New Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told Republican senators Wednesday that U.S. military aid to Israel must move by itself, warning them that a larger package also funding Ukraine, Taiwan and the U.S. southern border can’t pass the House.
Johnson also told GOP senators that he supports sending military aid to Ukraine but cautioned that it must be attached to reforms to improve border security.
He told senators that he plans to move an Israel aid bill and a Ukraine-border security bill sequentially, according to GOP senators who attended the meeting.
According to Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Johnson said he supports bringing a Ukraine assistance bill to the House floor but emphasized he wants to do “Israel first.”
“He’s for both of them; he’s just trying to do one at a time,” Tuberville told reporters after the meeting.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) also said Johnson told senators he wants to pass a Ukraine assistance package after the House first passes $14.3 billion in assistance for Israel, to be paid for by an equal cut to the IRS budget.
“He repeated what I think he said on television shows, which is that he thinks there needs to be another Ukraine aid package, and he wants to do that. He emphasized that from his perspective of his majority, he said he has to separate them. He cannot get his majority to pass them together,” Hawley said.
“He just said over and over, ‘Listen, for me, it’s just numbers. We cannot do them together,” Hawley said, recalling the discussion. “He wants to do Israel first, and then he said their next order of business would actually be Ukraine-border [security].”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he opposes the plan.
“We whiffed once on Ukraine. We can’t do it again. This kind of gamesmanship is going to lose this war. Putin’s going to win if we keep playing these games,” he said.
Johnson also told senators that he wants to pass a stopgap funding bill lasting into 2024 to avoid the possibility of a government shutdown later this year. Hawley said he floated the idea of a stopgap lasting until March or April.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said Johnson floated the idea of passing a continuing resolution funding government until Jan. 15.
Cramer explained Johnson thinks “without a sooner deadline, we won’t start working sooner,” as a reason to extend government funding until mid-January instead of later in the spring.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) did not speak at the meeting or attempt to rebut Johnson’s argument in favor of moving the Israel and Ukraine funding separately, several senators said.
McConnell has repeatedly argued, privately and publicly, in favor of moving the four pillars of President Biden’s foreign aid request — funding for Israel, Ukraine, Indo-Pacific allies and border security — as one package.
Johnson told senators that the House plans to pass its Israel package Friday.
The newly elected Speaker earned positive reviews from senators, who praised him as “impressive,” “charming,” “transparent,” “honest” and “humble.”
“He’s obviously very new on the job, but I think he seems to be very charming and honest,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of McConnell’s leadership team.
“The most important thing is to see if the House can actually pass an Israel bill. I think he said he expects to do that by Friday. And then the ball’s in Sen. Schumer’s court,” Cornyn added, referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Cornyn said Johnson did not provide a timeline for a Ukraine aid package but made it clear that Ukraine funding would be “inextricably intertwined” with the border.
Updated at 5:19 p.m. ET