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The U.S. House has a speaker. What does that mean for Israel, Ukraine aid?

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Just hours after Rep. Mike Johnson was elected speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, he introduced his first bill: a resolution affirming the House’s support for Israel and condemnation of Hamas.

The move was largely symbolic, a chance to show the U.S. government was functioning again after a chaotic three weeks where Republicans scrambled to choose a new speaker — a period of inaction that coincided with Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel. The non-binding resolution passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Now, a Johnson-led House will have to follow that up with funding.

Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve US$105 billion in additional security funding that includes US$14.3 billion in military aid for Israel. But the requested package includes far more money — US$60 billion — for Ukraine, which Johnson and other Republicans have grown increasingly opposed to helping any further.

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“Those numbers are going to be … ripped apart and changed, because that’s how the American system works,” said Andrew Rasiulis, a senior fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a retired Department of National Defence official.

“But the gravitas is definitely in favour of Israel now in terms of dollars, and I expect the Ukraine funding is going to have a harder time.”

However the House decides to proceed, it will be some time before they act: lawmakers are set to return to their districts this weekend and won’t return to Washington, D.C., until Nov. 6.

Johnson has yet to say definitively how he plans to address Biden’s request, or where he stands on the issue of further Ukraine aid now that he’s speaker. He refused to answer questions from reporters on policy after winning his party’s nomination Tuesday night.

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In his acceptance speech to the House, he referred to “turmoil and violence in the Middle East and Eastern Europe,” but otherwise made no mention of Ukraine while promising to bring up the resolution supporting Israel. He spent far more time addressing domestic issues that have been top of mind for Republicans, like the U.S.-Mexico border and mounting government debt.

In a letter to House Republicans Wednesday morning, Johnson laid out his vision for passing the remaining appropriations bills that will ensure government spending levels for the coming year — legislation that needs to get passed by Nov. 17 to avoid a government shutdown — making clear those will be his first priority.

“He’s really getting thrown into the deep end and will have a lot to juggle right away,” said Matthew Lebo, a professor of political science at Western University who studies American politics.

“Remaining speaker will also mean he has to keep the various factions of his party together, something that, until now, he’s had no experience in doing.”

Indeed, Johnson is set to face immediate pressure from some Republicans who have said they want funding for Israel and Ukraine to be treated separately, if not thrown out entirely.

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“Israel deserves to have a conversation that is devoted to them right now,” Rep. Mike Garcia told CNN on Monday. “We need to strip out the Ukraine funding and we need to give the Israeli partners the respect they deserve.”

Others say Biden’s request — which also includes additional military aid for Taiwan and money to improve security at the U.S.-Mexico border — should be thrown out entirely or dramatically reduced.

Rep. Chip Roy, one of several hardline conservatives who are focused on dramatically reducing government spending, said Wednesday the request was “an obvious HARD NO” in a Johnson-led House.

“We will not join Israel and Ukraine, we will not throw money at the border, (and) all supplementals must be paid for — as a starter,” Roy wrote on X, formally known as Twitter.

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In the Senate, where support for Ukraine is much broader, nine Republicans last week wrote a letter to Senate leadership pushing for the two issues to be split into individual bills.

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“These are two separate conflicts and it would be wrong to leverage support of aid to Israel in attempt to get additional aid for Ukraine across the finish line,” the senators wrote.

“Furthermore, it would be irresponsible and we should not risk a government shutdown by bundling these priorities together and thus complicating the process and lessening the likelihood of a funding package.”

The letter also claimed that 22 House Republicans had written to the speaker candidates, “urging them to deny attempts to couple these issues.”

When Russia first invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Johnson was initially supportive of U.S. aid to Kyiv and voted to support legislation that made it easier to transfer funding and weapons to the Ukrainian fighters.

But he later soured on keeping that aid pipeline open and voted against the last two funding requests from the White House.

American taxpayers have sent over $100 billion in aid to Ukraine in the last year.

They deserve to know if the Ukrainian government is being entirely forthcoming and transparent about the use of this massive sum of taxpayer resources.

— Rep. Mike Johnson (@RepMikeJohnson) February 28, 2023

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Rasiulis noted that not even a visit to Washington, D.C. by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last month to plead for more U.S. aid was able to change the minds of skeptical Republicans.

He said as the Russian invasion drags on toward the two-year mark with no end in sight, Americans are finding it more difficult to see the value of additional aid without a clear sense that victory against Russia can be achieved.

“Waning (support) is becoming a fact of life, politically speaking, for Ukraine,” he said.

Israel, on the other hand, is expected to launch a ground invasion of Gaza in the near future and may end up facing additional fighting in the north with Hezbollah, as well as with other Middle East opponents.

Although Israel already has a robust military stockpile largely supplied by the U.S., that would be “rapidly depleted” as soon as the conflict intensified, Rasiulis said. That reality will make American military aid more time-sensitive in the minds of lawmakers.

Indeed, ever since Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7, Johnson has been vocal about his steadfast support for Israel and the need for U.S. assistance.

“Getting aid to Israel is easy,” Lebo said. “Republicans will be fine with that. But when the two things are tied together, Ukraine is a little less easy, more broadly speaking.”