GOP unveils national security bill as last piece of Ukraine aid package

Top Johnson 041624 AP J. Scott Applewhite 1

House GOP leaders on Wednesday unveiled a catch-all package of Republican national security priorities designed to sweeten a massive round of new funding for Ukraine and other foreign allies in the face of fierce conservative opposition.

The bill features the “innovations” promised by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) when he rejected a Senate-passed foreign-aid package in favor of a House version he said would better reflect the interests and concerns of lower chamber lawmakers.

His proposal features a provision that would ban TikTok in the U.S. if the company fails to divorce its operations from the Chinese Communist Party, and another to install new sanctions on Iran — an idea that’s gained steam since Tehran’s strikes on Israel last weekend.

The package also includes several provisions designed to ease the financial burden on U.S. taxpayers, providing some of the new Ukraine aid in the form of a loan — although a forgivable one — and empowering the administration to tap seized Russian assets to help pay the enormous costs of Ukrainian reconstruction.

But in a departure from his initial plans, the legislation does not include a provision that would block President Biden’s freeze of new permits for liquified natural gas (LNG) exports. Johnson floated the LNG provision last month, telling Fox News in an interview “We want to unleash American energy. We want to have natural gas exports that will help un-fund Vladimir Putin’s war effort there.” That idea, however, prompted sharp criticism from Democrats, some of whom dubbed it a “non-starter.”

During a press availability earlier on Wednesday, Johnson suggested that the LNG provision had not made the cut.

“We tried to put it in this package and every package, we’ll continue to fight for that and continue to make the case because it’s critical for our stability,” he said.

The national security legislation — dubbed the “21st Century Peace through Strength Act” — is the fourth and final piece of a foreign-aid package the House is expected to consider, one bill at a time, on Saturday before combining the quartet into a single bundle and sending it off to the Senate. The first three bills, introduced earlier on Wednesday, provide military assistance to Ukraine, Israel and allies in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan. 

The Israel bill also features roughly $9.2 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and other global hotspots — the same figure included in the Senate bill and demanded by Democrats, whose support will be needed to move the four bills through the lower chamber. 

Greasing the way to passage, President Biden came out in strong favor of the four-bill package on Wednesday, even before the final proposal was formally unveiled — a reflection of the negotiations between the parties leading into the week’s debate. 

“The House must pass the package this week, and the Senate should quickly follow,” Biden said. “I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed.”

The Ukraine issue has been an enormous headache for Johnson, the fledgling Speaker who has faced waves of fury from hardline conservatives who think he’s been too willing to cut bipartisan deals with Biden on major issues like federal spending and government surveillance.

The Ukraine package fits the same mold, and House conservatives wasted no time accusing the Speaker of not fighting hard enough to secure Republican priorities in the foreign-aid package, particularly when it comes to security on the southern U.S. border. 

Johnson, for months, had demanded that any new Ukraine aid must be married to tougher border security. But while the House will vote on a border bill on Saturday, it will not be packaged with the other four foreign-aid proposals, meaning the Democratic leaders who control the Senate can — and almost certainly will — ignore it. 

Conservatives are furious with that strategy, accusing Johnson of neglecting America’s national security even as he’s pushing to secure the borders of other countries. Some are vowing to vote not only against the various foreign aid bills, but also against the rule that will govern the debate on those bills on the House floor.

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