Speaker Johnson’s Next Hurdle: Splitting a Two-Front War into Two-Bill Aid
When the House reconvenes from its Halloween sugar high, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) will be staring down his first big test: persuading members to break up the multi-billion dollar funding package for Ukraine and Israel. In sit-downs with both President Joe Biden and the media, the new Republican leader made it clear that if the Democrats want to help our allies defeat Hamas and Russia, they’ll have to take two separate votes. It’s not about “political gamesmanship,” Johnson insisted. It’s about “stewardship.” “We have to make sure that the White House is providing the people with some accountability for the dollars,” he argued.
Asked if he even agreed with sending money to Ukraine given his recent votes, Johnson replied, “We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine because I don’t believe it would stop there, and it would probably encourage and empower China to perhaps make a move on Taiwan.” That said, the new speaker — like a lot of Americans — has two major concerns: a) how Volodymyr Zelensky is spending that money and b) whether the U.S. even has the money to send.
“We’re going to have to pay for it,” the speaker warned Democrats. “We’re not just going to print money and send it overseas.” That goes for the $14 billion dollars on the table for Israel too. “Because the other concern that we have is that this is overriding our own strength as a nation, which is tied to our fiscal stability. And that’s a big problem that we have as well. We have to keep it in mind as we try to help everyone else.”
To some in Johnson’s caucus, this new insistence on financial solvency was met with cheers. But not everyone is on the cost-cutting bandwagon. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doesn’t seem to care if America can afford the supplemental packages. He just wants Biden to sit down and write two fat checks, including a $60 billion-dollar whopper for Ukraine. “I think it’s all connected,” the Kentucky Republican argued. “And if we don’t stand up to these challenges now, they will cost us a lot more in the future.”
Sticking the Left’s craw is also how the speaker plans to pay for the proposals — which is by slashing billions of funding for the behemoth IRS. “I understand their priority is to bulk up the IRS,” Johnson pointed out, “but I think if you put this to the American people and they weigh the two needs, I think they’re going to say standing with Israel and protecting the innocent over there is in our national interest and is a more immediate need than IRS agents.”
On that point, he’d be right. The country is increasingly skeptical about forking over billions of dollars to Zelensky’s defense. Before the October 7 atrocities, Rasmussen was surprised to see that a plurality of Americans wanted their money out of the Ukraine conflict altogether (44-36%). A Reuters/Ipsos survey in September found that the country’s waning generosity also applied to weapons shipments. Only 41% thought the Pentagon should be sending U.S. arms to Ukraine — down from 65% in June.
Now that the world’s eyes are on Hamas, Americans seem to be prioritizing that conflict over Putin’s. Fifty-eight percent told USA Today/Suffolk University that we should be sending aid to Israel, compared to 51% who want to add to the $113 billion Biden has already wired to Ukraine.
Johnson’s job will be threading that needle on an issue where he seems to have voters’ backing but not McConnell’s or Democrats. There’s also been talk of what Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) called “a grand bargain” — the Republicans’ support for Ukraine in exchange for major overhauls on border security. “Democrats want Ukraine aid more than Republicans want it. Republicans want border security more than Democrats want it. So we need to make a deal,” the veteran concluded.
A good number of conservatives agree with the speaker that splitting up the two issues makes more sense. “I’d rather see separate [packages], even though I support Ukraine,” Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) told reporters. To him, it’s an opportunity to get the other side on the record. “I also want to see on the Democrat side how many decide not to support Israel. I think that that will be enlightening. If you put them all together you don’t really get a good, clear picture of who’s supporting what.”
Congressman Scott Perry (R-Pa.), head of the House Freedom Caucus, was very enthused by every aspect of the proposal. “It’s great to hear what [Johnson] put out today that we’re going to get rid of some terrorists — and to do that, we’re going to get rid of some unnecessary IRS agents,” he said, referring to the 87,000 agents the president added to the agency in his Inflation Reduction Act last year. “[T]hat’s a trade that I’m willing to make every single day of the week,” Perry insisted, “and especially support of our strongest ally, Israel, while they’re under this unprovoked attack from Hamas and other like-minded terrorists. And so, I think this is a good day for America. This is a good message to send.”
Perry said he looked forward to seeing who will be standing on the side of the tax collectors and terrorists. Meanwhile, he went on, it’s not hard to see why Biden wanted to link the two aid proposals together. “They’re having difficulty selling funds for Ukraine,” he explained on “Washington Watch” Monday. “There’s no oversight there. We’ve spent billions of dollars there. No one knows where it’s gone. And of course, we don’t know what the mission is.”
“America is sick of these packages,” he argued to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “They want to see these things separated. They want to know how their members vote on it. They don’t want the old excuse. ‘Well, I had to vote for the Ukraine funding because it was important that we take care of our ally Israel — and that was all in one package, and I didn’t have any choice.’ We need to give the American people and members of Congress and the Senate the choice by doing them on a standalone basis. And let’s see where the votes fall. Let’s let each one of these very important issues have their own debate, and let’s let the points be made.”
For now, it’s setting up to be an intense battle — the first real one of Mike Johnson’s speakership. And, as Perkins pointed out, he won’t just have to hold his ground against the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), but the Senate Republicans siding with them.
Perry wasn’t concerned. “I have my faith in the good Lord first and Mike Johnson. … We have a new speaker. It’s a new day. We’re going to do things differently. Welcome to it, everybody. Welcome to it, America. And welcome to it, Joe Biden and Democrats and progressive Republicans in the Senate as well!”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.