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  5. Speaker Mike Johnson is screwing up Republicans' hopes of separating Israel and Ukraine aid — but they don't seem to mind

Speaker Mike Johnson is screwing up Republicans' hopes of separating Israel and Ukraine aid but they don't seem to mind

Bryan Metzger   

Speaker Mike Johnson is screwing up Republicans' hopes of separating Israel and Ukraine aid — but they don't seem to mind
  • Republicans have been trying to make sure that Israel and Ukraine aid are voted on separately.
  • But Johnson's Israel bill is toxic for Democrats and increases the chance that the GOP gets jammed.

Many Republicans really, really don't want to have to vote on a bill that includes both Israel and Ukraine aid.

While the GOP is almost unanimously supportive of sending billions in aid to Israel in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack, the party continues to be split on Ukraine, with roughly half of House Republicans and a solid chunk of Senate Republicans opposed to sending any more US aid to the besieged country.

Conversely, that's why the Biden administration and Democrats want to see the two items paired together, along with money for Taiwan and border security — it's the best possible shot at getting more Ukraine aid through the Republican-led House, which is now led by a Ukraine skeptic.

In an effort to avoid those dynamics altogether, Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas introduced a bill last week that would essentially give most Democrats an offer they can't refuse: the entire $14.3 billion that the Biden administration wants for Israel, no strings or poison pills attached.

While Marshall and his three Republican co-sponsors couldn't force a vote on this themselves in the Democratic-controlled Senate, it made for a solid blueprint that the House could have used. It would've been passed the House by an overwhelming bipartisan vote and applied significant pressure to senators who want to keep Israel aid linked with Ukraine aid.

Enter the brand-new speaker of the House.

House Speaker Mike Johnson is teeing up a vote this week on a bill that does the same thing as Marshall's, but with a catch — it also rescinds $14.3 billion in funds provided to the Internal Revenue Service by the Inflation Reduction Act.

While offsetting the cost is likely to satisfy the often-restive fiscal hawks in his conference, the bill as written is a total non-starter for almost every Democrat in both the House and Senate.

And Democrats are having no problem arguing that it's a "poison pill," pointing to the fact that IRS funding cuts would likely increase the annual deficit by weakening the agency's ability to collect revenue for the US government.

"Their price for helping Israel and abandoning America's responsibilities around the globe? Making it much easier for the ultra-rich to cheat on their taxes," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Tuesday. "How the heck could that be their highest priority?"

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a sizable portion of the Senate GOP actually support the Biden administration's approach of pairing Ukraine and Israel aid, and McConnell is taking a dim view of Johnson's bill, suggesting that it may not even pass the House.

"We'll see if the bill comes out of the House — and if so, what kind of margin it has," the Kentucky Republican told reporters on Tuesday.

The Republicans who hoped to split Israel and Ukraine already represented a minority of the party, at least in the upper chamber. By writing the bill the way he did, Johnson is only further weakening that conservative faction's hand — though only some of them will readily admit it.

"Yes," Marshall said when Insider asked whether Johnson's bill made it harder for them to pursue their existing strategy. "But my ultimate goal here, regardless of all these parliamentarian maneuvers, is to get funding for Israel as soon as possible."

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, one of three Republican co-sponsors on Marshall's bill, struck a similar tone, falling back into a partisan messaging stance when asked if Republicans were missing an opportunity.

"Democrats can complain about the [IRS cuts] if they want to," said Cruz. "It wouldn't be the first time Democrats put partisan politics above doing the right thing."

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said he didn't want to "play pundit on the House," and that he'd "love to cut the IRS regardless of anything, and if we can use that money to help Israel, best of all worlds."

And Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, another Republican co-sponsor on Marshall's bill, suggested that Johnson's bill may just be a starting point.

"To get Senate Democrats on it, is it going to look exactly what it looks like in the House? I don't know," said Vance. "But I think that at least gives us a vehicle to try to get this thing done."

Perhaps Republicans simply aren't interested in saying anything bad about Johnson — after all, he's their party's brand new House speaker, and it took a painful and embarrassing three weeks to get a speaker at all.

"We've got to realize that the speaker of the Republican-controlled House is the leader of the party," Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told reporters on Tuesday. "He's making some calls, and we in the minority of the Senate ought to follow his lead, and not undermine him."

Nonetheless, Johnson's bill makes it only more likely that anti-Ukraine aid Republicans get rolled.

If the House passes his bill, the Senate will not pass it, at least in its current form. Without the pressure of an acceptable standalone Israel aid bill, senators will be content to continue hammering out a bill that roughly matches the Biden administration's requests, eventually passing it and likely forcing the House to swallow it.

Still, what Democrats consider to be a "poison pill" may just be the cost of doing business in today's GOP-run House.

"He's trying to hold his conference together, I think rightfully so," said Vance. "I mean, the counter-argument is, if he doesn't include [spending cuts], it's not even going to pass the House."

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