The Dilemma of Partisan Politics: Prospects for Ukraine Aid Legislation

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The end of March will observe eight months since US President Joe Biden first asked for supplemental assistance to resupply Ukraine’s armed forces and support the country’s preparation for coming Russian offensives. With Congress starting yet another break, there may eventually be an ending in sight to the partisan logjam, but the condition that Ukraine aid ultimately takes and the route to getting a bill to Biden’s desk for his signature remains unclear.

Since ex-representative Kevin McCarthy was pushed to vacate his leadership position as Speaker of the House, Speaker Mike Johnson has stressed inviting a similar ouster. Before leaving for a two-week recess on March 22, House Democrats signalled they would rescue him from just such an action to vacate if he revealed a plan to take up the bipartisan National Security Supplemental package enacted by the Senate last month. Johnson has stated he’d take on Ukraine aid after enacting a federal budget, which he’s now completed. The next two weeks may see him blending with allies and dealing with Democrats on a potential deal before Congress resumes on April 9, representing the earliest that Ukraine aid could optimistically be enacted is mid to late April.

There are four possible vehicles for passing the supplemental military, budgetary, and humanitarian assistance requested by Biden: Johnson carrying forth the Senate-passed supplemental to a poll on the House floor as is typically done with legislation; a likely new supplemental package prepared by Republicans at Johnson’s behest; a Democrat-led bipartisan discharge requisition to bring the Senate-passed supplemental to a vote; or a Republican-led discharge petition to obtain slimmed-down supplemental aid to a vote. A critical element in any of these opportunities is that if the House passes legislation that conflicts with the supplemental aid, it will have to retreat to the Senate for further reviews and another series of votes. This would lead to additional delays, prospects for political sabotage, and a sharper benefit for Russia on the battlefield in Ukraine.

The best choice for swiftly passing Ukraine support is for Johnson to carry the bill that already passed the Senate to the floor for a vote, which could be accomplished quickly upon Congress’s return. Democrats are indicating that Johnson announcing this action would guarantee their support against a motion to dismiss him from the speakership, which was already pointed out by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and could soon arrive at a procedural vote. Johnson in recent weeks has also reportedly been performing to craft his new version of additional aid. After Republicans aligned with ex-president Donald Trump tanked a bipartisan auxiliary aid deal that included significant reforms to US immigration policy, the Senate enacted an aid package that omitted border policy differences and concentrated on foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and Palestine. Johnson has created three prominent Republican committee chairs to put jointly a proposal that pairs foreign aid with a border approach, as well as other likely legislation such as the REPO Act to transfer Russian state investments to Ukraine.

No text has been discharged and minimal details about this new forthcoming aid package have emerged, but Johnson may try to bargain with Democrats to include some of these conditions in whatever he brings to the floor. While Johnson and numerous other congressional Republicans arrange on the need to pass Ukraine aid, the electoral motivations in their party may pressure some to suggest any eventual deal as some kind of political victory over Democrats, even if the details are essentially the same as what Democrats are requesting. The REPO Act, in extra to being a smart policy, would also permit Johnson to claim that he’s supporting relieving the burden of foreign aid from the American taxpayer, though Russian state acquisitions in the US are reportedly only about $5 billion.

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