US House passes $61 billion Ukraine aid after long wait | World News - Hindustan Times
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US House passes $61 billion Ukraine aid after long wait

By, Washington
Apr 21, 2024 05:31 AM IST

American lawmakers passed four major national security bills after Republican Speaker took on his own party’s ultra-right faction

In a rare instance of bipartisanship, the US House of Representatives passed four major national security bills, the most important of which was a $60.8 billion aid package for Ukraine, on Saturday.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) walks toward the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol. AFP photo (Getty Images via AFP)
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) walks toward the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol. AFP photo (Getty Images via AFP)

The measure comes as a major boost for US President Joe Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and America’s European allies who have all expressed their concern about Russia’s growing advantage, both in terms of morale and battlefield momentum, against Kyiv in the absence of American support.

The House bill, once the Senate passes it and president signs it, will reinforce American support for Ukraine particularly in terms of artillery ammunition and air defence systems and interceptors, the two big gaps in Ukraine’s current military posture against Russia.

The legislative breakthrough came after Republican Speaker Mike Johnson decided to take on his own party’s ultra-right wing faction that had opposed any further aid to Kyiv and push through legislation broadly on the lines requested by the administration.

But to do so, Johnson decided to break down the national security assistance into four distinct bills. Along with the assistance package for Ukraine, the House also passed a $26.38 billion package for Israel (which also includes a $9 billion humanitarian package), an $8.12 billion package to strengthen US military posture and that of its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific against China, and a “21st century peace through strength act” which incorporated a set of sanction measures against Russia, Iran and China.

This final bill includes a measure to force a change in the ownership structure of TikTok to divest it of what American lawmakers allege is China’s control.

The House has a total strength of 435 members but it currently has 431 members with 218 Republicans and 213 Democrats. There are four vacancies. The Ukraine security legislation won the support of 311 members — Democrats waved Ukraine’s flag as soon as the results of the vote were displayed on the screen on the floor — while 112 members opposed it. This indicates that while a broad swathe of American political leadership is supportive of Ukraine, there remains a much smaller but still robust far-Right segment opposed to more aid to Kyiv. Three hundred and sixty six members supported the Israel security legislation while 58 opposed it. This indicates that while an overwhelming segment of America’s political leadership is supportive of Israel, there is a smaller but robust and growing progressive opposition to further security assistance to Tel Aviv. The Indo-Pacific security legislation garnered the supported of 385 members while only 34 members opposed it. And the final legislation that proposed sanctions against adversaries and the measure against TikTok saw the support of 360 members while 58 opposed it.

The Indo-Pacific security legislation garnered the supported of 385 members while only 34 members opposed it. And the final legislation that proposed sanctions against adversaries and the measure against TikTok saw the support of 360 members while 58 opposed it.

On Saturday morning, on the House floor — HT was present in the house press gallery in the US Congress on Capitol Hill during the discussion and vote on the bills — the debate saw a majority of Democrats and Republicans rally behind the legislation, but the voices of dissent made their presence felt too.

Those Democrats and Republicans who supported the bills broadly spoke about the threat posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Iranian regime, and China’s increasing belligerence under Xi Jinping and connected the three threats in the three varied theatres of Europe (against Ukraine), West Asia (against Israel) and Indo-Pacific (against American allies in general and Taiwan in particular). They claimed that the bills would preserve the “rules-based order” and values of democracy and freedom. Democrats also spoke about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza while speaking on the Israel-specific bill.

Those Republicans opposed the bills, particularly the assistance to Ukraine, argued that the US was wasting precious resources without a strategy in Ukraine, even as it confronted tremendous domestic economic challenges as well as the unaddressed issue of its own border security.

While the Senate had passed a $95 billion national security supplemental in February based on a request by the Biden administration, the measure had got stuck in the House largely due to the divisions within Republican Party. A major faction of the party, prodded on by former President Donald Trump, had opposed the package for Ukraine and tied it with the need to first address the issue of border security.

But over the past few weeks, a set of events appeared to have altered Johnson’s calculations.

For one, the growing confrontation between Israeli and Iran, in particular Tehran’s attack against Tel Aviv last Saturday, galvanised the Republican House leader into pushing through the support for Israel. Two, classified intelligence briefings to Johnson and the House leadership drove home the point to Republicans that, in the American intelligence and security assessment, Russia was gaining in Ukraine and, if successful, would continue its aggression via a vis other countries in Europe including NATO allies; this, in turn, would drag America in more directly to the battlefield.

Three, a set of foreign leaders, including Japan’s PM Kishida Fumio, recently visited Washington DC and pleaded with the American political leadership to continue meeting America’s global commitments in both Ukraine and Asia. In an address to the Congress, Kishida told lawmakers that he understood the American exhaustion but the world needed US leadership, drawing applause from both sides of the aisle.

Four, Trump appeared to soften his position on the issue, and while asking for Europe to do more for Ukraine, did not oppose American aid outright; instead he demanded that American assistance be converted into a loan, which served as a face saver for those Republicans who had opposed aid to Ukraine so far. To be sure, some of Trump’s loyalists, particularly the far-Right Georgia lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene, actively sought to block the bills and dislodge Johnson for having pushed it but Democrats came to the Speaker’s rescue and enabled the bills to get to the floor.

And finally, by breaking the broad national security package into four bills and layering it with an additional bill to strengthen border security, Johnson both gave a cushion to Republicans to opt in and opt out of bills and provided room for Democrats to support him. In a signal to the Republican base that their priorities were being taken on board, Johnson also put forth a fifth legislation, End the Border Catastrophe Act, that failed to muster the required majority.

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