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House set to hold separate votes on aid for Israel and Ukraine after delays

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A monthslong stalemate over foreign aid in Congress might finally be coming to an end. House Speaker Mike Johnson announced tonight that he has a new plan to address aid to Israel and Ukraine. There is new pressure for Congress to act to address national security funding following Iran's attack on Israel this weekend. But instead of taking up the Senate National Security Assistance Bill that was passed in February, the speaker decided to move forward with four separate bills. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now to talk about his new plan. Hi, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so explain how this is going to work.

WALSH: Well, right, as you mentioned, the Senate wrapped all of these issues into one $95 billion bill that they approved in February - a big national security assistance. Speaker Johnson says, instead, he's going to move those issues independently in four separate measures - aid to Israel, aid to Ukraine, security assistance for Taiwan to address the threat from China, and then a fourth piece that wasn't in the Senate bill, which would be a national security bill from the House that will wrap in a bill to force the sale of TikTok or face a ban in the U.S. and another separate proposal to claw back Russian assets that were seized since the start of the war in Ukraine. Speaker Johnson said all of this is a priority.

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MIKE JOHNSON: We have terrorists and tyrants and terrible leaders around the world, like Putin and Xi and in Iran. And they're watching to see if America will stand up for its allies and in our own interest around the globe, and we will.

CHANG: Wait - so why the decision to break it up in different parts to move in parallel?

WALSH: It was really a political decision by the speaker because of the internal politics he faces. House Republicans are largely united on approving additional aid to Israel, and there's more impetus for doing that after what happened this weekend with the attack from Iran. But they're really split down the middle on approving any more money for Ukraine, and the speaker really wanted to avoid on relying on Democrats to get a national security bill through the House. They will - are anticipated to support a lot of these separate pieces.

The speaker also faces this threat to oust him from Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who strongly opposes approving any more money for Ukraine. She's already introduced a resolution to oust the speaker. House rules allow that any one member can try to remove the speaker, but she hasn't said whether she's going to force the vote. The speaker really downplayed tonight that he's thinking about that threat. He says he's not. And he said that splitting up these votes really allows each member to vote their conscience and to vote on - it's something that they all push for.

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JOHNSON: But I think the final product will be something that everybody can take confidence in because they got to vote their district and vote their conscience.

CHANG: Hmm. OK, well, when do we expect these votes on all these different pieces?

WALSH: We expect to see the bills tomorrow sometime. And because the speaker said he's going to stick to a House Republican rule that requires members get 72 hours to read bills before any votes, the speaker expects the House will vote on these measures potentially by Friday night.

CHANG: OK. And Deirdre, is this an indication that Ukraine aid actually has a chance to pass after months of Republican division on the topic?

WALSH: I mean, it is definitely a new path. I mean, it's really significant that the speaker is finally, after months, announcing this decision on how he's going to move forward. He did say he expects to finish these bills this week. He admitted Ukraine is the most controversial piece, but he's going to allow amendments, and that's going to make it more complicated. And this package would be different than the one that the Senate approved back in February, so they would likely have to vote again. And there's really some pressure for Congress to act soon. We've heard from...

CHANG: All right.

WALSH: ...Ukrainian President Zelenskyy - say time is really running out.

CHANG: That is NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you so much, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.

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