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House to vote on standalone Israel aid bill, setting up showdown with Senate

House Republicans are planning to vote on a bill next week that would give billions in military assistance to Israel and U.S. forces in the region, a measure that is destined to come to a head with a Senate proposal expected to package funding for border security with aiding foreign democracies.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced in a letter sent to the Republican conference Saturday that the House would send $17.6 billion to reinforce Israel’s military defense systems and U.S. personnel and citizens in the region as a result of ongoing conflicts. If approved by the House by midweek, the bill would be the second one sent to the Senate in two months. But unlike the previous iteration, it includes $3.3 billion more for Israel and does not include controversial offsets to the Internal Revenue Service that House Republicans championed and were considered a non-starter by the Democratic Senate.

“The Senate will no longer have excuses, however misguided, against swift passage of this critical support for our ally,” Johnson wrote in his letter.

The move comes as the Senate is expected to unveil and vote on a supplemental package this weekend that would fund new measures to control the historic flow of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, while fulfilling President Biden’s $106 billion request to also aid Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific region. House Republicans’ surprise announcement to send the Senate a stand-alone Israel funding bill sets up dueling votes in both chambers, which remain apart on how to fund border security and Ukraine in divided government.

Notably absent from the proposal is any funding for Ukraine, which has faced significant dwindling of support by the House GOP majority. The measure also does not include a border security proposal as House Republicans have insisted the Senate take up their bill passed last year.

A group of bipartisan Senate negotiators has been working for months to find a compromise on border security after House Republicans telegraphed that they would not support Biden’s request for a supplemental package that helps foreign allies unless it included significant changes to the border. Negotiations often ebbed and flowed with Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) working to overcome partisan hurdles in how to address changes to the U.S. asylum and parole system.

Adding urgency to the issue, Biden vowed last month to use emergency authorities to “shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed” if Congress passes the bipartisan immigration plan, largely putting the onus on the House GOP majority to accept the Senate deal.

Johnson told his colleagues on Saturday that in the two months it took for senators to reach an agreement — which has yet to be unveiled — the world has witnessed an attack on U.S. forces, retaliatory strikes against Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq, as well as the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas as justification to prioritize sending foreign aid to the region immediately, leaving open whether to consider a supplemental package later.

“While the Senate appears poised to finally release text of their supplemental package after months of behind closed doors negotiations, their leadership is aware that by failing to include the House in their negotiations, they have eliminated the ability for swift consideration of any legislation,” Johnson said. “Given the Senate’s failure to move appropriate legislation in a timely fashion, and the perilous circumstances currently facing Israel, the House will continue to lead.”

The House bill would provide $9.7 billion to replenish various missile and defense systems in Israel. It would allow the country to quickly obtain advanced weapons systems and other defense services through the Foreign Military Financing Program and would enhance the production of artillery munitions.

Another $7.7 billion would be allotted to replenish U.S. defense stocks sent to Israel and military operations in the region in response to the Oct. 7 attack. Another $200 million would be used to protect U.S. personnel and aid in evacuations of U.S. citizens if necessary.

Former president Donald Trump has also been directing Republicans to vote against any border security measure until after the 2024 presidential election, fomenting even stronger support against any Senate proposal. Johnson has signaled his opposition to a Senate bill containing less than the measures proposed by House Republicans’ border security bill, known as H.R. 2, but has not said whether he would not put that proposal on the floor given that the text has yet to be released by Senate negotiators.

By forcing the Senate to take up the bill without offsets, Johnson has put the onus on Democrats, including in the House, to vote against a measure many wishing to help Israel would probably support. It also puts House Republicans in a stronger position to telegraph their own messaging before senators blame them for inaction.

Complicating matters for Johnson, however, is how the far-right flank of his conference will react. They celebrated Johnson’s inaugural bill that sent aid to Israel and included cuts to the IRS, which Republicans have long called for. But the House Freedom Caucus has remained opposed to passing funding bills that do not include cuts and Johnson’s latest maneuver of relying on Democrats to send bills to the Senate given Republicans’ narrow three-seat majority.

Moreover, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) threatened using a motion that led the way for former Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to be ousted as speaker if Johnson brings a bill aiding Ukraine to the House floor, while Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) has floated triggering the measure if Johnson brings up border security legislation for a vote.

Johnson has repeatedly said that he is “not worried” by the motion-to-vacate threats and that they do not guide his judgment on governing.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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