Congressional leaders at odds over Israel aid next steps, conservatives issue warning to Speaker Johnson

Apr 14, 2024, 3:22 PM | Updated: 3:29 pm

Congressional leaders from both parties still remain at odds on how to pass additional Israel fundi...

Congressional leaders from both parties still remain at odds on how to pass additional Israel funding in wake of the Iranian attacks. (Allison Bailey/Middle East Images, AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

(Allison Bailey/Middle East Images, AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

(CNN) — Congressional leaders from both parties were quick to condemn Iran’s retaliatory strikes on Israel this Saturday but still remain at odds on how to pass additional Israel funding in wake of the attacks.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Sunday he will move forward with a vote on additional Israel aid but did not go into specifics about his plans as he walks a knife’s edge with conservatives over the potential inclusion of Ukraine funding.

“The House Republicans and the Republican Party understand the necessity of standing with Israel. We’re going to try again this week, and the details of that package are being put together right now. We’re looking at the options and all these supplemental issues,” Johnson told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on “Sunday Morning Futures.”

But hardline conservatives are warning Johnson against attaching Ukraine funding to any Israel aid package, underscoring the competing pressures on the speaker as he weighs critical decisions about the path ahead following Iran’s attack on Israel.

“Congress should be clear: no action by Iran or Israel merits a vote on the Ukraine omnibus the Senate seeks,” GOP Rep. Warren Davidson wrote on social media.

The pressure campaign from Johnson’s right flank comes amid bipartisan calls — including from GOP Leader Mitch McConnell — to take up the Senate-passed foreign package that includes money for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, arguing that is the fastest way to get aid to Israel.

Israel aid bill

Johnson has vowed to put some sort of Israel aid bill on the floor this week, but said the details are still being finalized.

It all amounts to a complicated calculation for Johnson. The House previously struggled to pass a standalone Israel aid bill, but Johnson could draw ire from the right if he ties it to Ukraine or puts the Senate bill on the floor.

The speaker has, however, been trying to get former President Donald Trump’s crucial buy-in for a more GOP-friendly Ukraine aid package, such as structuring the aid as a loan — which Trump signaled openness to during a press conference with Johnson at Mar-a-Lago.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said President Joe Biden spoke with the top four congressional leaders Sunday regarding the situation in the Middle East. And the New York Democrat, speaking at a news conference, reiterated calls for the GOP-led House to move instead on the bipartisan Senate-passed national security aid package, which includes funding for Israel as well as Ukraine and Taiwan, in the wake of the Iranian attack.

“The best way to help Israel and to help Ukraine is to pass the supplemental this week,” Schumer said.

“I’ve called on Speaker Johnson to do that,” the New York Democrat said, according to a transcript provided by his office.

The House has thus far declined to take a vote on the Senate-passed legislation, with many House conservatives opposed to sending additional aid to Ukraine and wanting stricter US southern border policies included in any aid package. But it’s unclear how the Democrat-controlled Senate would approach whatever legislation comes from the GOP-led House.

Individual members have also weighed in on the conflict since the Iranian attacks on Israel, with Democrats imploring Johnson to bring up the Senate foreign aid package as many Republicans call on Schumer to act on Israel only.

Responding to calls from McConnell for the House to bring to the floor the $95.3 billion supplemental foreign aid package that passed the Senate in February, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio sidestepped, insisting on Sunday that the Senate could pass standalone aid to Israel and win House approval.

“We could go on Monday to Washington, DC, and we can pass aid to Israel right away,” Rubio told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” adding: “If the Senate were to send the House an Israel aid bill on Monday, the House will pass it.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, highlighting the time-sensitive nature of the issue, called on Johnson to bring the supplemental foreign aid package passed by the Senate in February to the floor on Monday.

“I think the most important deterrent action that Congress can take … is for Speaker Johnson to not take days or weeks to try and come up with some other package but to pass the supplemental tomorrow,” Coons told Tapper in a separate interview.

How Congress reached this point

While the Senate passed its foreign aid bill in February, Johnson said he never planned to bring the bill to the floor. The House, in turn, tried but failed to pass a standalone package for $17.6 billion in Israel aid amid opposition from both Republicans and Democratic leaders.

Because of resistance among members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Johnson had been forced to bring up the bill under a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority of the House to approve it. That means he needed the support of a sizable number of Democrats to get behind it, and failed to cross that threshold. At a closed caucus meeting prior to the vote, House Democratic leadership made a forceful case against supporting the standalone Israel aid package to members.

However, given the attacks by Iran and its proxies, leadership in both chambers are under increased pressure to reach a consensus.

CNN’s Haley Talbot, Lauren Fox, Manu Raju, Aileen Graef and Avery Lotz contributed to this report.

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Congressional leaders at odds over Israel aid next steps, conservatives issue warning to Speaker Johnson