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Mike Johnson in Capitol

Johnson’s Week One: Israel

Welcome to the first full week of Mike Johnson’s speakership.

Israel will be at the top of Congress’ agenda.

The Senate is moving toward confirming Jack Lew to be the U.S. ambassador in Jerusalem.

The House comes back Wednesday and the latter part of this week will be dedicated to moving a number of Israel-related bills — resolutions on antisemitism, new sanctions on Iranian oil sales and legislation sending $14 billion-plus in aid to Israel. Also up — three GOP-drafted FY2024 appropriations bills.

We’re going to focus this morning on the aid package to Israel and the politics surrounding it.

Israeli forces stepped up their ground operations in Gaza over the weekend, including heavy air and artillery strikes. There were clashes between Israeli military units and Palestinians in the West Bank as well. President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning. Biden pledged continued U.S. support while pressing Netanyahu to allow more humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.

House Republicans are planning to try to offset the $14 billion for Israel with spending cuts elsewhere. The White House has sought this as emergency funding, and it’s unheard of for Congress to seek such cuts. Republicans haven’t said what programs they’ll cut yet, which will be a critical part of this debate.

The House GOP’s goal here is to maximize the vote on their side while splintering Democrats. The decision by Johnson’s leadership team to seek budget cuts to offset the Israel money has pretty broad implications.

No. 1: Biden and the Senate want to couple Israel and Ukraine aid together. Johnson’s play here pretty much guarantees that the Louisiana Republican is putting the House on a collision course with the Senate and White House. Senate Democrats may not agree with the GOP pay-for, especially if it targets the Inflation Reduction Act or other Democratic-favored programs.

It also raises questions about whether any further Ukraine funding can pass the House, an enormously important question. The White House has pushed to have the two combined — with Taiwan aid and border-security money, too — due in part to the growing anti-Ukraine funding sentiment among GOP lawmakers. Johnson, however, has been surprisingly bullish on Ukraine aid. There’s still a majority backing Ukraine with Democrats and pro-Ukraine Republicans, but Johnson — like former Speaker Kevin McCarthy before him — faces a challenge in letting that vote occur.

No. 2: If the House adopts an Israel aid bill, the spotlight will be on the Senate GOP Conference, which is bitterly divided over whether assistance for Israel and Ukraine should be grouped into one package.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants Ukraine funding included, and about half of the GOP Conference agrees with him. So, in theory, an effort by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to add Ukraine aid to the House-passed bill could clear the 60-vote threshold with the requisite GOP support.

But there will be a lot of pressure on Senate Republicans to back up Johnson and House Republicans — which they can do using the filibuster.

“We don’t have enough [industrial base] capacity to support a three-front war,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), who has been leading the charge on de-linking Ukraine and Israel, claimed Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We’ve got to focus, and I think we should be focusing on Israel and Taiwan.”

At the same time, many GOP senators realize this could be their last chance to pass additional Ukraine aid. The White House’s $60 billion request would cover a full year and remove the funding issue from presidential campaign politics. That’s the hope, anyway.

McConnell, who has been vocally pushing back against those in his party who want to cut off Ukraine, could try to bring along enough GOP senators to back a push to add money for Kyiv to the Israel package.

No. 3: Biden and White House officials argue that Ukraine and Israel are tied together, echoing McConnell in noting that Iran is the common thread in both conflicts. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made the same argument too.

“Like President Biden said when he addressed the nation from the Oval Office, Hamas and Putin both want to viciously annihilate a neighboring democracy. In fact, Russian officials met with Hamas representatives in Moscow just this week,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement.

“For American national security, it is critical to stand with Israel as they defend themselves against Hamas terrorists who unleashed pure evil on October 7th; and to stand with Ukraine as they defend themselves against Russian brutality — carried out in part with Iranian weapons — and Russia’s kidnapping of Ukrainian children.”

Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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