Mon. Feb 26th, 2024

A proposed legislative package to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel, and allies in the Indo-Pacific faces additional hurdles as House Speaker Mike Johnson announced he would not put the bill to the floor.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky led the charge against the $95.34bn package as a host of Republican senators spoke on the floor late into the night on Monday evening.

The legislation came after Senate Republicans rejected a larger package that would have included additional provisions to restrict immigration and increase security at the US-Mexico border. Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut; independent senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican senator James Lankford of Oklahoma negotiated the agreement that the House and many Republicans opposed as insufficient.

The package includes $60.6bn in aid to Ukraine; $14.1bn in aid to Israel after to assist with its war against Hamas after the October 7 attack; $2.44bn for US Central Command to address combat expenditures for conflict in the Red Sea; $9.15bn in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; and $4.83bn to support regional partners in the Indo-Pacific to push back against the People’s Republic of China.

But House Speaker Mike Johnson released a statement announcing that he would not bring the bill to the floor.

“Now, in the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters,” he said. “America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo.”

The remarks come after Senate Republicans have drawn out the process for passing the aid package throughout the weekend. Mr Paul praised Mr Johnson’s remarks.

“I think that’s very supportive,” he told The Independent. “And I think our filibuster helped to slow things down.”

During his speech on the floor, Mr Paul spoke about Ukrainian corruption. But earlier in the night, senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina – who initially took part in the negotiations with the bipartisan immigration-foreign aid bill before he voted against it – criticised the Republicans.

“A lot of people, when they hear senator speak, they believe that it’s the truth,” he told The Independent. “They’ve heard somebody say that if we pass this bill that we’re all gonna go right to key with buckets full of money, and let oligarchs buy yachts. I wonder how the spouses of the estimated 25,000 soldiers in Ukraine who have died feel about that?”

Senator John Cornyn of Texas told The Independent that he hoped that the House “will take up their own bill” and “work its will and that’s the way the system is supposed to.”

Other senators took alternative routes. At one point, senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of the most ardent opponents of aid to Ukraine, joined an X space with the site’s owner Elon Musk, who has criticised US support for Ukraine.

“It’s important that the American public has a different perspective than what’s being shoveled out by people in support of this package and the mainstream media,” Mr Johnson told The Independent. Mr Johnson said that he did not think Ukraine could win the war against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I’ve been making the point that Putin will not lose his war because it’s existential to Putin,” Mr Johnson said.

Senator JD Vance of Ohio also praised Mr Musk’s outspokenness.

“I think it’s just one more sign to the American people and he’s obviously an important American, they think this bill is a bad deal for the country,” Mr Vance told The Independent.

But Mr Tillis rebuked Republicans and said that American efforts helped degrade Russia.

“Putin is losing this war folks,” Mr Tillis said on the floor. “This is not a stalemate. This guy is on life support.”

The push comes as former president Donald Trump vocally opposed the original bipartisan immigration-foreign aid agreement, effectively killing it. During the weekend, Mr Trump spoke at a rally in South Carolina where he recalled that he spoke to a Nato member state leader about the fact it had not lived up to its obligations and would “encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”

But some Republicans excoriated their colleagues for opposing aid to Ukraine.

“I know that the shock jocks and online instigators have riled up many in the far reaches of my party,” senator Mitt Romney of Utah said in a floor speech. “But if your position is being cheered by Vladimir Putin, it’s time to reconsider your position.”

Mr Murphy, the Democratic senator who negotiated the initial bipartisan agreement, criticised Republicans for drawing out the process, but he said the agreement would finally go to a vote.

“I’m sad it took this long to get it done, don’t really understand what the house’s posture is right now,” he told The Independent. “But it’s good that this is gonna get a big bipartisan vote and we’ll cross our fingers that the House comes to its senses.”

Ms Sinema for her part was more direct when asked what she thought about Mr Johnson saying he would oppose the legislation unless it included border security when he opposed the initial bill.

“Build a time machine,” she told The Independent as she walked toward Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.