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‘Dead on arrival’: Biden Israel aid package in jeopardy

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson wrote to colleagues that the $106 billion supplemental was unlikely to have support in the House.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) at the Republican Jewish Coalition's 2023 Annual Leadership Summit in Las Vegas. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) at the Republican Jewish Coalition's 2023 Annual Leadership Summit in Las Vegas. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s $106 billion supplemental foreign aid package, with $14.3 billion for Israel, appeared to be in jeopardy Friday with House Republicans signaling that they would oppose a Senate-led compromise bill.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, wrote a letter to Republican colleagues on Friday suggesting that the supplemental foreign aid bill, which also includes $61 billion for Ukraine and billions for Taiwan, Gaza and other global hotspots, would be unacceptable to House Republicans even if it included reforms to U.S. border security policy.

“I wanted to provide a brief update regarding the supplemental and the border, since the Senate appears unable to reach any agreement,” Johnson wrote to colleagues. “If rumors about the contents of the draft proposal are true, it would have been dead on arrival in the House anyway.”

Biden first proposed the aid package in October, shortly after the Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

The Republican-controlled House passed the Israel portion of the aid in November but attached it to budget cuts to the Internal Revenue Service that were not viable in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Since then, Senate Republicans have negotiated with Democratic colleagues to add reforms to U.S. border security policy as their price for supporting the foreign-aid package.

But in a Wednesday-night meeting with Senate Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he believes that the consolidation around former President Donald Trump as the 2024 Republican presidential nominee changed the calculus on securing a border deal.

“Politics on this have changed,” McConnell reportedly said. “We don’t want to do anything to undermine him.”

Trump is expected to make immigration and U.S. southern border security major focuses of his campaign to defeat Biden. The former president has reportedly told members of Congress that they should oppose the border deal. 

“I think the border is a very important issue for Donald Trump,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). “The fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and congresspeople that he doesn’t want us to solve the border problem, because he wants to blame Biden for it, is really appalling.”

While McConnell said on Thursday that he still supports negotiations to find a compromise, Johnson’s letter suggests he does not see a path forward for the aid package.

“Many of our constituents have asked an important question: ‘What is the point of negotiating new laws with an administration that will not enforce the laws already on the books?’” he wrote.

While border security and aid to Ukraine have divided the Republican caucus, the inclusion of the $14.3 billion for Israel has increasingly divided Democrats in the House and Senate over whether that aid should include conditions on Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

Led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), 18 Democratic senators have signed on to an amendment to the aid package that requires all recipients of U.S. aid, including Israel, to “cooperate fully with any United States efforts and United States-supported international efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians in an area of conflict.”

But 49 of the 51 Senate Democrats also signed on to an amendment led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) affirming that it is official U.S. policy to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That amendment comes in the wake of comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week that seemed to rule out Palestinian statehood.

Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “have made it clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his extremist, right-wing coalition that he must reverse his dangerous rhetoric and commit to the work of advancing a two-state solution that builds a just and stable future for all the region’s people,” said Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn), one of the co-sponsors of the amendment.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.) were the only Democratic senators who did not co-sponsor the amendment.

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