the fiscal 2024 government funding bill provided Taiwan with $300 million in Foreign Military Financing.

The House voted down several amendments that would have curtailed or outright abolished Ukraine aid funding, including from Greene as well as Reps. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., and Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., a Ukrainian-American lawmaker.

At the same time, the House by voice vote passed a symbolic amendment from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., encouraging the State Department to allocate $500 million in Foreign Military Financing to the Philippines. The Taiwan aid bill provides a total of $2 billion in Foreign Military Financing for Indo-Pacific allies and partners.

The House passed another amendment from Rep. Carlos Giménez, R-Fla., by voice vote requiring the Pentagon’s annual China military power report to assess Beijing’s investments in emerging technology.

The package also includes $3.3 billion in submarine industrial base funding as the Columbia and Virginia class programs remain behind schedule. Additionally, it provides $2.4 billion for U.S. Central Command to support its operations in the Middle East and another $542 million for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

Although the House’s aid package is similar to the Senate’s previous bill, it makes some minor adjustments. For instance, it adds a provision directing Biden to transfer long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems to Ukraine – a longstanding request from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

CIA Director Bill Burns said Thursday that Ukraine could likely hold its ground if Congress passes another aid package for Kyiv but warned “the picture is a lot more dire” without one.

“There is a very real risk that the Ukrainians could lose on the battlefield by the end of 2024, or at least put [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in a position where he could essentially dictate the terms of a political settlement,” said Burns.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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