The path forward for both Israel and Ukraine aid is unclear amid a House Republican standoff with the Democratic-held Senate and White House over a roughly $118 billion foreign assistance and U.S. southern border security bill.
The House on Tuesday failed to pass a stand-alone $17.6 billion Israel aid bill, which President Joe Biden has threatened to veto because it does not include Ukraine aid, border security or humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have backtracked on the immigration policy deal they struck after two months of negotiations with Democrats to unlock Ukraine aid.
“Every week, every month that passes without new aid to Ukraine means fewer artillery shells, fewer air defense systems, fewer tools for Ukraine to defend itself against its Russian onslaught, just what [President Vladimir] Putin wants,” Biden said in a White House address Tuesday.
Pro-Israel Democrats concerned about the lack of Ukraine aid banded together with Republicans from the right-wing House Freedom Caucus to vote down the Israel assistance bill introduced by defense appropriations Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif. The Freedom Caucus, which also opposes Ukraine aid, voted against the bill because it did not include other spending cuts to offset the $17.6 billion for Israel.
The combined opposition from Democrats and Freedom Caucus Republicans meant House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., had to bring the bill to the floor using a procedural mechanism that required a two-thirds majority vote for passage — a threshold which the bill failed to reach with a 250-180 vote.
The House passed another stand-alone $14 billion Israel aid bill in November, but most Democrats voted against it because it cut an equal amount from the Internal Revenue Service. While Johnson has backed off the IRS cuts, he has declared the Senate’s $118 billion foreign aid bill “dead on arrival” in the House.
“There’s an absence of leadership in the White House as President Joe Biden is attempting to dial down support for Israel,” Johnson said before a meeting with Israeli Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana and relatives of the hostages Hamas abducted in its Oct. 7 attack on Israel. “House Republicans announced a new aid package to deliver defense and military aid in Israel that is desperately needed.”
The bill hews closely to Biden’s Israel supplemental spending request, providing more funding for artillery and munitions to the U.S. ally amid its four-month bombardment of Gaza that has displaced roughly 85% of the population and killed thousands of civilians. It also includes $4 billion for the Iron Dome and David’s Sling air defense systems and another $1.2 billion to procure the Iron Beam laser system to counter short-range rocket threats.
The bill also expands Israel’s access to the pre-positioned U.S. war reserve stockpile on its soil while potentially reducing reimbursement rates. Additionally, it includes $3.5 billion in Foreign Military Financing grants for Israel while allowing the Biden administration to waive the standard congressional notification requirements.
Israel receives an annual $3.8 billion in U.S. military aid via the regular appropriations process.
The House vote came as former president Donald Trump, favored to win the Republican presidential primary, lambasted the immigration deal. Trump posted Monday on his social media network, Truth Social, that an immigration bill “should not be tied to foreign aid in any way, shape or form!”
Trump and a growing number of Republicans have opposed additional aid for Ukraine, which has received a cumulative $113 billion in economic and security aid since Russia’s 2022 invasion.
The former president’s opposition dulled Senate Republicans’ appetite for a deal, even though they blocked a previous iteration of Biden’s foreign aid request in December with a demand that it include immigration policy changes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated Tuesday he would now support the foreign aid legislation without the immigration provisions.
Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, told Defense News he hopes “we pass all of the security parts of the supplemental.”
“The border provisions don’t have anywhere near the votes to pass, so it will need to be stripped out,” said Wicker.
Nonetheless, Democrats still intend to hold a procedural vote on the foreign aid bill with the immigration restrictions later this week.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., accused the House of “a clever political ploy.” He ruled out a stand-alone Israel assistance without Ukraine aid legislation.
Reed told Defense News “the tactical situation in Ukraine is more desperate than the current situation in the Middle East, except of course all the potential escalation, but that we’re handling with U.S. forces and air strikes.”
The Biden administration in December used its last tranche of Ukraine aid funds from previous assistance packages.
“Right now, Ukraine has just 20% ... of the ammunition and artillery it needs as Russia is advancing,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., told reporters.
The Senate bill also includes nearly $4 billion in aid for Taiwan and Indo-Pacific security partners, $2.1 billion for the submarine-industrial base and $542 million for Indo-Pacific Command’s unfunded priorities list.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.