The battle for House speaker is finally over, but Republicans in Congress might not be done fighting each other. Politico reported that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is going “all out” to firm up U.S. support for Ukraine in its war against Russia — a quest that puts him “at odds with new Republican Speaker Mike Johnson,” who wants to split Ukraine aid from a package of support for Israel in its war against Hamas.
McConnell sees both wars as part of the same struggle, The Hill reported. In a speech Monday in his home state of Kentucky, the minority leader said it is “to impose real consequences on the tyrants who have terrorized the people of Ukraine and of Israel.” But Johnson is taking a different angle: He said the House will vote this week on a $14 billion Israel-only bill. That means the two leaders are probably “headed for a showdown.”
“This could be a legacy-defining moment” for McConnell, Punchbowl News reported. He has been “Ukraine’s top supporter in Congress” and sees no reason — as do some in his party — to pick a fight with Democrats on the issue. But McConnell’s old-school hawkishness conflicts with the more isolationist tendencies of the MAGA crowd that gave Johnson his newfound power. “As of now, however, the House and Senate GOP leadership remain on completely different wavelengths.”
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‘We need to pick and choose’McConnell isn’t just facing down House Republicans. There is dissent among GOP senators as well. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) went on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday to say the Israel and Ukraine packages could be considered separately. “There’s broad bipartisan consensus that we should be supporting Israel,” Vance said. That’s not the case in Ukraine. Besides, he said, the U.S. doesn’t have enough resources for both countries’ wars. “We need to pick and choose.”
Johnson has also been among the Ukraine skeptics. The Washington Post reported that the new speaker has an “F” rating from Republicans for Ukraine, “having consistently voted with a minority of House Republicans against sending money.” But Johnson’s rhetoric “has often aligned with the party’s Russia hawks” and he has suggested some flexibility on the issue since his ascension. “Now, we can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine,” he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, adding: “We’re not going to abandon them.”
That doesn’t mean he plans to make any of this easy. “Johnson is showing a special taste for confrontation in his early days with the gavel,” Politico reported. Indeed, the $14 billion aid package for Israel comes with a condition: It’s contingent on budget cuts for the Internal Revenue Service. That “doesn’t make a lot of sense” but the proposal offered Republicans a tangible accomplishment: “The libs, after all, were owned.”
‘All connected’So will Johnson come around on Ukraine aid? “I’m hopeful that he will decide that it was important to support Ukraine, as well,” McConnell said after the two men met last Thursday. He is supporting President Joe Biden’s proposal that links Ukraine and Israel aid together, along with funding for Taiwan and some new cash for U.S. border security. “I think it’s all connected,” McConnell said.
“This could very well be the final massive piece of legislation” of the 81-year-old McConnell’s career, Business Insider noted. And it shows: McConnell is known for “commenting sparingly and sometimes leaving his own colleagues out of the loop on his thinking.” His “very public push” for Ukraine aid is a different approach, one that signifies his priorities.
As for Johnson, he has signaled there will be some movement on a separate aid bill for Ukraine — but all in good time. “There are lots of things going on around the world that we have to address, and we will,” he said Sunday on Fox News. “But right now, what’s happening in Israel takes the immediate attention.” Ukraine might get more U.S. backing, in other words, but it will have to wait its turn.
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